It seems like most businesses, from mom and pop shops to corporate giants, are getting caught up in the trend of “defining company values.” While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can be pretty useless if not executed correctly.
Companies want to create unity among their employees, as well as project an image of solidarity, value, and respectability to potential customers or clients. This is all well and good, of course, but what happens when every business is making a move to show it? We end up with a great deal of generic, trend-following value statements that are ambiguous to both customers and employees. That pretty much defeats the purpose of defining values in the first place.
Often, the problems have been that the values are typically expressed with meaning-neutral (if not meaningless) corporate-speak, or that the values aren’t of a first-order nature. That is, they don’t touch on what truly constitutes the “good” for people inside and outside the organization.
Of course “customer service” is valued at any given company – what business doesn’t value their customers? They would be foolish not to provide great service to their patrons, but does this really have to be defined as a corporate value? The same is true for other generic values like “market leadership” and “commitment to employees.” Do a quick Google search, and you can probably find 20 companies with these same phrases listed among their company values – hardly a unique position.
If the point is to select and identify values for all employees to embrace, then these values have to be relatable, and more importantly, specific to each unique business. Overly generalized value statements come off as corporate jargon, and most employees will simply let this kind of talk go in one ear and out the other. To present values that are actually valued by employees, owners and management teams have to find factors that the staff actually identifies with. They have to be tangible.
Creating stellar core values isn’t exactly easy. You’ve really got to dig deep and figure out what is at the core of you business. That kind of soul searching doesn’t happen overnight and often takes someone outside of the company to take a look at your business.
For workers constructing skyscrapers, perhaps “fearlessness” is a value that is both identifiable and extremely important to a job well done. For those handling dangerous chemicals, a “commitment to proper use of safety equipment” is something that employees can get behind. Corporate values should be important to the success of the business AND the direct interests of employees.
There is a great deal of emphasis on how to make corporate values “sticky” to staff members, but this is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. If the ideas are to be truly valued, they have to be valuable to the people adopting them – specific, well-thought corporate values will be perfectly “sticky” all on their own.
Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.
Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.