Why corporate ‘values’ devalue you

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that your organisation has pledged to uphold the following values: integrity, teamwork, customer service, accountability and innovation.

How did I know? Simple: they’re exactly the same values that every other organisation swears to abide by.

Before you take offence, I want you to think about what these values are actually doing for your organisation. Did you know that, according to research based on a survey of 3 000 companies, only 4% of employees know and draw inspiration from their organisation’s values?

Putting lipstick on a pig company values

That’s one argument against them. But I would go so far as to say they make a mockery of your organisation and its leadership. Here’s the thing: values are an absolute statement. The problem is that organisations can never function in terms of absolutes. That’s why your commitment to your values are broken a thousand times a day. Think about it: if your employees are promised a raise but there isn’t enough money in the coffers and you aren’t able to pay, you’ve compromised your values. You’re no longer acting with integrity – which means that your organisation is acting in an inauthentic manner. This impacts on the perception of management, because it affects their credibility.

That’s why I regard values as, at best, an exercise in vanity, with executives trying to pick noble concepts out of the ether and make them their own. That makes them superficial, while choosing them is counterproductive. At worst, I would consider them outright dangerous because of their potential to make leadership look stupid.

So why do we persist in trying to make these lofty-sounding traits a part of company DNA? I put it down to ‘Tick-box fever’. And yet, it’s the equivalent of attempting to carry out your own root canal treatment with a toothpick.

Before you argue that there must be some value in values, and that they surely contribute in some way to engagement and creating a company culture, I’m going to tell you that there’s another solution. But you’re going to have to wait until my next blog post to find out what it is.