Corporate Values Are More Important Than Ever
Perhaps as a reaction to corporate ethics scandals, during the past few years many organizations have made a point of formally identifying and codifying their corporate values. These principles serve as a public statement of what the company stands for and how its leaders intend to conduct business. Organizations use these values in a number of ways, including:
- For guidance when making important decisions.
- To create a consistent mindset among employees.
- To differentiate the organization from its competitors.
- To attract high-quality potential new hires to the organization.
The Problem for Employers
Organizations should be commended for establishing and clearly stating their values. The problem, however, is that some employees often view corporate values as merely "words-on-the-wall" company propaganda that have little or no bearing on how day-to-day business is conducted.
I recently was a consultant for a small biotechnology company that wanted to make certain it was acting consistently with its stated values. The company was proud of these principles, which included honesty, dependability, teamwork and work-life balance. Management used these lofty values, which were framed and hung on many of the office walls, as an employee recruitment and retention tool. They also included them in the company handbook. In fact, they became a mantra for the organization and helped them recruit many highly principled scientists.
Eventually, however, some employees became concerned that the company was not fully living up to its values. For example, one of the stated values was to create an environment where employees are able to maintain a good balance between their work and their personal lives. Yet, the company had started to hold some meetings after hours and on weekends. Not surprisingly, employees questioned whether the organization really cared about balance.
When management learned that some employees were questioning the company's commitment to its values, they asked us to survey the employees anonymously to identify their concerns, assess the magnitude of the problem and advise them how to get back on course.
If employees perceive that a company isn’t living up to its stated organizational values, they become cynical and lose trust in their leaders. And when trust in management is damaged, employee motivation declines. Trust is like a spider web; it is very difficult to build but can be destroyed with a single blow.
What Employers Should Do:
- Involve others in the establishment of company values. Gather input from employees, customers, stockholders and other major organizational stakeholders.
- Management must commit to the values. Commitment to principle starts at the top. Company leaders must take the corporate values into consideration when they make important decisions and refer to them when they explain why these decisions were made.
- Set realistic expectations. Management should communicate to employees that everyone should strive to act consistently with the values but that it may not always be possible. For example, there may be times when holding a meeting on a weekend is unavoidable and an exception must be made.
- Keep company values current. Organizations must continuously evolve due to changes in the marketplace. The company's values must be amended as necessary to remain consistent with current reality.
- Continuously monitor how well the organization lives up to its values. Management should consciously make time to regularly reassess the authenticity of its actions vs. its values. They should also survey employees to find out if they feel the organization is living up to its values.
Codifying corporate values can be very beneficial for an organization. The values can serve as the bedrock upon which both leadership and employees base their actions and decisions. The key, however, is for everyone to commit to living up to the values.