A Question of Values

A photo about corporate identity, yawn!
A photo about corporate identity, yawn!

I’ve been reading a lot about the importance of company values lately. They’re presented as part of what an organisation is, or does to engage people. Apparently they say something about identity. I don’t get it.

Trust. Respect. Value Creation. Integrity. Heart. Act Wisely.

I assembled this list of values from a number of very well known companies. I shan’t embarrass the companies by naming them but you can Google corporate or company values yourself and quickly build a similar list. At first glance they are the kind of words likely to make you nod sagely in agreement. Who wouldn’t want to deal with a company that espouses trust, respect, etc.? But at the same time, these things are bland, and pretty meaningless. And anyway, organisations, companies, do nothing. They are merely shells into which we pour people, and if we’re lucky, some purpose and motivation too. Then the people in the companies do the stuff. So I’m pretty sure that corporate values are meaningless bits of crap designed to lull people, be they employees, customers, or other stakeholders, into consensus.

And with consensus comes the danger of conformity. In an attempt to adhere to the company values, people stop speaking up, putting forward their good ideas, and their challenges, for fear of being seen as different. So very often these values we read about and which companies proudly display, serve to dull the imagination and limit the creativity which so many organisations desire, and need. I worry that in the climate unwittingly created in many large organisations, the only values that people end up living by are:

1) I do what’s needed in order to keep my job, and

2) I try not to embarrass myself in the process.

When we meet for the first time, we will talk, we will listen, share ideas and stories, and over time we will get to know each other. You will discover what you believe my value is. And importantly, it’s what you think it is, not what I tell you I think it is. People buy people, and the value they perceive in them. And don’t think for one minute that large organisations can’t create this sense of value, as perceived by the customer or colleague. They can. They just seem to think it’s easier not to.

So what do you think? Can corporate values ever amount to more than just a list of bland words or phrases? And if so, how? And does personal value matter in a corporate world which cries out for innovation and creativity, but acts as though it’s truly frightened of these things?

Photo c/o ntr23

Update: 9th November 2010. Since writing this piece I’ve read and listened to some great stuff on personal values. Stuff I’d like to share:

Here’s a great piece by Alison Chisnell about the importance of personal values when the going gets tough at work. I met Alison at The Connecting HR Unconference after which she felt encouraged to start writing. And it’s a great start!

If you have the time, and I do recommend it, check out Shereen Qutob’s 45 min podcast on the importance of values in the workplace. A good useful listen.

And today I read this by Glyn Lumley. An open honest piece about how, when the chips are down it’s important to live great values and having the courage to stick to what is right.

Update: 2nd December 2010. Today David Bowles sent over a link to a very funny Doonesbury cartoon about values which gave me a huge laugh! Thanks David.

Home Alone. Almost.

Guinea Pig
A photograph of Ginger, one of Keira’s guinea pigs

There’s a small bubble of fear rising over Carshalton. Carole and Keira are off camping for a week and I’m being left to my own devices. I can come home as late as I like, go for bike rides when the mood takes me, play my music loud. What’s not to like?

Over breakfast this morning Keira shattered my illusions of freedom with 8 short words: “You have to look after the guinea pigs”. Stunned silence. Oh crap. I do.

It’s no secret in our family that me and pets just….don’t get on that well. Sure, I feed Ginger and Muffin from time to time but look after them….nope, that doesn’t happen. Until now. Keira went on. “You’ll have to feed them, clean them, play with them, and buy them stuff from the shop”. Buy them stuff!? What’s that all about? And what shop? It’s at times like this that you reach out to friends for advice and help. They rarely disappoint, and today is no exception.

In a very timely fashion, Brad Jennings has recently written a story about his 5 year old son, a fish called Izzie, and a visit to Pets at Home. He writes warmly about the enthusiasm and genuine care delivered by the staff at the store. It’s a lovely tale, made all the lovelier by the excellent experience provided by the people at the store. We like reading about and sharing great customer, employee, and brand experiences. And this one really hit the spot. The fact that it got me out of a hole too is just the icing on the (fish) cake. I know where I’m going to buy the guinea pigs’ stuff from now. At least that’s one task taken care of, Phew!

Who Do They Think You Are?

This month I’m delighted to welcome Nicolette Wuring as a guest blogger. Nicolette runs Customer Management Services from Amstelveen in Holland. She is author of Customer Advocacy; When You Care, People Notice, and she regularly speaks at conferences on Customer and Employee Advocacy and Transformational Leadership.

Nicolette got in touch after reading our last guest post by Julia Benbow all about inconsistency. Here she talks powerfully about brand, bringing yourself to work (an old favourite of ours) and how others see you. Over to you Nicolette.

“From REAL LIFE experience, I can tell you that any company that sets out to create game changing experiences, increase or revive it’s sustainable competitive advantage through service, will never be able to achieve that goal through ‘old-fashioned’ (industrial paradigm) consistency.

Daniel Pink wrote in his book “A whole new mind” that we now live in a society of creators & empathizers. In today’s competitive playing field, where customers (B2B and B2C) have an abundance of choice, consistency on the operating level (operational excellence) is just a prerequisite to be a player at all. But the playing starts with what the people in the business are able to CREATE ‘on top of that’ in their interactions with customers, which is also where empathy comes in.

Consistency here is much more defined by consistency in the way the people in a business make other people feel, be it customers, but also co-workers. And not just once, but, consistently, every day, time and again.

It starts with a dream, one that doesn’t instruct people what to feel, think, say and do, but inspires them to bring their whole self to work, not just the part of them that executes tasks, and feel and take ownership for their own contribution to the bigger whole.

It requires an environment in which people feel acknowledged and respected, as human beings (instead of human doings, managed at a task level). Where, to quote Pink again, people feel ‘freedom to be’ and ‘room for play’.

It requires significant changes to governance, from managing on quantitative KPI’s only to adding qualitative KPI’s, and balancing quantitative and qualitative KPI’s.

It requires managers to change their focus from control, managing at a task level, to facilitating the environment their team works in. An environment where the sum is larger than its parts. TEAM, as Tom Peters translates the acronym, Together Everyone Achieves More. Where the TEAM is the father of the success, and everybody feels their contribution is equally important.

But, it also requires consistency between ‘who you are’ (the DNA of the company), ‘who you say you are’ (in marketing communication etc.) and ‘who ‘people’ say you are’ (employees, customers; social media etc.; in the online & off line world).
Inconsistency at this level gets found out nowadays rather sooner than later, spreads faster across larger geographic areas than any marketing budget will ever be able to buy, chasing away existing and potential customers and creating a company or brand image that is potentially a danger to the company’s existence.

Well, I’m just getting started…

I hope my view on ‘inconsistency’ will inspire you! Because, as I see it, in a world where products and services are completely commoditized, markets are saturated, and we are overwhelmed with an abundance of choice, inconsistency is what will make companies stand out from the crowd. For better or worse. People have experiences all the time. Markets have become conversations. So, why not make sure when people talk about your brand, it’s positive!

With grace, Nicolette”