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.

Top tips for employee engagement. Wordle that look like then?

Some of you may recall I asked the question “What is your top tip for improving employee engagement in 2010?”. Folk were very generous with their responses. I received over 7000 words of advice and hints from across the globe. I’m currently ploughing through them all and will report back on what you said soon. For now I thought you might appreciate a quick view of the feedback and ideas, courtesy of wordle.

I removed the words employee and engagement from the text, here’s what’s left. Click on the image for a larger view.