What makes company values valuable?

Corporate values is a subject that’s been given much attention since the days when Tom Waters and Bob Peterman, management experts, started popularizing the concept in the latter part of the 20th century.

Although the idea is a good one, as demonstrated by the continued success over decades of companies like Apple, Marriott and Sears through good times and bad, values now are too often platitudes and tag lines that have little meaning to the company’s management or employees. Even worse, arbitrary values chosen by executives often conflict with the real goals of the company and are used in an attempt to motivate confused employees.

Is it time to conduct an audit of the values eschewed by your business? Do you know the goal of your company’s values (often called core values)? Has your team integrated them into everyday business operations?

Here’s a quick list of what the experts say really make company values valuable:

  • Values are drawn from a basic philosophy about what “constitutes the good for people inside and outside the organization” according to a 2010 study by Edwin Giblin and Linda Amuso of California State University and published in Business Forum. These are called “first order values”.
  • Values are internalized by every member of the company, starting with you as leader, in order to have true meaning. They need to be compatible with the team’s personal values. Slogans and jargon chosen by the senior execs are seen as that by today’s sophisticated workforce. Instead, involve the employees in the values determination to ensure meaningfulness for all. Then, as the business leader, it’s up to you to walk the talk.
  • Values are meant to be acted upon. This means they can be used to help with the tough decisions that anyone in the organization is faced with, and they can’t be abandoned during tough times. They are enduring. True values are those that we embrace even if it might not be comfortable at the time so that the business can persevere in the long term.
  • Values encompass morality and ethics. While of course profits are the goal of any business, profits are not the sole defining value of the organization. This can plainly be seen in the decisions that have been made by companies over the years to recall a product, or to choose innovation over profit, even when it hurts the bottom line temporarily.
  • Values are limited to three or four and rank ordered. This is the practical aspect of values – people just don’t integrate a list of 12 values into their business (or even personal) life. Choose the top three or four, then rank order them so that when difficult choices must be made, according to a Ken Blanchard Companies study, ” it establishes a priority that will guide decision-making and behavior, especially in a situation that involves conflict and choices between alternatives”.

Corporate values that stay away from jargon and platitudes that are not in alignment with the true nature of the business can be incredibly powerful tools for use by every member of the organization.

For more information on my audit program that includes company values as just one component, go to http://www.lourdesgant.com/freegift/or contact me at lourdes@lourdesgant.com.

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