Executive Coaching

Why Company Values Are Total BS

Coporate Values Rejected

Let's get down to it, Company values are total BS.

I have no problem with company culture and trying to improve it however company values just don’t make sense and here is why.

For a long time companies have presented their grand company values as a sign of being a modern company.  There is a big problem, the vast majority of employees don't believe in company values.  This not just me saying this, Gallup found in a major study that only 27% of employees believed in their company's values!  Nearly three quarters of the employees think the values are rubbish!  Even more worryingly, the same study found that only 23% of employees strongly believed they can apply the company values in day-to-day work.

This is not looking good for companies who have a values statement.  Something is clearly wrong here!

I am going to tell you why and what companies should do instead of having company values.

Company values versus company culture.

There is a big misunderstanding within companies about what the difference is between values and culture.

A value is a principle of life that is important to you.  Your values can change over time; for example, as a teenager I’m sure you put a higher value on friendships than responsibility but most likely that swapped around after you had children!

Just in case anyone is unsure about what value is, here’s a link to 50 human values.  I’m sure there are ones missing, do put a comment below and I will add to them.

A culture is a way of behaving as a group.  You can have a family culture, workplace culture, the culture you have with your mates, sports culture, et cetera et cetera.  It’s a behaviour that a group of people have adopted.  Rarely it’s written down but somehow us human beings we all know the rules.  What amazingly socially adaptable creatures we are!

What is the problem with company values?

I see there being four major problems with the concept of company values

Can you impose a value on somebody?

A value is something you hold true to your inner core.  I personally hold honesty, inner harmony and my commitment to my family extremely close to my heart.

Now a company might have the value of working collaboratively, fine.  But what if I don’t have this as a value?  I recognise that working collaboratively is extremely important, but it is not one of my inner core values.  As a behaviour it is absolutely fine to expect that from your employees however I’ve not yet heard of a convincing method on how you could impose a value on somebody.

You cannot fire someone if they don’t agree with your value.

What if you have a value that an employee states they are not willing to adopt?  That employee is a good employee, meets all his or her objectives and is well-regarded by colleagues and customers.  His or her behaviour is exemplary and that individual is an asset to the company.

Can you really fire somebody with an excellent record who happens to disagree with your values statement?  I imagine that employee's lawyers would have a field day suing your company for wrongful dismissal!

So where are we?  You can’t impose a value on somebody and also you can’t fire somebody if they disagree with your value.  This is looking shaky.

Values are subjective and relative.

Honesty and collaborative working are two common values companies often cite.  Are we truly honest in the workplace?

Have you ever kept quiet even though a senior colleague is talking rubbish, simply because you can’t be bothered with the hassle?  Perhaps you’ve been to a super-boring long meeting which, in only 10 minutes, you knew was a complete waste of time.  Living up to the company values of honesty means you would have told the senior manager that his/her meeting was ineffective and walked out.

Here the problem is obvious, company values have to be interpreted and applied delicately as we have work with these people potentially for years to come.  So in the above example, do you restrain your honesty to ensure you uphold the other company value of collaborative working or the other way around?  Ummm.

And what is the right thing to do anyway?  Perhaps the best thing is to walk out of the meeting.  Perhaps the best thing is to go along with the meeting to have a good relationship with your team.  Who could say?  Its relative and subjective.  Also, on a side note, I’m not sure how you would measure honesty.  Could a company put in its KPIs that its employees need to increase honesty by 10%?  That would be hard to measure.

So in summary

  • You can’t impose a value on somebody
  • You can't fire an employee only for not adopting a value
  • Values are subjective and relative

To me this is extremely shaky ground for company to put a statement out on.

What to do instead of company values?

The answer is to drop company values and replace it with expected behaviour.

I will cover more this in my next article

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