In his article “Core Values or Corporate Dogma?” author and Talent Acquisition professional Ed Nathanson questions the need for corporate values. With a very negative spin throughout the article, the author suggests a corporate values program is “pushing corporate dogma and rules down employees’ throats.” Mr. Nathanson also says values-based companies force employees to “get on board or get out” and states some employees, particularly “innovators or disruptors,” most likely don’t “want to have to forcefully prescribe to a belief system created by someone else.”
When asked about their workplace, Mr. Nathanson says happy employees “are likely to talk about the work they are doing, their great teammates and the environment/culture they work in.” I agree with Mr. Nathanson here. The author continues, though, arguing that by not mentioning values, those happy employees don’t want them or believe in them.
But what makes for a great culture? Values!
In her article “Core Values: Wall Posters or Culture Builders?” for Psychology Today, author Jennell Evans defines core values as the “behavioral norms expected to be upheld by all when interacting to accomplish work together.” More simply, values are how an organization thinks and acts. So even though employees may not give credit to core values as the source of their happiness as Mr. Nathanson argues, it is those values that produce a healthy culture that in turn makes employees happy!
While I disagree with Mr. Nathanson, the question posed by Ms. Evans is spot on. Do values shape a corporate culture or are they simply “words on the wall”? Sadly, for many organizations, core values are meaningless. Unless an organization, particularly an organization’s leadership, is willing to spend exhaustive energy making their core values come alive and stay alive, words such as respect, trust, excellence, and customer service will be just that – words.
Most if not all organizations have values that are acceptable to all employees. Take the above-mentioned “Excellence,” for example. Four of the Fortune 10 companies mention Excellence in their Values proposition. I’ve also seen Accountability, Integrity, and Caring. Who would argue with any of these values? In fact, many people will say these values along with others such as Commitment, Hard Work, and Flexibility are not just their organization’s values; they are personal values as well.
So why not let employees live by their own Code of Conduct? Why should an organization expect employees to “get on board” with core values? Because an organization’s performance depends on everyone rowing with the same cadence. This means all employees must know what the company stands for, how they expect employees to show up every day. If these core values line up with an employee’s personal values, so much the better!
Core values also help organizations make decisions, particularly in difficult situations. What if the business finds itself over-staffed when mired in a challenging business environment? How is an employee treated when they make a mistake, even a costly one? How does the company respond when an employee breaks the rules or is dishonest? Core values deeply rooted throughout the organization helps it “live by the rules,” and helps it move the business forward in an impartial, consistent manner.
So core values, if proactively promoted by the organization and lived out in daily interactions among all employees, build a healthy culture. That healthy culture allows employees to do their best work and enjoy their organization. And if employees enjoy showing up every day and they do great work, that organization is going make a “Best Place to Work” list, a list every organization should strive for.
So know your corporate values. Live them daily. If you’re a supervisor, know them and hold your people accountable to them. Doing so will build engaged employees and an engaging culture, two critical components to business success.
Agree? Disagree? Do you think employees should memorize corporate values? Do values make a difference in your organization? So many questions! Tell me what you think!
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