Guest post by Eileen McVety (Learn more about Eileen at the end of this post)
I don’t care much for Integrity. Ditto Dedication. And don’t even get me started on Teamwork.
Perhaps an explanation is in order.
Most of my workday is spent writing and editing corporate communication materials. Websites are a biggie. And it seems like every website I touch these days, there’s some bloated page entitled “Our Values” that attempts to distill the company’s purpose and culture into a handful of lofty ideals. You can typically find the “Our Values” page huddled among “Our History”—which chronicles an organization’s humble beginnings in a Kansas City warehouse in 1837—and “Social Responsibility,” which points to efforts like recycling drives and Toys for Tots programs as evidence of the organization’s social consciousness.
Nearly all companies claim a set of defined values that guide the way they do business. And most limit those values to a select number. Five is usually acceptable—not too skimpy; not so many as to appear over-reaching and self-righteous. I once edited a corporate website that touted its “Seven Core Values,” one of which, interestingly enough, was termed “Value Creation.” (Seems to me that if one of your seven core values is value creation, maybe all you really have are six.)
Why do companies talk values? So you’ll feel better about doing business with them? So you’ll feel confident about working for them? Call me cynical, but I don’t think potential clients or employees are ever won over by a verbose statement of moral principles. “You know, Jim, I wasn’t going to do business with that company, but after reading on their website how they value Performance and Initiative…well, that won me over.” No, I think the real reason organizations talk values is because to not do so is to invite suspicion or criticism. If your biggest competitor claims to be guided by a spirit of “Mutual Respect, Kindness and Exemplary Leadership,” your company sure as heck better stand for something more than just “Profitability.”
Here’s some advice to businesses everywhere: stop talking about nebulous standards and start getting real. If I’m a customer, tell me that you’ll return my phone calls within a single business day. Tell me that when you mess up my invoice, you’ll fix the problem quickly and without losing your patience when I lose mine. If I’m an employee, tell me that if I need to leave the office early to pick up my child at daycare, you’re not going to glance at your watch and make a snide remark. Tell me that you won’t stick me with the choice of two healthcare plans—one generous and highly unaffordable; the other, economical and useless.
In short, stop talking to me about what you value and start listening to what I do.
About the Author
Eileen McVety is the owner of Spot-on Writing (www.spotonwriting.com) , a professional writing services company, and is author of the outrageous humor book Welcome to the Company (or what it’s really like working here). For more about the book, visit: www.welcometothecompany.com.
Catherine Cantieri, Sorted says
Agreed! The Signal to Noise blog has a similar post up today: http://www.37signals.com/svn/posts/1676-the-difference-between-truly-standing-for-something-and-a-mission-statement
It’s a meme, and a very good one: don’t talk about your values, live them!
Eileen McVety says
Thanks for posting. Mission statements, values, core beliefs…they’re great fodder for satire but other than that, pretty worthless 🙂
Cecilia Edwards says
Values (and mission statements, core beliefs, etc.) are only worthless is they were created as marketing PR versus tools that help create and drive a company culture that is in alignment with success. As a strategy consultant, I have worked with companies that could tell you what their values were or how they were lived out.
On the other side, I have worked with companies that use their values and mission statements to drive their every day business decisions.
A well known example of this is how Johnson & Johnson handle the Tylenol tampering issue in the early 80’s. People’s safety first. They asked people to stop using the products before anyone had a chance to suggest it. It was part of their values.
I agree with Susan, it’s really about whether or not you live your values.