The Value of Values

Values. I bet your organisation has them. Are they on a wall in a frame, in your employee handbook, displayed in reception, on your careers site, or even on the side of a mug or a pen? Do they have a whole section to themselves on the intranet? Oh, and do your organisation live and breathe them, do they guide your decision making and behaviour every day, do they reflect your culture, does every single one of your employees know what they are? And just how much time and money did you spend developing and launching them?

I’ve been reflecting lately that we do a lot of stuff in HR because we think we should, because everyone else does it, because it is best practice. We try and keep up with the neighbours, even if the neighbours are bigger, with deeper pockets. Do we consider enough and ask whether they are right for our individual organisations, what problem they are really solving, how much it is actually costing us, where is the value?

Most companies have values. They have become an accepted part of corporate life. I’ve certainly been involved in creating a few. I have absolutely nothing against the principle of an organisation articulating what they stand for, what their culture is all about. Or indeed what they would like it to be. But I do have two questions for you. Think of your own espoused list of values. Do they really reflect what your company is all about? Do they feel true? And my second question: what purpose are they serving? Because if they aren’t recruited against, managed against, talked about and believed, then what did you spend all that money for?

My final criticism of values is just how generic and homogenous they can tend to be. Flexible, innovative, excellence, customer service, trusted. Sound familiar? Values get launched in a big frenzy, and then end up being nothing more than that list of words owned by HR that appears in the handbook, in the pretty frame in reception.

I know that there are organisations where values really matter and are part of the fabric of daily working life. It just feels to me that they are in the minority. But I bet whether they are embedded or not, the majority spend plenty of time, money and effort in the development and launch.

So what is the value of values? If you make them live, make them breathe, then yes, they will have value. They will explain to your employees, to future employees, to managers and customers what your company is all about, what they can expect from you, how working for you will feel. They will guide and inform. But if they are just words on a mug or pen, why don’t you just spend the money on something less corporate instead?

Image by @AATImage (Graham Smith)