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”? As we explored in PCC’s last blog entry, 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 by 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 us what you think!
Our values should guide every conversation, decision, and interaction. Our values should anchor every product and service we provide and every channel we operate. If we can’t link what we do to one of our values, we should ask ourselves why we’re doing it. It’s that simple.
We have five primary values that are based on our vision and provide the foundation for everything we do:
- People as a competitive advantage
- What's right for customers
- Diversity and inclusion
The above verbiage sounds great, doesn’t it? These are values of a major U.S. bank in support of their vision: “We want to satisfy our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially.” Who wouldn’t want to work for or do business with a company that believes this?
Sadly, the above words, taken directly from the Wells Fargo website, mean absolutely nothing. A slow-burning scandal that took place for years, low-level bank employees siphoned money from customers and opened bogus accounts and cards using current customers’ personal information, all to meet sales quotas and get sales bonuses. Obviously, this bank’s belief in ethics and customers was simply rhetoric.
In the end, Wells Fargo customers lost money and 5,300 bank employees lost their jobs. One of those employees was Carrie Tolstedt, the senior executive in charge of Wells Fargo’s branches. Amazingly, even though arguably she was the senior executive in charge of the fraudulent scheme, she was able to walk away with a $125 million bonus!
How can this happen? How can a company that espouses the customer and ethics have such widespread fraud? I believe it’s a lack of accountability and a lack of leadership.
I’m confident that if you asked Wells Fargo employees, “What are Wells’ values and how do you live them?” you would get blank stares in return. In fact, asking employees to simply recite the values would get that same response. Obviously, no one at Wells Fargo was asking employees to name and live out their values. To Wells Fargo employees, those values were simply a nice plaque that hung on the bank branch walls.
While all employees are responsible for living out the corporate values, the person who should live out those values more than anyone is the top leader, in this case Wells Fargo’s CEO John Stumpf. Even when announcing Tolstedt’s departure, he complimented her for being “a champion for our customers.” Apparently, employees, ethics, and customers were just words on a wall for Mr. Stumpf as well.
So how can organizations avoid Wells Fargo’s situation? By openly talking about corporate values, by practicing those values daily, and by having a leadership team that models those values. If you aren’t putting deliberate effort against core values, they will not become ingrained in everyday behaviors and actions.
But what about your company and your leadership? What do you do if your leaders refuse to live out the corporate values? First, you have a choice to make. Do you stay or go? Do you remain with your current organization where “gutless leadership,” a term used to describe Mr. Stumpf’s governance, could lead the entire organization down a very wrong path? Or do you find another organization where leadership believes in and lives out their values?
Second, and most importantly, think about your own actions. Regardless of how leadership and everyone around you behave, you can be true to your corporate values. With every action, decision, and conversation, you have an opportunity to align with your organization’s mission and values.
So hold yourself accountable to making your organization’s values ring true. Doing so will most likely help you engage more with your work and your colleagues, ultimately leading to greater job success and satisfaction.
Do you have a corporate values stories, either good or bad? Please share and start a conversation!
Darren K. Ford
I've enjoyed a great career. Worked in many different industries with great coworkers and customers. I talk to a lot of people while drinking a lot of coffee. I read constantly. From all of this, I have much to say.