These articles have been written by the first cohort of the Practice Makes Unperfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices.
By Charu Malhotra, Global Employer Marketing & Inclusion Consultant
Beautifully stencilled on the walls in expensive offices, proudly framed behind the reception desk, flashing in neon lights beside the foosball tables, included on the company website’s copy, organisations everywhere proudly announce ‘OUR VALUES’.
These are company values created by consulting firms, millions of pounds and hours of focus groups, agonising over each and every word. The values are a carefully constructed set of words that allegedly describe a company’s core, its DNA and the way they apparently do things.
The same set of values crop up again ad nauseam, whether big global brand or small enterprise. There is a clear assumption that people’s behaviour will change because once they see and hear these great words, in neon, they will start to exhibit great behaviour.
Agile, integrity, passionate, innovative, respect, responsibility, team work, purpose, integrity, authentic, blah,blah, blah.
Yet values are created to articulate a workplace’s guiding principles, to ensure each employee is informed, inspired and understands what is important. Yet do these types of generic, beige words signify anything different to you; do we even see the meaning behind these words anymore?
All the FTSE100 have corporate values. Most companies believe values influence two core strategic areas: relationships and reputation. Over 50% of executives believe that corporate values influence productivity, firm value and creativity and 80% of the fortune 100 tout their values publicly in CEO annual reports.
Most company values seem to have been selected to be as generic as possible and be as uninformative as possible, do they stand out to employees or candidates or blend in a sea of sameness?
I have led and worked in employer branding across 8 huge global brands, met with hundreds of Communications, marketing, HR colleagues, all with similar observations.The constant need for committee-led decision-making leads to blandness… selecting words that fail to describe the lived-in cultures that employees actually experience.
Boards opt for safety in the values they all agree on, which is why we end up with familiar, recycled, empty words plastered on free swag given out to employees all with the forlorn hope they are memorable. What a wasted opportunity! Values that are distinctive, brave in their selection, even uncomfortable, can set a company apart by clarifying boldly its identity, stance on everything from what type of employees will thrive there to social justice and sustainability.
Yet our values have so much possibility, when closely examined, everything we do intentionally or unintentionally feeds into the recipe of what is truly valued at a company. A company’s values make the decisions when the CEO isn’t in the room, what behaviours are tolerated, encouraged, rewarded and intrinsically valued.
There is an inelegant tension between aspirational values that the board agrees on and the need for differentiation. Aren’t we all passionate, agile, authentic, hard working and innovative?
So whilst we go through a worldwide reexamination of what’s ‘important’; i.e. how we thrive and exist and adjust our expectations towards every aspect of our lives, how many organisations have tested their values with employees lately?
If your employees need to elaborately decode a value to even understand what it means, how truthful is it? We can and should do more than simply scan our promises once every few years. And differentiate boldly.
So if we stop, collaborate and listen to the answers of our candid questions, organisations will be able to feel the true internal hum of employees. Don’t rely on surveys in isolation! Talk to employees and create a safe space for their honesty.
We are in strange times described as an ‘in-between period of the no longer hanging between the not yet’… don’t we deserve more than soggy candy floss-like words that tell us nothing valuable?
When Covid is over, we’ll all have scars that run deep. How organisations treated us during this time will result in the difference between loyalty and leaving at the first opportunity.
Analysis from Gartner (2020) suggests that 32% of global organisations are considering flexible job models, this is just one step in showing that you’ve moved with the times and sensed what your people need.
If your old values do not call out to you, or scream unique, set fire to them. Give oxygen to words that mean something. Differentiate with new words that our eyes don’t gloss over and our ears cease to hear. Companies like Zappos with ‘Create Fun And A Little Weirdness ‘ and Peakon’s ‘Serious not Seriously ‘ manage it uniquely. What is stopping your company ?