Is there still a place for corporate values in 2020? What HR and People teams should know

Sairish Chechi
Published on 18th August 2020
3 min read

We’ve all gone for a job or worked at an organization where someone has reeled off a long list of corporate values. Yet, would you say that those values actually existed within the business? 

Worryingly, it seems many employees disagree with the values that organizations say are within their organization. In fact, just 27% of workers in the US strongly believe in their own organization’s corporate values, according to Gallup.

So is it still worthwhile for organizations to create corporate values? We explore the argument…

When can corporate values be a problem?

There’s a worrying trend of ‘vanilla values’, according to Lucy Adams of Disruptive HR who wrote an article last year claiming corporate values are on their way out.

Adams explains that ‘vanilla values’ are corporate values that are so ubiquitous that they could be found almost anywhere.

In fact, a survey looking into corporate values found that 90% of organizations referenced ethical behavior or used the word “integrity” and 88% talked about their commitment to customers.

However, it’s not just vanilla values that seem to be the problem when it comes to corporate values. Adams suggests that another issue arises from the fact that companies often provide values to employees and expect them to conform, rather than finding values that already exist in the business.

So how can HR and People teams revolutionize corporate values? Here’s three things to consider.  

1. Align corporate and employee values

Do your organization’s values really reflect those of your employees?

Organizations should switch away from a mindset of pushing our business’s values, to one of allowing our employees’ natural values to play a bigger role.

The Institute of Leadership and Management found that 70% of personal values held by employees were not reflected by their employers. This stark disconnect shows how easy it is for businesses to feel ‘out of touch’ to their employees.

The solution is to base your corporate values around your people’s existing values – making the most prevalent among your peoples’ values central to the way your business conducts itself. For instance, if you have invested in people who exhibit high amounts of empathy, then empathy should organically become one of your organization’s values.

For example, if you wish to add a new value to your company’s repertoire, you should look to employ people who demonstrate these values, rather than looking to your existing workforce to change their current values.

2. Find authenticity in your corporate values

The concern that corporate values haven’t been working isn’t new.

Patrick Lencioni wrote in the Harvard Business Review as far back as 2002 that “an organization considering a values initiative must first come to terms with the fact that, when properly practiced, values inflict pain.”

He continued: “They make some employees feel like outcasts. They limit an organization’s strategic and operational freedom and constrain the behavior of its people. They leave executives open to heavy criticism for even minor violations. And they demand constant vigilance.”

Lencioni believed that by ‘imposing’ aspirational values on staff and expecting them to change their mentality, organizations were doing their employees a huge disservice – expecting them to change their mentalities to suit the business, effectively challenging them to work harder with no discernable incentive.

However, Lenconi’s solution was to encourage companies to become, as he called it, “aggressively authentic”.

“For a values statement to be authentic, it doesn’t have to sound like it belongs on a Hallmark card,” he wrote. “Indeed, some of the most values-driven companies adhere to tough, if not downright controversial, values.”

By staying true to the values that made the company unique to begin with, businesses can stand out from the crowd to talent, and will find it easier to stick to their values.

3. Consider the value in employee experiences

Finally, and most importantly, employee experience is the key to creating corporate values that work.

Adams suggested in her article last year that instead of coming up with arbitrary values and expecting employees to adhere to them, organizations should instead try to focus on creating complete employee experiences.

“If you create the right conditions, the right types of experience, then you can influence how your people might feel,” she said. “And you can ensure that these experiences are relevant to your company, are aligned with your brand and are in support of the business ambitions you are laying out.”

While once upon a time, many organizations believed that ‘great experiences’ was shorthand for ping-pong tables and free snacks. Now, they’re beginning to understand that workplace experiences should be designed around helping employees to feel engaged and productive while working.

So why focus on experiences instead of values? It means that if the company is able to define itself by its culture, it foregoes the need to implement aspirational and unrealistic company values.

For example, if you want to make your workforce more efficient, the best way to go about it is to motivate employees to become more efficient – rather than making ‘efficiency’ an unsubstantial corporate value.

What’s next for corporate values?

Corporate values are far from over: there’s certainly still a place in the new world of work for them. In fact, with the rise of remote and hybrid working, corporate values may even become more important to keep employees feeling connected and engaged.

However, the way organizations think about values needs to shift. HR and People teams need to focus on the employee experience instead.

By focusing on your people and their experiences, you’ll naturally create values that are powerfully authentic because your employees – and the experiences you deliver – make your business unique.

Unlock the potential of your workforce. Explore ‘Six ways to create amazing workforce experiences’ to discover how you could start building a more engaged organization today.

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