Starting preachy: Values are undervalued
Values are incredibly good at making people feel proud of who they are. The same thing applies to groups as much as individuals. Whether you like somebody’s values or not, their values are always justifiable and inherently virtuous to that person. Think Donald Trump.
Perhaps because they are so effectively used in politics, companies worry that values give them a label that narrows their scope and affects their growth. BUT, if the values in politics are shouted out to attract voters, values in companies are about doing stuff in a way that builds pride, excitement, and powerful action INSIDE. That effect translates to what others see and how they perceive the company. The brand.
A small caveat is that the whole thing only works if the said values are based on truth, articulated, and executed with guts and no fear. And that probably applies to most things in life. Think Hilary Clinton. What do you remember of her campaign?
To become a complete value convert, read on. You’ll find Werklig’s approach to harnessing the emotional force of values in business.
Values are a tool like an axe is
Sharper and better-formed tool, the better. More practice using the tool, the better. As somebody smart once said, doing something half-heartedly, a little bit, is a total waste of time and effort. So, either stop entirely or go full-steam ahead and do lots of it. Only then you’ll know if it works or not. And get lots of firewood.
If you only remember one thing about values, remember this: Values are not about what you do, but HOW you do it. Values don’t limit or even direct what the company does, but they are great in differentiating you. One could be doing excellent sausages, sneakers, or brand consulting with the same values, but where the values really come to their own is in your category. Imagine what a sausage would be like, made with radical vs. traditional company values? To keep going down the wood-chopping route — values are the true qualities of the axe that make it work in its own unique way. Some will love the axe, and others will hate it. It fits some like a glove, leaving others cold, confused, or distaste. But the ones who the axe fits will wield it with incredible results.
“Values are our cultural operating system”, said Mark Zuckerberg, when talking to Tim Ferriss about the values at Facebook turned Meta.
He also said: “I’ve always basically believed that values are only useful if you can legitimately disagree with them. I’ve always thought values like “be honest,” are not that helpful because, of course, you have to be honest. I feel bad even needing to write that down. If you have to write that down, then something kind of went wrong. I don’t know any good company that doesn’t focus on honesty or demand that of their employees. So, from my perspective, that’s not useful if you only get to write down five or six concepts to program into your culture. You want them to be things that good companies can reasonably do differently. And I think part of this is that good values, you need to be able to give something up in order to get them.”
Bang on, Mark. Stating the obvious expectations for doing business in today’s world, like embracing diversity, collaboration, sustainability, or integrity, is not going to give anybody an advantage over other companies. It merely puts you in the game. Often, it’s also required by law and an equally important element to one’s success — the global opinion. The key is to selfishly articulate the values that make your organization uniquely different and working in ways others can’t. Solving issues for the customers in ways that others won’t.
Sadly, looking at the company values of some of the most prominent organizations in the world, stating the obvious is really common. We touched on the subject in the Lipstic on the pig article, asking you to compare the values of some well-known companies.
How does any organisation achieve a sense of distinct culture, let alone pride over something so utterly interchangeable? Having a deep sense of pride over trivial values is impossible. Often there are too many values to remember. If you have to dig out a slide set to remember the company values, nobody will be working by them on a daily basis. The amount speaks more about the uncertainty and fear of having a strong point of view than anything else. Let’s put a value there and then counter it with another, so none of it makes a difference.
The truth is that real and unique values always exist in an organisation. We have all felt the difference when changing jobs, meeting clients, or being a customer ourselves. A lot of the time, the values have just never been skilfully dug out and explicitly, honestly articulated, and because of that, never utilized to their sublime potential.
To define their values, companies need to only look inwards. The answer is right there.
Have great values, and then what
Companies get the most out of their values when they actively and consistently make sure the values influence everything they do. It’s about the HOW (as already said, repetition is the mother of all learning, peeps). HOW products, services, experiences, communications, buildings, environments, recruitment, and behavior towards each other and customers all get done in the company. HOW all the expressions are created that the company intends to be recognized by.
Being genuine is by far the biggest builder of trust and loyalty. When we know, share and proudly act our values, we work in unison towards a distinctive, authentic brand that resonates with human beings, both internally and externally. Values, when expressed, create a personality. Values, when shared, create a tribe. And those who fall in love are the truest tribe. The ones doing the convincing for you, more credibly than you ever can. The ones who are extremely valuable for a business that wants to be around for the long term. Stay in the infinite game, as Simon Sinek beautifully puts it (The Infinite Game, S. Sineak, 2019).
Without values as guidance, humans regress to a kneejerk analysis of personal opinions and feelings. Instead of asking if what I see or you suggest is in line with our brand values, we ask ourselves whether I like it or not. Maybe, if we are a bit unsure, does my child, partner, or pet like it. And that leads to nowhere, but never-ending arguments, negotiations, and bad compromises that have zero personality to show. UNLESS the company in question is a dictatorial one, where one person makes all decisions based on their own values. You get consistency and success. You just need people working for you who like to be told what to do. Those companies are around too.
The values are, at best, an unparalleled aide in decision-making, big and small. Who should be our next CEO? Should we acquire this company? Should we operate in this market and culture? What are the critical parameters of our new flagship product? What do we keep, what do we lose? What kind of Christmas party should we have?
Recruitment is where values truly come to their own. Saving time, money, and future headaches. Most recruitment mistakes can very likely be tracked down to the employee’s own values conflicting with the organization’s. If company values are known and internalized, it’s easier to assess whether the applicants can thrive and fit in, or whether they end up creating damage to their own and other people’s wellbeing. No wonder mergers tend to be disruptive and challenging.
By the way, one crucial notion, in case you were wondering, and according to the internet, many are. There’s no difference between the company, corporate, or brand values. It’s one and the same set.