Meaningless Core Values – A Dangerous Liability

February 9, 2017 Sarah Payne


Does your company have a set of values that guides every decision that is made – from the way employees interact with clients to the types of products you sell? Perhaps you have a set of values, but does everyone know what they are and what it means to live those values every day?

Meaningless or nonexistent corporate values can be a huge risk for companies, especially in today’s political climate. Daniel Korschun, associate professor of marketing at Drexel University, wrote an interesting Salon piece about what happens when corporate brands violate consumer expectations. He writes:

Consumers today form relationships with a company based not only on the quality of the products and services it sells but also on a set of expectations of how it should comport itself. When companies violate these expectations by behaving inconsistently, consumers reconsider that relationship. Obviously, this can have a major impact on company performance if many customers experience a violation … So to corporate executives: Your constituents are watching. They acknowledge that your company has a distinct set of values. They are asking for you to be forthright. And they want to know that you have the gumption to stand up for your stated values.

Not only do corporate values guide the actions of consumers (in real time, as we saw last month with the Lyft/Uber debacle), but they are also imperative when it comes to attracting talent.

Glassdoor recently conducted research on 615,000 Glassdoor users to determine which workplace factors have the greatest impact on employee satisfaction. The number one driver of employee satisfaction in that research is culture and values, followed closely by quality of senior leadership (who is often responsible for modeling those values). Perhaps surprisingly, compensation and benefits falls last on the list.

If corporate values, in some ways, matter more to people than money, how do you make values real? In finding two from the new SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Survey, we looked at the difference between values-based recognition programs (where employees are given recognition for specific actions that demonstrate a company’s core values) and programs that are not tied to core values.

Values-based recognition programs outperform other programs on every metric we evaluated. Not only are HR professionals with values-based recognition programs more likely to report that their program instills and reinforces corporate values (88% v. 57%), they’re also more likely to report a positive impact on ROI and maintaining a strong employer brand.

What’s more, HR professionals with values-based recognition are nine times more likely to rate their program as excellent.

Interestingly, in the years since this survey began, we’ve seen an increase in the number of companies adopting values-based recognition – from 50% in 2012 to 60% in 2016. During that same time, the number of companies with programs not tied to value has fallen from 27% to 21%.

If you look at tech companies like Twitter, AirBnB, Adobe, and Samsung, all have strong driving principles that are core to their operations. What is the state of core values at your company? Do you think they need a revamp? Delivering Happiness provides some helpful steps if you’re looking to develop new core values:

  1. Decide if you’re committed to running a values-based company.
  2. Figure out your personal values.
  3. Get key people’s personal values.
  4. Combine people’s values.
  5. Ask managers to test values against employees and ex-employees.
  6. Test your commitment. (Will you hire/fire based on values?)
  7. Send to entire company and ask for feedback.
  8. Combine people’s values (again).
  9. Roll out core values to entire company.
  10. Integrate core values into everything you do.

How does your company make core values practicable? Are they meaningful – or just words you put on the wall at reception? These are important questions to ask given today’s political and economic climate. Your values are a guiding post for making ethical decisions that will impact all stakeholders – your clients, your employees, and the greater public.

Meaningless Core Values – A Dangerous Liability
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