Why You Should Ignore People Who Tell You To Ditch Your Company Values


Company values don’t work. You put all this effort into them only to have them become a set of sterile words posted on the wall somewhere. You can find countless examples of companies that have noble, altruistic missions and values that describe their heroic role in “making the world a better place” (cue the reference to the series premiere of HBO’s hit TV show Silicon Valley), but whose actions betray their true objectives: to manipulate and deceive in order to make money.

All of the above statements can be true, but accepting them as gospel is a surefire way to set you and your business up for failure.

Firstly, company values do work, but only if you know how to put them to work. Secondly, it’s easy to point to the myriad of companies whose stated values clearly don’t shape their business decisions and hiring choices. (I can also point to countless aspiring chefs who have narrowly avoided burning the kitchen down while attempting a simple dish, but it would be ridiculous to conclude that “kitchens don’t work.”) Thirdly, that episode of Silicon Valley was hilarious, and serves as a clever example of people who clearly do not know how to craft and apply company values.

Take a moment to think about a company you admire. Spoken or unspoken, written or unwritten, they most likely have a set of values that drive their business decisions and behavior. Wouldn’t you rather base your strategy off of a company you admire, rather than one who was likely never sincere about their values in the first place?

People who don’t believe that company values are important likely:

  1. Posted values on a wall somewhere and wondered why they didn’t change how people showed up to work.

  2. Haven’t experienced first-hand what it’s like to work for a company where the values permeate the culture and shape their everyday actions.

  3. Have leaders who don’t live, breathe, and protect the values themselves, so they aren’t seen as valuable by anyone else.

  4. Created values that were too aspirational and don’t describe the merits of the existing culture.

  5. Don’t know what to do with the values once they’re established or how to do the work required to infuse them into decision-making, hiring, and performance management.

All of the above is fixable (except perhaps #3…). It takes work, but it’s worth it. A robust and accurate set of values can shape your hiring practices, strategic decisions, how you recover from crises (anyone remember the Tylenol cyanide disaster? Johnson & Johnson’s response is an excellent case study in values at work), and how you show up to work each and every day.

You’ll know you have a solid set of values if they:

Describe your company as it is at its best, rather than what you wish your company was.

Many people use values as an opportunity for aspiration. Bad idea. Your aspirations are different from others’, and you’ll struggle with buy in. If you have to spend your time “selling” the company values instead of applying them, you’ve already failed. Instead, hone in on what brought you all together in the beginning; you’re already aligned on that.

Are reflected in the best decisions the company has made, as well as in those moments of crisis when your people came together to find meaningful solutions.

You aren’t creating your values, you’re uncovering them. Therefore you should be able to find them in each moment you’ve felt proud to be together, reveling in that special magic of when things just felt “right”.

Are closely tied to your mission.

If the mission is in fact why you do what you do, then the values are how you do what you do. There should be a clear connection between the why and the how.

Are phrased in whatever way makes the most sense to your people.

Don’t get caught up in semantics. It doesn’t matter if your values are a word like “Simplicity”, a phrase like “No A$$holes”, or a paragraph-based credo. Use what feels right to you and the keepers of the culture. Prioritize language you hear regularly around the office.

If you don’t think your current values meet these criteria, don’t ditch them. Challenge them. Put them to the test, and challenge your people to strengthen them, tear them down, or replace them. In a few cases you might find that challenging them reveals the strength you previously overlooked.

Once you have your Values, don’t think the work is done. Your values are the foundation of your culture and the work that needs to be done to strengthen and preserve it. Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone. Companies like Plumeria can help you infuse your values into all aspects of your performance infrastructure, from interviewing and hiring practices to performance management and evaluation, to developmental feedback, and to growth opportunities for your organization. Let us help you nurture the talent within.

Cody WrightComment