Values Added?

Getting values programmes right 

Communication, respect, integrity, excellence

Progressive, Performance driven, Responsible, Innovative

Respect, Integrity, Service, Excellence, Stewardship

Question:  What have all these sets of company values got in common?

Answer:  They all came from companies (Enron, BP (2009), Barclays) that have suffered extensive damage to their reputation and business performance as a result of failures in their corporate culture.

Having a set of articulated values is now one of the totems of any large company.  They are written on the walls, carved in stone in reception and the CEO announces them with a great fanfare.  During implementation, extensive internal comms campaigns are run, employees invent mnemonics to remember them, funky little ‘gizzits’ are handed out and HR devises a way to include them in performance reviews.  In short, they should have enough impetus behind them to guarantee success.

Why then do so many values programmes fail?  They may not all become mired in reputational catastrophe, but a good number have no demonstrably positive impact.  Indeed they may even seem still-born, another bit of management-speak foisted on the company and met by a roll of the eyes and a wave of deep cynicism – both internally and externally – from the moment they are announced.

At the risk of appearing overly cynical myself, it seems that values programmes are often used as a lazy approach to fixing a culture.  Simply write some non-contentious words, get carving, and let the magic happen.

The reality is that more work is needed by everyone involved.  Here are three reflections on ensuring a ‘values programme’ succeeds:

Despite the cynicism and devaluation that surrounds company values programmes, I suspect they will endure as a familiar part of corporate life.  In themselves they are not a bad thing, they just need careful thought, commitment and more than a sharp chisel to make them effective.

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