In yesterday’s Financial Times, Lucy Kellaway railed against businesses that publish their values. Her rant was based on the fact that out of 24 well known businesses, only five of their managers could recognise their own values from a list. Kellaway says that whilst values may be important, they are also “slippery.”
“The minute anyone tries to write them down they become trite and unhelpful,” she says.
I agree they can be slippery but that’s exactly why you should write them down! If you haven’t nailed and captured your values, then how can you expect your organisation to align with them?
What are values anyway? In his post The Difference Between Culture and Values, Matt Blumberg says values “guide decision-making and a sense of what’s important and what’s right." Values, identified well, should underpin a brand or organisation.
Kellaway reported a recent piece of research of FTSE 100 businesses that found three words - integrity, respect and innovation - cropped up in values over and over again. If you set your values by ticking off a list of business buzzwords, then of course they will be meaningless. But just because some businesses fall into a cookie-cutter approach to value-making doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bother at all.
If you set your values based on what’s true for your organisation, then they can be a powerful touchstone for employees and customers alike. The design and consulting firm IDEO created The Little Book of IDEO. This is a handbook that aims to capture “the ties that bind us together as coworkers," including such values as “Talk less, do more” and “Take ownership.” In its introduction CEO Tim Brown explains that for many years he’d shied away from capturing the organisation’s values:
“For 20 years, I did a lot of hand-waving and gave vague answers. Then, about a year ago, we decided we really should put our values in writing.”
The Little Book of IDEO is not just written by the CEO. It features contributions from employees which reflects the different voices and attitudes that make up the organisation (you can see a slideshare of some it here).
So perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate your values. Do they mean anything or are they just jargon? Do they reflect how you behave as an organisation, as a brand, as an employer? Do you put them into practice?
Keep your values hidden, and you can get away with ignoring them. Put them on your wall, wave them about online where all can see, then if you don’t actually live them, people like Lucy Kellaway have the right to call you out.
Need help capturing more meaningful values within your organisation? I can help, get in touch: email@example.com