10 Questions to Assess If Your Corporate Values Have Value

10 Questions to Assess If Your Corporate Values Have Value
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Assess Corporate Values
When did you last assess corporate values?  Are corporate values just “nice-to-haves?”  Would your employees say that you consistently define and live core values?

Most corporate lobbies proudly display the poster of “standard” corporate values to impress recruits and communicate what matters most.  They usually include values like integrity, a culture of accountability, teamwork, results-driven, innovation, and, more recently, diversity.

But, Are Your Company’s Values Making a Difference in How People Work, Think, and Behave?
To have an impact on your strategy, on your culture, and on your workforce, corporate values must be more than catchy phrases and words on a website and a poster in the hallway.  They must help to guide behaviors and decisions during both good and bad times.

Ten Questions to Assess Corporate Values
If you want to get a quick sense if your values are making the desired impact and do not want to fully assess your organizational culture, start by asking these ten questions to assess if your corporate values have value:

  1. Do your corporate values define what is really most important?
  2. Do your corporate values espouse the fundamental beliefs of the organization and its leaders?
  3. Do your corporate values help people to make important decisions in both good and bad times?
  4. Are your corporate values consistently modeled and monitored by leadership?
  5. Do high performers consistently live your corporate values?
  6. Are their meaningful rewards for following your corporate values?
  7. Are their proportionate consequences for not following your corporate values?
  8. Do your corporate values have a real purpose in your marketplace and business strategy?
  9. Are your corporate values creating a high performance environment?
  10. Do your corporate values help you to attract, develop, engage, and retain top talent?

Corporate Values Done Right
Done right, corporate values can serve as the foundation for who you hire, fire, promote, and reward.  Your values should also help make critical decisions.  But coming up with and living meaningful values for your team or organization does not happen without serious commitment and effort.

Explicitly lived values create accountability and therefore, discomfort.

You will know you are on the right path when everyone can clearly:

  • Articulate the values simply and concisely
  • Describe what each value behaviorally looks like in observable action
  • Share how people are being held accountable (rewards and consequences) to living each value

What Strong Corporate Values Feel Like
Like an immune system, strong corporate values can make some employees feel unwanted or constrained.  Strong values create boundaries for the accepted behavior of its people. They also open the door for executives to be quickly judged as hypocrites when even minor variations are perceived.

How To Test The Strength of Your Corporate Values
One of the best ways to test whether or not values have potency is to observe what happens when the going gets tough. Nothing’s going right. The world seems united against you. Now how do you behave?

Are behaviors in alignment with your values?  This is the true test of whether your values work for you and your organization — not when the sun is shining but when storm clouds gather. Do they act as guideposts for the decisions you need to make? If so, they’re doing their job.

  • An Example of Strong Corporate Values that Did Good
    In 1982 seven people mysteriously died from taking Tylenol extra-strength capsules — the bestselling, non-prescription pain reliever at the time.  That triggered a national scare that prompted an untold number of people to throw medicine away and stores nationwide to pull Tylenol from their shelves.  The capsules had been purposely laced with a lethal dose of cyanide.

    Some executives faced with such a nightmare would try to mitigate their financial and public relations risk through smokescreens, delays, and denials.

    To its credit, Johnson & Johnson took an active role with the media in issuing mass warnings, called for an immediate and massive recall of the more than 31 million bottles of Tylenol, offered replacement capsules to all, and posted a reward for any information leading to the apprehension of the individual or people involved in the random murders.

    The corporate value they followed — “protecting people and public safety first.” Although they were not responsible for the tampering of the product, they assumed responsibility, lived their values, and their tamper-proof innovations changed how medicine is sold.

    More recently during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tylenol’s “Stay Home for Them” campaign marked one of the first corporations to highlight, appreciate, and support front-line managers in healthcare and essential workers. Another strategic action directly aligned with their corporate values.

  • An Example of Strong Corporate Values that Did Bad
    Alternatively, there is the extreme example of Enron’s famously hollow values of respect, integrity, communication and excellence.  The biggest business bankruptcy ever is a stark example of misplaced principles hurting employees, stockholders, communities, vendors, and families.

    Unfortunately, Johnson & Johnson has also been at the center of scandals, government investigations, and lawsuits.  A recent Huffington Post investigation called J&J “America’s most admired lawbreaker.”

    Once regarded as a model of corporate and social responsibility, J&J has been forced to pay billions of dollars in civil settlements and criminal fines related to improper payments to foreign governments, tainted and deficient products, and the improper marketing of opioids, acne creams,  anti-psychotic medications, contact lenses, and epilepsy drugs.

    It is not always easy to follow your core values.  Is J&J still following their values or chasing profits?   You be the judge.

Your Corporate Values Form Your Cultural Foundation
In an article by Collins and Porras in the Harvard Business Review in 1996, the authors talk about a company’s “core ideology” which they define as what a company stands for and why they exist. They refer to company builders like David Packard of HP and William McKnight of 3M who “understood that it is more important to know who you are than where you are going, for where you are going will change as the world around you changes.”

Their premise is that values are the bedrock of an organization.  We agree.

For a company like Zappos, for instance, whose primary value is to “deliver WOW through service,” there are no holds barred when it comes to satisfying the customer. No matter what, this “powered by service” company will continue to make their decisions based on customer satisfaction. It is what has driven them this far and will drive them further even when the future is uncertain. The customer comes first and that’s that.

The Bottom Line
Corporate values matter when things go wrong. Corporate values matter when the way forward is unclear. What do you do when you don’t know what to do? Times are uncertain and you can’t have all the facts but need to forge ahead. Well-conceived values will help steer you in the right direction.  Do your corporate values have value?

To learn more, download a How Leaders Build a More Purposeful and Aligned Organizational Culture

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