There they are on the wall. Framed. Possibly even in plaque form. There are 6 of them. (I don’t know why but corporate values most often seem to come in batches of 6.) They look beautiful. And if you ask any employee in the company s/he can probably name 2 or 3 of them without looking at the plaque. Herein lies the beginnings of the problems with corporate values.
First of all, you can’t change 6 behaviors at once. Have you ever heard someone make 6 New Year’s resolutions? Most people fail to carry out 1. Yet when most companies define their corporate values they offer up more new behaviors than anyone could possibly work to adopt at one time. The people who chose these values know this. So then they take the second step that makes corporate values useless.
They put the values on a plaque, stick them on the walls, and forget about them. And that’s what their employees do too. We all forget them. There’s no reason to do otherwise. After all, they have no bearing on anything we do. Out of sight, out of mind applies even to things that are framed and stuck on the wall. If there is no other reference to the values they will drift quickly into irrelevance.
To make corporate values useful they should be separated into 2 categories.
Commandment Values are the list of values that you expect everyone to exhibit at some minimum level. For example, we think everyone should act with – Trust, Integrity, Teamwork, Customer Service, Respect, Quality. Behaviors that are obviously contrary to these values will be grounds for discipline and possibly even termination. They set a minimum expectation, a baseline for behavior.
These values are basically what most companies have already created. They are the general list of “traits and behaviors we wish our employees to exhibit.” We don’t closely track them. But they will enter discussions when someone clearly breaks them.
The problem is that these don’t guide exceptional behavior. They simply set the stage for disciplining bad behavior – necessary perhaps, but hardly inspiring. This is why you need the second type of value.
The second type of value is your Focus Value. It is one value from your list of commandment values that will be your focus for some time – I personally like the time frame of 1 year. At any given time, some value will rise to the top, not as most important, but as most pressing. Your company was just hit with insider trading scandals? Focus on Integrity. You’re falling behind more creative competition? Focus on Innovation. Fights between the line and management? Focus on Trust.
This isn’t a dismissal of the other values. It’s a difference in activity. I’m expected not to break any of the Commandment Values. I’m expected to operate within their guidelines. However, I’m not expected to proactively go out of my way on a regular basis to seek ways to act upon those values. I’m simply expected to uphold them as part of my normal everyday activity.
For the Focus Value on the other hand, I’m expected to go out of my way, to seek out new ways to exhibit that value. Once you figure out which is your Focus Value for the year, make it part of everything. Corporate meetings and events should begin with activities or discussions related to the Focus Value. Performance review and development conversations should include the Focus Value. It should be part of your hiring and succession practices. Your Focus Value should be impossible for anyone in your company to forget, and it should be something that everyone in your company feels compelled to act on.
Valuable Corporate Values
This combination of Commandment and Focus Values makes your corporate values useful. It makes them guide behavior in a way that is actually doable. So what if you don’t hold the reigns for your whole company? At the very least, create your own Focus Value for the year and hold yourself accountable to it. My Focus Value for this year is Heroism. Let me know what you choose for yours.