Company Values are an essential foundation of culture

Are Your Company Values Real or a Farce?

Having been involved in countless culture change initiatives since 1998, the most common  feedback I hear is “Our company values aren’t real. They are nothing more than words on a poster.”

This undermines the hard work HR leaders and executives do, to define and communicate them. It’s a common plight, that has a few simple – but often not practiced – solutions!


Company Values are an essential foundation of culture
Company Values – are they real or a farce?

In this video, I share 3 specific habits – with examples – for “Making your company values real” – to help them become a source of pride, of guidance, and of leadership feedback. 

#1 – Do your company values reveal the most essential desired behaviors in YOUR COMPANY?

 Firstly, you can’t copy-and-paste core values.  Secondly, Respect is vague.  “Assume positive intent in all interactions and disagreements.”  is behavioral.  A person can shift their behavior, their communication based on this – and we can recognize when that is or is not happening.  That’s behavioral.  

  1. Integrity is another good example – Does this mean “Always Tell the truth?”  Even if it gets us in trouble?  (Enron clearly didn’t make that distinction! Or does Integrity mean “Be transparent in actions and decisions.”  Or something else?
  2. INNOVATION is another common one – does that mean “Follow the rules until they don’t apply”  Is it  “Challenge the status quo.”  Is it  “Listen deeply to our customers for unsolved problems.”  Different companies have different risk levels and strategies to innovate – with Company Values, people need it to be clear.

Habit #2 – What Are the Consequences for People Who Don’t Live Them? 

If leaders are not given feedback when they violate a core value – often they’re getting great results and no one wants to take them on – your culture will never be more than lip service.  (because the truth is, your culture is only as real as how you show up when there are tough decisions to be made.) 

If ultimately, no one ever gets fired when they repeatedly violate a core value….

  1. Behavior will never change at any level, 
  2. Which means your Company Values – and the culture they anchor – will be a joke.  Sorry – just no way to sugar-coat this. 
  3. The 2-year-old who always gets the candy when they throw a tantrum, is in control. 
  4. The leader who is verbally abusive is in control of your employee experience – even beyond their direct reports, the word is out. I’ve seen it over and over again – you have to promote and manage people by how they behave – not JUST BY the results they achieve.  
  5. Define a process by which people receive honest feedback when they’re making others uncomfortable – while realizing that no one is perfect and you can’t make everyone happy.  
  6. Just do your best to make the Company Values REAL. I’ve worked with many companies who will NEVER promote someone into leadership, unless they have a stellar track record of feedback from people they’ve touched about how they lift others higher. 

Habit #3 – CEO and Leadership Communicate them

Citing core values in key decisions – strategy shifts, change initiatives, reward/recognition programs, hiring and firing – is a smart way to show people they’re real.  EG, most recognition ceremonies give shout-outs to people who ‘met the numbers’ – but rarely talk about HOW they did it to align with the Company Values.  

OK hope that’s some good food for thought on your Company Values – and how to make sure they come off the posters into both TALK AND WALK.

Let us know if we can be of any assistance to you in this process!



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