Beware corporate values. They can bite back…

There’s no hard and fast rule that says an organisation has to have a declared set of corporate values. It’s a very fashionable thing to do that’s for sure. So many organisations have probably gone ahead and put them in place. It is what comes next that can be the problem.

You see once you declare values you have to live by them. Otherwise you quickly leave yourself open to being accused of double standards. And once that happens, trust is eroded fast.

Here’s a simple example. Last week I was expecting a parcel to be delivered. It was scheduled for Friday. I had an email confirming it was coming. However it did not arrive.

I tried to contact the company concerned – who proclaim they are “focused on the customer”. That’s good. However their website is anything but. They try to drive everything through email but if you send one nothing happens. You get an automatic acknowledgement and a case number and nothing more. Nobody actually does anything in my experience.

In frustration I finally found a number on Monday and rang them. The first three attempts the number rang and then cut off. The fourth time the number rang and a voice told me I was in a queue with 12 people ahead of me. I held for 10 minutes and then decided to call in again on another line – which answered immediately. The other line still being in the original queue – which clearly wasn’t a queue after all…

By now, no matter how my call is answered, I’ve lost all faith in that business being customer focused.

So what’s that got to do with HR I hear you ask? Well the same erosion of trust happens when organisations don’t live up to the values they present to their employees.

For example organisations which allow leaders to be exempt from their declared values. Somehow those with the words “Director” or “Head of” in their job title get away with paying them lip service.

Another common example is the high performer who gets results but whose behaviours are completely at odds with the declared values. That could be a top salesperson that delivers fantastic numbers but treats colleagues with disdain. Or perhaps a hard to find technical expert who is allowed to behave inappropriately because “we can’t afford to lose them”.

A values driven organisation will tackle those individuals. It will dismiss their top performing salesperson or even the CEO if they can’t change. Behaviours will impact performance ratings, bonuses and pay rises. The price to stay is to share the values: or at least it should be.

In reality, how many employers are really brave enough to do all these things? How many duck the issue and say “they are high maintenance but we have to live with it because losing them would damage our profits or upset a key customer relationship”.

The problem of course is that colleagues invariably know who these mavericks are. Often they are the people that make their working lives intolerable. Yet somehow they are “fireproof”.

Failing to tackle behaviour that is out of line with your declared values undermines trust in the organisation. And that only leads to one thing. Poor engagement and eventually people vote with their feet. Or decide if others can opt out, then so can they.

So before you paint those values up on the office wall ask yourself this. Are you prepared to live by them? If not then don’t do it. It could cause more harm than good.

Ian Gooden
Chief Executive

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