Are your company values bulls*t?

“Be customer focused” vs. “Deliver WOW through service.” Which of these two company values stands out the most? Which one will you never forget?

Throughout my experience as a coach, I have been fortunate enough to work for some amazing companies with clear purposes and cultures that made me appreciate being a part of something bigger. I have also encountered other companies emulate good company values, and have always noticed a common theme in building and sustaining a successful company culture: unique, memorable company values. Values that are not necessarily transferable to another company. They become a company’s DNA.

However, it is easy for a company of any size to fall into the trap of having values that represent the must-haves of any work environment, such as honesty, respect, and others.

For a culture to truly flourish, the company values should be viewed as the foundation that guides how teams behave and make decisions.

Below are three characteristics that underpin great values and make them meaningful.

They aren’t boring

Many times values are an afterthought for a company’s leaders. Take the value “Communication excellence” for example. Business management expert Patrick Lencioni calls this type of value “permission to play,” which he defines as “minimum behavioural and social standards required of any employee.” Lencioni stated that permission-to-play values “tend not to vary much across companies, particularly those working in the same region or industry, which means that, by definition, they never really help distinguish a company from its competitors.”

They have a secret sauce

Great values are non negotiable and unique. If you read your company values twice and have difficulty remembering them or you don’t find yourself using them on a regular basis, you probably have the wrong values. You should aspire to have just a handful (a maximum of five) that employees remember and that can be applied to everyday tasks and challenges they face, both big and small.

They help everyone ‘walk the talk’

Company values are more than just words. They should be taken very seriously. Be explicit with them. If you are not clear about what is important to you, then you end up with a mix of constraints and assumptions. This can lead to the wrong expectations ending in frustration and conflict.

Established core values should be something that employees can live up to and can use as a tool that can guide them through tough times and to make hard decisions in any scenario. This could include who you do business with, who you might have to recruit or fire, or how you deliver your product/service. If you are not using your values to make these tough decisions, then they are not the right values. I believe as part of any employee’s role they have a responsibility is to uphold their company’s values on a day-to-day basis.

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