Are company values, vision and mission statement just jargon, or are they truly valuable to your business?
In the feel-good world of business consulting, defining company values sounds wonderful. They can help with decision making, attracting and retaining staff, marketing your business and attracting clients.
They can be a boon for your business and prove a real guiding light to build morale, trust and respect between staff and with clients. By clearly setting out what you stand for, your staff and clients will find you reliable and predictable.
But at make-or-break times for the business, are you ready to live by your values? The truth is that many don’t. Patrick M. Lencioni made that frank conclusion in his seminal Harvard Business Review piece, Make Your Values Mean Something, back in 1997.
“An organization considering a values initiative must first come to terms with the fact that, when properly practiced, values inflict pain,” Lencioni wrote. “If you’re not willing to accept the pain real values incur, don’t bother going to the trouble of formulating a values statement.”
Those painful moments can come when dealing with staff, working with clients, and making a decision that can impact the top line. They can also cause embarrassment if a business is involved in a scandal.
Amidst the revelations of the Financial Service Royal Commission, it is enlightening to look at the stated values of the Commonwealth Bank, which has been implicated in a string of scandals. Its values are:
The Commonwealth Bank provides a perfect example of Lencioni’s criticism of vague, cliched values. In his own work, Lencioni used Enron’s values as an example; a company which, coincidently, shared two values with the Commonwealth Bank – Integrity and Excellence. Enron’s other values were Communication and Respect.
Enron, an American energy company, commodities suffered the largest bankruptcy in history in 2001, after its irregular accounting practices were uncovered. Within 18 months, Enron’s stock price reduced from US$90 to pennies as its executives sold their stakes in the company while encouraging retail investors to hold.
As Lancioni wrote, “Cookie-cutter values don’t set a company apart from competitors; they make it fade into the crowd.” It’s hard to see these values as anything other than ‘cookie cutter’, especially with the value of hindsight.
Understandably, it’s easy to be cynical about company values. And amid the time-scarce environment of a thriving business, is there time to define values, and what’s the point? They’re just words anyway, right? Despite the criticism, strong authentic values had a positive impact on many businesses.
When identifying values, Lencioni found it helpful to list them in four categories: core (deeply ingrained); aspirational (what the company needs, but currently lacks); permission-to-play (minimum behavioural and social standards); and accidental (uncultivated).
To make them meaningful, Lancioni added that values need to be ‘aggressively authentic’. they need to be woven into everything a business does. Additionally, the process should be owned by company leadership (they aren’t democratic).
Levi Nieminen, the Director of Research at Denison Consulting, has added his own invaluable take to Lancioni’s work and set out two important tests to create ‘values with teeth’: avoid the ‘feel goods’, and ‘look at the illogical side’.
“Values can provide a meaningful set of guideposts to orient people to what the organization will be predisposed to do as the dust forever continues to settle–but only if they have adequately sharpened teeth,” he says.
Zakazukha took the time to set out its values, and we believe they have proven valuable in identifying how we operate in-house, and in identifying our ideal clients. They also allow our clients to understand how we work. You can see our values below:
Living our values comes naturally at Zakazukha, because for us, it was a process of articulating the way we were already working. Identifying our core purpose, as corporate storytellers, provided a clear understanding of what we do every day. We help build businesses by telling their stories, and we think that’s a perfect example of what we do.
Telling stories is meaningful to us, and that’s why we do it.