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Harv Bus Rev. 2002 Jul;80(7):113-7, 126.

Make your values mean something.


Take a look at this list of corporate values: Communication. Respect. Integrity. Excellence. They sound pretty good, don't they? Maybe they even resemble your own company's values. If so, you should be nervous. These are the corporate values of Enron, as claimed in its 2000 annual report. And they're absolutely meaningless. Indeed, most values statements, says the author, are bland, toothless, or just plain dishonest. And far from being harmless, as some executives assume, they're often highly destructive. Empty values statements create cynical and dispirited employees and undermine managerial credibility. But coming up with strong values--and sticking to them--isn't easy. Organizations that want their values statements to really mean something should follow four imperatives. First, understand the different types of values: core, aspirational, permission-to-play, and accidental. Confusing them with one another can bewilder employees and make management seem out of touch. Second, be aggressively authentic. Too many companies view a values initiative in the same way they view a marketing launch: a onetime event measured by the initial attention it receives, not by its content. Third, own the process. Values initiatives are about imposing a set of fundamental, strategically sound beliefs on a broad group of people. That's why the best values efforts are driven by small teams. Finally, weave core values into everything. It's not enough to hang your values statement on the wall; it must be integrated into every employee-related process--hiring methods, performance management systems, even dismissal policies. Living by stated corporate values is difficult. But the benefits of doing so can be profound; so can the damage from adopting a hollow set of corporate values.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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