Is having a set of Company “Values” always a good thing?

Company values are one of the major buzzwords of the corporate world and the majority of businesses from SMEs to PLCs have a set of carefully crafted values by which they do business. Better Placed is no different and our recently updated company values, give a framework to how our business operates and how we approach recruitment… something we call The Real Network.

But what makes a good company “value”? and can these values ever have a negative effect and actually do more harm than good.

A good place to start when assessing a question like this is to look at the world-leaders in terms of “brands” and those companies who are also renowned as having a strong company culture and set of core values.

Let’s start with Coca-Cola, which states the following as their company mission:

  • To refresh the world in mind, body and spirit
  • To inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions
  • To create value and make a difference.

And their values?

  • Leadership: The courage to shape a better future
  • Collaboration: Leverage collective genius
  • Integrity: Be real
  • Accountability: If it is to be, it’s up to me
  • Passion: Committed in heart and mind
  • Diversity: As inclusive as our brands
  • Quality:  What we do, we do well

What about Innocent Drinks, a brand Better Placed is proud to call one of its clients. The smoothie supremos are renowned for their positive worldview and attitude to doing good for the planet and people, from recyclable packaging, to running foreign aid campaigns such as their current mango project in India.

Their corporate values are as follows:

  • Be natural – Not just our products, but being natural in how we treat each other and how we speak to everyone – colleagues, drinkers, customers, suppliers, etc. It also means being ourselves, and the best version of it.
  • Be entrepreneurial – innocent began as a small, entrepreneurial company, and although we’ve grown a lot since, we do keep our entrepreneurial mindset. We aren’t afraid to do things differently, and we’ve never given up on a good opportunity.
  • Be responsible – We keep our promises, are mindful of our impact on our community and our environment, and always try to leave things a little bit better than we found them.
  • Be commercial – We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t keep our eyes on the numbers at all times. Ultimately we want to deliver growth for us and our customers too.
  • Be generous – This means giving honest feedback to one another, helping each other out, taking time to say thank you, and where we can, donating our resources or money to those who need it more than us. It’s that simple.

So what about the other big hitter – Facebook? You can find the social media giant’s five core values on, as would be expected, Facebook. The overall mission reads:

‘Our mission is to make the world more open and connected. As we grow as a company we have 5 strong values that guide the way we work and the decisions we make each day to help achieve our mission.’

The core values are as follows:

  • Be Bold: Building great things means taking risks. We have a saying: “The riskiest thing is to take no risks.” In a world that’s changing so quickly, you’re guaranteed to fail if you don’t take any risks. We encourage everyone to make bold decisions, even if that means being wrong some of the time.
  • Focus on Impact: To have the biggest impact, we need to focus on solving the most important problems. It sounds simple, but most companies do this poorly and waste a lot of time. We expect everyone at Facebook to be good at finding the biggest problems to work on.
  • Move Fast: Moving fast enables us to build more things and learn faster. We’re less afraid of making mistakes than we are of losing opportunities by moving too slowly. We are a culture of builders, the power is in your hands.
  • Be Open: We believe that a more open world is a better world. The same goes for our company. Informed people make better decisions and have a greater impact, which is why we work hard to make sure everyone at Facebook has access to as much information about the company as possible.
  • Build Social Value: Facebook was created to make the world more open and connected, not just to build a company. We expect everyone at Facebook to focus every day on how to build real value for the world in everything they do.

 

This is all very positive stuff, the kind of rhetoric you’d expect from the likes of Facebook, Innocent and Coca-Cola, and whilst most core company values highlight the same points, the above do have quite clear differences.

So can these company values sometimes have a negative impact?

Company values can start to have a negative impact when they’re poorly thought-out and don’t match the public outlook or actual capability of the business in question.

For example, Innocent’s brand values work perfectly because they are known as an ethical company, so a rhetoric strong on generosity, responsibility and being natural for the brand is now so ingrained it couldn’t be anything else. It portrays a positive outlook for the brand to the world, not only externally to customers but internally for staff too.

Let’s take a look at the other end of the spectrum to a company that is being bombarded with a torrent of criticism of late from media, unions and government alike – Sports Direct.

As Dr William Harvey, Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies at the University of Exeter Business School suggests in this article, Sports Direct needs to address its ever-growing list of critics head on and it’s true company values can play a big part of this.

But Sports Direct is starting on the back foot. Why? Because who actually knows what Sports Direct’s core values are? You can’t find them easily online (if they even exist). There’s also no immediate thoughts that come to mind if you’re asked what their core missions are. Right now if asked, after months of negative media reports, you’d say perhaps ripping off staff is a core mission statement for the company.

Obviously it isn’t, but not having values set in stone leaves you open to brand criticism, especially in time of crisis when they can be used to refute claims.

Dr Harvey writes: “Most organisations make grandiose claims about their values. However, when a company faces major questions about its reputation then those values come under greater scrutiny.

“What is particularly interesting about Sports Direct is that there is very little information on the company’s website about its values. Much more is said about its strategy, business model and operations.

“Clearly, writing a set of values does not imply sound labour and governance practices, but their absence might suggest too great an emphasis on economic performance. Sports Direct should consider embedding a strong set of values which are meaningful to its members.

“To be clear, this should not be a window dressing exercise for its website, but an opportunity to much more closely engage with its core internal and external stakeholders such as employees, customers, investors, unions and regulators.”

What about your company’s values?

So we’ve looked at good company values and also the issue of having no real values at all in times of brand crisis. But where then is the potential issue if your business does employ a set of company values?

Well, here’s a couple of points to consider:

1. Do they really reflect your brand and stand out in a crowd?

Too often in business it’s easy to spit out the same corporate jargon that in reality can mean very little.

“Our company is honest, responsive, driven and focus on quality.”

Great – but doesn’t every other company strive for the same? We know Facebook are driven and that reflects their strategy to break the Asian market, we know Coca-Cola rely on the quality of their drinks, and everyone knows Innocent is as honest as a corporate company can get. But they don’t need to state that in black and white. It’s too generic. It actually means very little.

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Buzzwords that do actually mean something different are ones like ‘bold’, ‘leaders’, ‘generous’.

Just think, if a potential client or customer read my business’ core values, would they really get what we’re about? More so than our competitors? Would a new member of staff know how to carry themselves under my employ?

2. Company values that aren’t achievable

This is perhaps most important if you look to bring in company values after a while of trading, or want to make changes further down the line – your company values have to be achievable, or else they’ll have a damaging impact on staff morale and also external brand image. If you’re not an innately sociable company, don’t list that as a core value. If your business isn’t primarily focused on charitable commitments or green credentials, don’t say that you are.

Misplaced core values can lead to troublesome outcomes in the long run, and even negative press attention. No one is going to batter an eyelid if your company prints a load of paper and posts endless streams of marketing collateral to potential customers in reality. However, if you do and you list your green credentials as one of your key company values, you leave yourself open to criticism.

3. Company values and your recruitment strategy

I wonder how many smaller companies actually present their company values or make them readily available to potential new staff members? Probably not that many. Why does it matter?

Because your company values reflect the type of candidate you want to attract, puts in black and white what you expect of your new and also current employees and can also attract the right people to your company. That’s why it’s important to get them right on a recruitment level.

It’s one of the reasons why there’s so much gravitas behind saying you work for Facebook. It’s not only the size and global renown of the company, it’s because its core values are so ingrained that if you talk to someone who works there, you know exactly what type of person that is – creative, bold, sociable.

If you’re a young start-up that’s looking to attract hungry, driven and entrepreneurial people into the business then your company values need to reflect that. It will not only attract the right talent, but it may also stop candidates who deep down know that they’re maybe not the right personality fit for your business applying. In the long run, that’s going to help drive your brand forward.