Challenge those “Corporate Values”

It is very fashionable for Companies to talk about their “Values”.  I think it is time to challenge companies back on their values and here is why.

Companies don’t have values.  People have values.  The values of a company are the values of the people.  That generally means the values of the people at the top.

Values are not something you aspire to.  They are not a shopping list of what you want to be.  Values are what you do.  Values are the reflection of your daily behaviour, how you treat people around you, how you approach work and how you treat your family and friends.  Values are who you are now, today, not what you would like to be some time in the future.

Recruiting people on company values is a great idea, if the values are true to the company.  That way you get more people who genuinely share a philosophy of how to do business in the same way.

Consultants are coming into companies and helping them “define” what their values are.  They then use these ‘values’ to underpin the recruitment process.

Talk to some customers or business clients of the company.  Do they spontaneously come up with any of these values?

If there is a disjoint between the actual behaviour of senior management and the aspirational values of incoming staff then you are going to have problems.  Essentially, if your “company” values are not the values of your senior managers then the company is telling little white lies in the recruitment process.

As an applicant for a job it is entirely fair that you should ask testing questions about the values on which you are being recruited.  The recruiting company will ask you for examples in your career of how you displayed these values.  You should ask for concrete examples of how senior managers have lived the values.  If your interviewers begin to struggle this could be a cause for concern.

I have seen people interviewed and recruited on values such as Openness, Flexibility, Loyalty, Trust and Willingness to Speak Out.  Then they join a company where information is hoarded in silos, work practices are embedded, staff are routinely blamed by managers when things go wrong, there is a culture of suspicion that staff are avoiding work.  When you submit timesheets, expenses claims and sick notes they are scrutinized as though they are dud cheques.  Places where anyone who expresses an opinion that does not sycophantically support the management dogma is immediately shot down.

The classic discontinuity is where a company recruits on “passion, enthusiasm and ambition” and then seeks to rule by fear.  Fear kills off all passion and enthusiasm.  It fosters a ‘watch your back’ culture.  You will recognise this kind of workplace by email tennis.  Every email is actioned to prove it is ‘not my problem anymore’ and is copied to a long list of managers.  Woe betide the unfortunate staff member who fails to action the email at the root of the next big problem!

I have seen workplaces seek flexibility in staff.  They want people who work late, attend out of hours events, cancel holidays if needed, travel abroad at the drop of a hat and put the job before family commitments.  When they are asked for reciprocal flexibility they refuse it.  Flexibility does not extend to funerals, child minding, job sharing, working from home etc etc.  Flexibility only works if the bending goes both ways.  Flexibility in only one direction is simply exploitation.

Here are some old fashioned values that seem to be forgotten in this cool, modern world where you can play basketball in the office and get free food at 2am in the morning.

Promises:  A contract is a promise.  It asks for a fixed commitment of work for a fixed commitment of pay.  The worker should honour the work commitment.  The employer should honour the pay commitment.  If the employer offers a 40 hours per week contract, but the “expectation” is really 50 hours or more, you have just taken a 25% pay cut.  Who is the fool?

Punctuality:  If you start work at 9am it is not good enough to clock in at 9am at the front door, put away your coat, stow your lunch in the fridge, chat to your colleagues, make a coffee, switch on your computer, check Facebook, and then start actually working sometime around 10am.

If you finish work at 5pm it is not acceptable for a colleague to set up meetings that start at 4:45 with agendas that run to an hour and a half.  Punctuality works both ways, start time AND finish time.

Productivity: There is a very good reason why we work an eight hour day.  Pioneers of Scientific Management such as Frederick Winslow Taylor, Frank and Lilian Gilbreth measured every aspect of the workplace and the worker.  Companies such as Westinghouse, General Electric and Ford measured worker productivity in a variety of settings and over different time dimensions.

What became very clear is that productivity declines sharply after eight hours of work.  When you pay staff by the hour you get bad value for money in hour nine and beyond.  So the working day became standardised at eight hours.

If you have enthusiastic and ambitious staff burning the midnight oil on a regular basis they may seem impressive, but what are they actually achieving?  Yes, there are times when we need to put in a late night to make a deadline.  But if it becomes a weekly or even a daily event then something is wrong.  Is it bad goal setting?  Is the business understaffed, undertrained, under resourced?  Are opportunities being missed?  Are mistakes being made?

Presenteeism:  It is a bad idea to turn your office into a hospital ward.  Sick staff make other staff sick.  Genuinely sick people belong in bed.  Send them home!


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