This post is inspired by an article that Denise Lee Yohn had published in Harvard Business Review in 2018. And, I defy anyone to read that headline and not feel compelled to read the article.
Yohn drew on research from hundreds of companies, finding that 90% of all corporate values statements have the words “ethical” or “integrity” somewhere in the mix.
88% of values statements mention “the customer”, and 76% mention either “teamwork” or “trust”.
So, going straight to the punchline: what are the five words you should never use in a values statement?
The first is “ethical” or “integrity.” According to Yohn, this should be a given. Why would you draw attention to it? It’s a good thing I stand up to record, otherwise I’d be shifting uncomfortably in my chair at this point!
One of the 4 values I implemented at CS Energy was “Act with Integrity” … but lack of integrity was a big problem in some parts of the business.
The second is “Teamwork.” Just common sense to not use this, in Yohn’s estimation.
The third word is “Authentic” – I couldn’t agree more. You can’t claim to be authentic—you either are or you aren’t, and customers, suppliers, regulators and shareholders will be the judge of that!
The fourth word is “Fun”. Apparently, if you have fun as a value, you’re trying too hard… and if you have to say it, then you probably aren’t.
And finally, “Customer-oriented”. Well, guess what? If you’re not, you won’t last too long in business. This should be a given too.
The bottom line for me is, if you’re ever in a position to provide input into your company’s values, then think about why you’re doing it.
In my opinion, the values of an organization should reflect and describe the culture that the Chief Executive and the board are trying to create.
At CS Energy, when I recast the values in 2013, I chose the things that I deemed to be the most essential focal points to take the company forward.
So there were only four values: be safe, create value, take accountability, and act with integrity.
These values didn’t just fill up space on our website. I expected every leader in the organization to understand, model, and promote these values within their teams.
In many organizations, the true culture is very, very different from the stated company values. The only way you find out, though, is when you’re on the inside looking out, not the outside looking in.
When I give keynotes and ask for a show of hands, less than 50% of any audience can clearly state what their company’s values even are… and less than 10% believe that the company values are a true representation of the way things actually work.
I’ve even seen teams inside organizations develop their own values, because they feel so disconnected from the broader company values.
How well do you identify with your company’s values?