Two Reasons I’ll Bet Your Values Statement Stinks (And Why That Matters So Very Much)

Simply put, in creating a culture of ethics, compliance, and accountability, there may be no better single tool than a well-written, well-implemented values statement.

Written and implemented correctly – and it needs to be both – your values statement will allow each and every one of your employees to immediately evaluate the appropriateness of their behavior and the behavior of others in your organization. It will simultaneously be a highly effective tool for helping them make the best possible decision any time there’s an absence of rules and guidelines for directing their behavior. Not only does that drive ethics, compliance and accountability but, in the very same stroke, it focuses and streamlines management, leadership and customer service. This is big!

Yet, my money says that, if you even have a values statement, it probably stinks. Here’s why:

Reason #1 – I spend a good bit of my professional life reviewing organizational values statements and the overwhelming majority stink. Statistically speaking, your company is probably in the overwhelming majority.

Reason #2 – I also spend a good bit of my time talking with employees about their companies’ values statement and the overwhelming majority of them think their companies’ values statements stink too. (Did I mention that, statistically speaking, your company is probably in the overwhelming majority?)

Here’s a quick checklist to assess the stink factor of your values statement. Consider your values statement the recipient of significant stink points if:

  • You don’t actually have a values statement. (That said, I’m a strong believer that not having one is far better than having a poorly written one that’s well-implemented. After all, implemented correctly, your values statement is going to get everyone on the same page – you better be sure you’re getting them on the right page!)
  • There are any employees in your organization who cannot, without hesitation, recite your values statement in its entirety. (They are frequently waaaaay too long and complicated.) Having to look at the back of a business card or a wall plaque – let alone needing to run to some site online – to find your values statement don’t count as “without hesitation”.
  • Anything in your values statement cannot be so clearly behavioralized that every employee knows exactly what they need to do – or not do – to bring your values to life.
  • Anything on your values statement that will not allow employees to evaluate the appropriateness of their behavior or the behavior of fellow employees in a heartbeat. (Notice, I said “in a heartbeat”, not in an hour, a month, a year, or only after consulting with a supervisor or supervisor’s supervisor.)
  • Anything on your values statement that will not help employees make the best possible decisions in the absence of other rules and guidelines for their behavior. (And, in some cases, in spite of those other rules and guidelines…)
  • Anything on your values statement that reflects what you or some consultant/focus group thinks your values are supposed to be as opposed to what they actually are.
  • Anything on your values statement mandating behaviors that are not actually in your employees’ control.
  • Anything on your values statement reflecting anything other than your most important, most persistent organizational priorities.
  • Anything on your values statement that doesn’t apply to everyone beholden to that values statement.

There are a number of other do’s and don’ts but the above are the critical ones that I see ignored or abused time after time after time.

Remember, your values statement isn’t a PR document and it isn’t some ‘feel-good’ proposal even though it hopefully helps employees feel good about their actions and the actions of those around them.

Instead, done right, your values statement will be a living, breathing foundation for your organization’s culture. As such you have to get it truly and completely right. You just do.

Take shortcuts at your peril remembering that those perils can be realllly expensive when you add up the legal, financial, and reputational problems a well-written and well-implemented values statement will help you avoid.

Thoughts or comments on this piece? Please do let me know.

Need some help with writing (or re-writing) your values statement? Help with effective implementation? Let me know. I’ll be happy to help any way I can.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>