Four Great Sounding Values That Can Ruin Your Business

I spend a lot of my time helping companies redefine what their core values are. The goal? To be able to use their values statement much more effectively to drive a culture of ethics, compliance, and accountability.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this process also drives better leadership, better management, and better customer service. After all, when everyone knows your most important, most persistent priorities, everything gets more focused, effective, and efficient, wouldn’t you agree?

Perhaps also not surprisingly, my work gives me a somewhat unique view of stated values that don’t actually work nearly was well as most people expect. It’s a somewhat lengthy list but here are the four I see doing the most damage to the most organizations.

Fun

What’s wrong with fun??? Besides, look at Zappos. Look at Southwest Airlines. Fun is at their core and they’re incredibly successful!

Well, actually, fun isn’t at their core. Supremely consistent, engaging, distinctive, positive customer service is at their core. They have a helluva lot of fun providing that – and that has to help retain their great employees as well as their great customers – but it’s simply a wonderful and remarkably self-reinforcing way to create what’s really at their core.

I’ve had jobs – and I’ll bet you have too – that were really fun exactly because no one actually did much. Fun was job number one. (For many of us, this probably describes college pretty well…)

So – is fun at work a good thing? Absolutely! Just be careful what you ask for. If it’s one of your most important, most persistent priorities, it had better not be in even a partial vacuum. It can’t simply be an end in itself; there’s too much your company has to do.

Make fun a hallmark of your organization by all means but make it a perk to employees and your customers, not a substitute for results. To do otherwise is begging for disaster.

Passion

We all hear a lot about the importance of passion these days and, of course, we all want employees to be passionate about their work. We, ourselves, want to be passionate about what we do. I certainly do (and am).

Is that actually a helpful or even reasonable core value, though? I just can’t see it.

For starters, it isn’t in employees’ control and how can you mandate something over which your employees actually have no control?

Besides, are your un-passionate employees disloyal if they show up every day, do a great job for you but, in reality, would rather be somewhere else doing something else? I doubt it. Might they be doing even better if they loved what they were doing? Possibly so and it’s your job to help them see the value in what they’re doing and encourage them to, hopefully, find meaning in it.

Of course, simply telling folks they’re supposed to be passionate is likely useless and, rather, brings to mind, “The Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves”. So, you’ll need to be more creative than that. If you fail at this motivational task, though, have they failed? I think not.

Meanwhile, remember that passion may be completely unrelated to how effective an employee is; and if they’re quiet about it, their lack of passion may do little, if anything, to reduce the enthusiasm of fellow employees. In other words, a lack of passion needn’t be contagious although, of course, you’ll want to keep an eye on that.

Finally, consider this… Haven’t we all known wildly passionate employees who were massively incompetent? You really want that kind of passion to be contagious? I don’t think so…

Successful companies are made up of people who know what their job is and they do it well. Hopefully they have fun doing what they do. Passion though, as wonderful as it can be, is strictly optional. Select for passion over skill-set and you can end up with a nasty case of highly committed incompetents.

Synergy

Poor little synergy – it really does sound good, doesn’t it?

I used to see this term used mostly in tech companies but it’s slowly becoming ubiquitous.

It usually fails at several simultaneous levels:

Most people can’t tell me what synergy actually means and, if you can’t tell me what it means, you can’t tell your employees what it means and how to use it for your company’s sustained success.

If you can tell me (and your employees) what it means, what is its function? How does it make who you are and what you do more effective, efficient, or unique in the marketplace?

If it passes the test above – and it usually doesn’t – tell me how it is vital to every employee’s success. Use clear, behavioral terms and then tell me how it is fully in the control in every employee to be synergistic.

Pass the above test? Terrific! Now tell me why it is a more persistent, more important priority than the other things you’re currently calling your core values.

Able to do all that as well? Terrific (yet again)! Okay then, I’m done.

Like any purported value, if you can’t tell each and every employee what it means – in clear, behavioral terms – and how, specifically, their job is to embody that value, you’re just gunning for style points and that’s no recipe for success.

Integrity

When it comes to unfortunate, poorly stated values, integrity is the undisputed belle of the ball.

Integrity is on pretty much every values statement and, of course, everyone will tell you proudly that it’s the cornerstone, the lynchpin, the firm foundation (the list goes one…) of what they’re all about or, perhaps more humbly, aspiring to be.

Now, go through the questions I just asked about synergy. I think you’ll get my point about why integrity is on this list.

As I seem to find myself saying repeatedly these days, I’m not somehow anti-integrity. I promise.

However, if your employees don’t know what it means – really, clearly means – how in the world can you marshal those employees around it or prove to me – or your customers – that you’re ‘doing integrity’ as you say you are? It can’t be done. You can try to convince me otherwise but I’m betting you’ll be unsuccessful.

Here are three other things to remember about integrity:

1. No matter how you end up defining integrity – and part of my point here is that it can be defined any number of ways – your customers already expect that behavior from you. Just like “great customer service”, everyone else is saying they do it too. So, please, by all means make a better-defined-version of integrity part of your core values but make no mistake, it doesn’t differentiate you from anyone else. Only your actual, conspicuous behavior has any hope of doing that.

2. When you think/talk/train/strategize about integrity, keep in mind that it is an outcome and not a behavior. No one can ‘do integrity’; it’s the result of doing other things.

3. We can probably agree that, in the end, your business lives and dies based on your integrity. So, if you can’t actually tell if your business is or isn’t demonstrating integrity – because you can’t actually define what it is – how will you know if you’re living or dying? Call me un-daring but that sounds like a baaaaad question to not be able to answer.

Now, it’s up to you to figure out what the behaviors are which will allow integrity to be your desired outcome. You may find that’s tougher work than you imagine. That’s fine; the payoff will be huge.

So How Is This All Supposed To Help???

The title of this piece was about values that sound good but can ruin your business. I’ll stand by that. Any of the four values on this list can, focused on inappropriately, have a truly chilling effect on your outcomes. Not because fun, passion, synergy or integrity are in any way bad things. But, left ill-defined, or driven in a misguided manner, any of them can take your focus away from what’s really going to create and maintain sustained success.

Worse? It will do that all-the-while encouraging the misperception that you’re building your business using values as a tool for your success. There aren’t many more potentially deadly things, it seems to me, than a false sense of security.

So then?

Interested in learning how to create and implement a values statement that will drive better management, leadership, customer service, and branding? Let me know. That’s a significant part of my expertise. Sure, I’m in it to help create a culture of ethics, compliance and accountability but that can always be our little secret…

Christopher Bauer works with executives and managers who are highly invested in their employees consistently doing what they are supposed to be doing. In addition to speaking, training, consulting, and coaching, he writes on ethics, compliance and accountability for a wide range of both print and online publications. Further information on his programs as well as free subscriptions to his Weekly Ethics Thought are available at both www.ChristopherBauer.com and www.BauerEthicsSeminars.com.

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