Corporate Values - Can they be unique to each organization? Or has the time come to examine if there is an over-arching set of values that by and large binds the corporate world together?
Given that this is not an academic article in a strict sense, a broad definition of the term ‘values’, will suffice to establish a context to this discussion.
“Corporate values are a set of principles that the organization overtly proclaims and mandates its employee behaviours in compliance with such principles.”
There are many words in the above working definition that are critical, in that, they require some more explanation before we proceed with the discussion further:
- ‘Principles’ denote guidelines.
- ‘Overtly’ signifies a high degree of openness and transparency.
- ‘Proclaim’ stands for hard coded (or say written down) documents /communications as well as statements made by the top leaders of the organization. Interestingly, such proclamations, in an indirect way, could also include leadership behaviours.
- ‘Mandate’ clearly brings out the non-negotiability around such principles i.e. not following them is not an option!
- ‘Compliance’ shows an additional level of organizational resolve to actively discourage any/ every behaviour that is in non-conformance with these principles.
The reason to lay out a definition (howsoever broad or indeed loose, it may be!) right at the start is to ensure that discussion remains focused - else, there is always a chance of using the terms such as values, mission, objectives, vision etc. interchangeably.
Essentially, having established the basic and workable meaning of the term Corporate Values, we must now go back to the main thread of the topic, i.e. can the values be really unique to each organization or indeed is there a scope to generalize a set of desired values?
At this stage, it will be appropriate to glance through the proclaimed values of some of the organizations to examine the extent of their uniqueness (or otherwise!). Following list contains companies drawn from various sectors such as IT-h/w and s/w, Heavy Engg, Consumer Electronics, Financial Institutions, BPOs, Industrial conglomerates, Food and Pharmaceuticals and they are a blend of Indian, American and European global companies.
• Integrity and honesty
• Passion for customers, partners, and technology
• Openness and respectfulness
• Taking on big challenges and seeing them through
• Constructive self-criticism, self-improvement, and personal excellence
• Accountability to customers, shareholders, partners, and employees for commitments, results, and quality
• Customer Delight: A commitment to surpassing customer expectations
• Leadership by Example: A commitment to set standards in business and transactions and be an exemplar for the industry and own internal teams
• Integrity and Transparency: A commitment to be ethical, sincere and open in dealings
• Fairness: A commitment to be objective and transaction-oriented, thereby earning trust and respect
• Pursuit of Excellence: A commitment to strive relentlessly, to constantly improve ourselves, our teams, our services and products so as to become the best
• Passion for customers
• Trust and respect for individuals
• Achievement and contribution
• Results through teamwork
• Speed and agility
• Meaningful innovation
• Uncompromising integrity
• Continuous Improvement
• Candor and Openness
Company E :
• Responsible Care
• Quality Products
• Products Safety
• Community Relations
• Customer orientation
• Results orientation
• Risk taking
• Great place to work
• Unparalleled Client Satisfaction
• Respect for the Individual
• Developing People
• Shareowner's Trust
• Corporate Citizenship
• Honour our commitments
• Treat everyone as equals and value differences
• Develop expertise and apply it to uniquely benefit our customers
• Identify leaders and help them realize their potential
• Anticipate ideas and trends, not just follow them
• Stay passionate about succeeding and celebrate each other's success
• Recognize and fulfill our responsibilities to the communities around us
• Good corporate citizenship
• Customer first
• Commitment to quality
• Dignity of the individual
• Commitment to innovation & continuous learning
• Respect for the individual
• Collaboration & team work
• Harmony & social responsibility
• Quality and delighting customers, internal and external
• Achieving customer satisfaction is fundamental to our business
• Provide products and services of highest quality
• Practice dignity and equity in relationship and provide opportunities for our people to realise their full potential
• Ensure profitable growth and enhance wealth of shareholders
• Foster mutually beneficial relations with all our business partners
• Manage our operations with high concern for safety and environment
• Be a responsible and corporate citizen
• Customer Commitment - We develop relationships that make a positive difference in our customers’ lives
• Quality - We provide outstanding products and unsurpassed service that, together, deliver premium value to our customers
• Integrity - We uphold the highest standards of integrity in all of our actions
• Teamwork - We work together, across boundaries, to meet the needs of our customers and to help the company win
• Respect for People - We value our people, encourage their development and reward their performance
• Integrity: We do the right thing
• Excellence: We deliver superior products and services to our clients and take pride in the quality of our work
• Respect: We treat people with respect
• Teamwork: We work together to get the job done
• Ownership: We act like owners and take responsibility for our actions
• Leadership: We believe in leadership by example, in the office and in the community
• Delight customers
• Deliver on commitments
• Develop people
• Depend on each other
• Sustained Growth
• Empowered People
• Diversity & Inclusion
• Spirit of winning
• Leadership: "The courage to shape a better future"
• Passion: "Committed in heart and mind"
• Integrity: "Be real"
• Accountability: "If it is to be, it’s up to me"
• Collaboration: "Leverage collective genius"
• Innovation: "Seek, imagine, create, delight"
• Quality: "What we do, we do well"
Firstly a minor point; none of the organizations listed above have specifically stated that their respective values are presented in either ascending or descending order - therefore, we must assume that each value carries equal weightage.
And now going into some level of detail:
- Out of 20, 12 companies have specifically called out Integrity as one of their values. Although at times, some other terms are used to convey similar/ same meaning such as: Ethics and Honesty.
- 15 companies enlist Respect as a value. There are some other words used to convey similar meanings such as dignity, equity, fairness etc.
- 11 companies clearly emphasize Teamwork by specifically stating it as one of the values. There are some other terms used by some organizations (such as collaboration, interdependence) to denote a similar meaning.
- 10 companies have specifically referred customers/ clients in their ‘value sets’. Interestingly, 9 companies have Quality related values and 4 out of these 9 have Customer Satisfaction/ Customer Delight written uniquely as values, in addition to Quality.
- 7 companies list down Responsible Corporate Citizenship as one their values. Some companies also use words like community relations, social responsibilities to covey a similar meaning.
- 6 companies identify Innovation to be an important value.
- 6 companies stress on Developing and Empowering People.
- Interestingly, values such as Diversity and Inclusion, Winning, Growth etc. seem to have found a place only in some organizations and aren’t as common as one would expect them to be in today’s global business organizations! And same is the case with Leadership, which is present only in the value sets of 4 companies!
So, where does all this lead us?
Broadly, if one takes a look at the proclaimed values of this diverse set of corporations, it is pretty evident that the following values are common across the majority of them.
• Ethics/ Honesty/ Integrity
• Respect/ Dignity/ Fairness/ Equity
• Customer Orientation
Then there are some others that are also commonly called out such as Corporate Citizenship, Innovation and Employee Centricity.
And yet, these organizations widely differ in terms of their the performance, brand image, competitive edge etc.!
If we were to go by a polemic that values guide organizational behaviours and in turn, these behaviours lead to performance and the brand image, then obviously there is a missing link somewhere. Else, performances and brand images of the organizations with similar values would have been similar.
So, where’s the catch?
To my mind, the differentiator is not the stated (proclaimed) values. The real difference is made when these values are brought in action.
And how are the values put in action?
Simply put, in a programmatic way! Individual behaviours, although very important (especially the leadership behaviours) in ensuring that the values are put in practice; what is more important is whether the organization has created a programmatic framework to ensure that individual/ group/ team behaviours are guided for their consistency across the organization and whether such programmes are directly related to the organizational values.
Finally, what is a programmatic framework?
It is nothing but a set of organizational programmes that encourage/ reward behaviours in conformity with the values and discourage/ punish/ reprimand the ones that are out of line.
Let’s take examples:
- A section of Employee Performance Management process is dedicated to appraising employee behaviour vis-à-vis company values.
- Presence of a Reward and Recognition programme that publicly acknowledges behaviours that are consistent with the company values.
- New employee induction programs, ongoing refresher training initiatives have specific learning modules woven around the company values.
- Employee Potential Appraisals have a section on behavioural indicators evident from employees’ past behaviours (the maxim being past behaviours equip us to predict future behaviours!) that are consistent/ not consistent with the organizational values.
When such programmes are well institutionalised over a period of time, they create a solid framework for the entire workforce to deliver consistent behaviours in conformity with the organizational values.
There is a BIG difference between the values that are merely formally stated and the ones that are systematically practiced. And that explains why similar sounding organizations return fundamentally different results!