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Company values should come from leadership

Company Values Should Come From Leadership

When it comes to company values, the worst thing you can do is entrusting them to a committee of employees. Have you ever heard the sentence “oh my god, that committee came up with an amazing solution?”

No, right? Well, then why do some many companies run under the banner of “flat hierarchies” and turn that claim into the epitome of committee culture? Why do you, as a leader, let the environment that keeps your people filled with purpose get watered down by the need everyone has of giving their opinion on everything?

Here’s an example. I’ve been talking to a Head of Employer Branding who had one job: Running, alongside with HR, company-wide surveys to understand the state of the culture and create what’s called an Employer Value Proposition (EVP). In case you’re new to the term, it is basically a positioning statement that should influence 1) why potential hires should work in your company, and 2) how current staff members perceive the nature of their work.

The problem, though? HR’s role was to facilitate the survey and make sure there were enough participants, but somewhere along the line the process got blurry. You see, this company has several Business Units across different countries, and each Business Unit has its own HR Manager. All of which answer directly to the CFO/Head of HR. There is, however, only one global Employer Branding team.

Logic tells me that, given that the Employer Branding team has experts in corporate culture and company values, the final decision on the EVP should go to them. And only after they approve it, the should seek the final green light from the Head of HR.

However, what’s happening now is that the company cannot have am EVP because the document (not longer than a one-pager with plenty of whitespace), keeps getting bounce around all the HR Managers across Business Units, who also ask the Recruiters under them to give feedback. Most of them don’t know how to contribute, so all they say to the Employer Branding team is “I don’t feel like this is ready.”

And here we come to the core issue:

“Employees Come And Go, But Culture Stays Forever

By paraphrasing this 2Pac quote, I’m letting you into a hard reality: Employee turnover is a real thing in every company, even in those with the best culture. Therefore, if your culture is determined by let’s say 50 employees, in two years those 50 might be gone and the other 200 might not identify with the company anymore. 

And you’re left there wondering: Where did we go wrong?
You went wrong in letting your culture become a committee.
You went wrong in waving that “flat hierarchy” flag so hard that you forgot you fly your company’s.
The result is that your company values become a bunch of watered-down, feel-good statements that try to everything to everyone, and end up representing nothing to

You went wrong in believing that key strategic statements like the EVP, the UVP and the USP can come from anywhere else but Leadership. However, not everything is lost.

Not if you understand a core truth: In business, we build Brand for the customer and we create Culture for the employee. And the fact that we build and create for someone means, by definition, that they do not created. They influence it and eventually they might own part of it, but they do not create it.

Company Values: A Cultural Driver

You see, the EVP contains the word “Value” both because it has to touch upon the value you provide to employees, but also and especially because it has to come from the company Values. And here’s another common misunderstanding: 

Values are not a bunch of fancy words that you splatter on your website after hiring an overpriced, underdelivering Big 5 consultant to find them for you. Values are a set of words followed by actionable call to actions, that embody what your company values, what it stands for, and who it aligns with.

Values are behavior codified.
They are in how you treat customers.
They are inside your non-negotiables.
They are in how you interact with each other on the daily.

The same company from the example above, for example, produces only software that serves society in a positive way and rejects every single project in which Defense departments or the military are involved. Now, you can argue as much as you want that it’s a paradox, that it doesn’t make sense, or that they are right and noble… but you would be both wrong and right at the same time.

The purpose of a Value is exactly that: Turning away some and magnetizing some others.
Those others will thus be way more committed at the moment of hiring, which means they’ll find purpose in their job.
Which means they’ll perform better. But there’s an issue: In that company, they don’t have “we stand for peace” as a Value.

And they don’t have it because they decided to have committees with dozens of voices decide on their innermost, truest identity.

company values
company values

The Role of Leadership in Creating Company Values

Their truth is, no amount of employees will create better Values than the founders will.
Even if the founders are gone and the company gets merged or acquired, executives are the best ones to shape them.
Values are a Leadership responsibility, because they are the ones called to embody those Values and to be their role models.

The team in the company called to announce that they skipped on a multi-million deal because of a value conflict is the Leadership team. The team responsible of taking a public stance against something going on in the mainstream is Leadership. Just like the team responsible for telling hard truths that employees need to hear is Leadership.

The beauty and the burden of leading is that you get to shape environments.
You get to see people come in, excited to start their new path in a company that made them promises.

And you know what? If you walk into a company as an executive and you don’t like the values, you’re probably doing it because you believe you can impact them – and that’s beautiful too, because every new CEO has both the bird’s eye view to see when there is a need to change, and the power to start a rebranding initiative to give new life to culture.

How To Create Company Values That Last

First of all, survey your employees. There’s nothing wrong with that. If anything, only good can come from knowing what’s the state of the culture. Once you do that, gather your leadership team and have a workshop where you decided what to stand for and against: This is the most critical part. Don’t resort to Corporate Speak, don’t resort to generic sentences or words. Be specific, as specific as that company that only builds peacetime software and refuses to support the military.

If you want everyone to like your company, start an ice cream shop or a pet store, and not any other kind of company.
Because, if you try to please everyone, you’ll end up being indifferent to everyone. Indifference kills.
Now, once you find what Management stands for and against, you need to refine:
Run a workshop with Employer Branding acting as the voice of the company.
Stand your ground on the Values, but be open to feedback & expansion.

My suggestion if you follow this approach is that, during the leadership workshop, you don’t create more than three Values. This is because my next recommendation is that, during the combined workshop with Employer Branding, you don’t add more than two additional values. Ideally, add one and work on improving the core three.

At the end of the process, you should have no more than 5 Values.
Each of which should be accompanied by a CTA that makes it actionable and easy to leave.

Now, coming up with the CTA can be hard, so brainstorm this question:
“How would you explain to a kid what living by this value means?”

And that’s it.
Difficult? Of course.
However, that’s why you can always rely on external professionals to guide you.
You’re already busy running a company, so don’t beat yourself up for not being a corporate culture expert.

What Happened With The EVP Of That Company?

Glad you asked! It’s too soon to say. The Head of Employer Branding was so entrenched in the committee dynamics and in the stress of not being able to get things approved, that he was shocked at the simplicity of my suggestion: Involved the CFO/Head of HR. He’s the one with the power to overrule local Business Units acting rogue, and put an end to the debate.

However, there’s a chance that the Head of HR in that company is also too used to the committee culture. In that case, well, that culture is pretty much doomed unless Management wakes up and brings in a professional they can trust.

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