There is no value in values.
Well, that’s not quite true. What I mean is that there is no value in writing down your corporate values.
Because values are something you live, something you do.
Let me ask you a question – do you have values in your family?
I bet you do.
And they’re strong, right? Stronger, no doubt, than the ‘corporate values’ you see emblazoned on the office wall every time you walk through reception?
But, and I’m willing to bet a fair amount on this, you haven’t written your family values down, have you?
Because you don’t need to.
Because either you live these values, day in, day out, eat-sleep-breathe them, kind-of-without-thinking-about-it, or, very simply, they are not your values.
The same is true of corporate values. Writing down that you are ‘innovative’ (or whatever else – ‘innovative’ is just the value du jour) does not make you innovative. Often, indeed, it only confirms that you are not – because those people and corporations who are truly innovative are just doing it, getting on with it: innovating. They don’t have say they are doing something. Because they are actually doing something.
That’s not to say you can’t change a culture, the way a business behaves. You can. Just like you can change the way a family behaves.
But you don’t do it by writing down a load of clichéd mumbo-jumbo and then just somehow expect it to ‘happen’. You work at it, strive for it, model it constantly and continuously, you demonstrate it, relentlessly, 24/7. You hire people who reflect the culture you want, and fire those who don’t. You reward the behaviours you want to see and not those that you don’t.
It’s simple. Damned hard, and incredibly demanding in terms of leadership energy and time, but simple. So simple, in fact, that when it comes to ‘corporate values’, there is no one who has come close to putting it as succinctly as The King himself:
A little less conversation, a little more action.
Nick Jefferson is a partner with Monticello LLP, the advisory firm, and a curator of The Library of Progress.