[otw_shortcode_dropcap label=”T” color_class=”otw-greenish-text” size=”large” border_color_class=”otw-no-border-color”][/otw_shortcode_dropcap]he company I was interviewing for had a reputable corporate culture. I was motivated by the core values posted on their careers page — creative buzz words like Synergism, Gusto, and Audaciousness. The two phone interviews were extremely uplifting, filling me with the desire to work for them.
To my surprise, they were flying me out to their corporate office, all expenses covered, to demonstrate my skillset in their collaborative work environment. It wasn’t hard to imagine myself fostering creativity in their video-game studio, enjoying a beer at lunch from their in-house keg, strategically teaming up with multiple departments with moveable workstations, and melting away stress with friendly foosball competitions.
As amazing as these resources were, something was not connecting with me. A massive amount of employees waited outside in silence until they were invited into an orientation room. Many employees felt unsure of themselves when asked simple questions. My elevated energy was retreating from me, like warm air being sucked through a frozen vacuum. Was I just out of my element or was something truly wrong?
I boldly asked the recruiter during our interview why Synergism was low. Through her extensive yawn, she reminded me that it was Monday. The culture here was a mirage. I discovered that the company was growing fast, turning over 70% of the staff from the previous year and ever-changing from a cultural perspective. There was a lack of real identity.
This did not discredit the company’s success or their corporate values, they were just inconsistent with their online presence. Their core values were just words, fluid words at that, and I could not discover what the employees were tethered to. I was not in a position to be shaped like water, never knowing how to align myself to an invisible purpose.
Their core values did not reflect their real values. Core Values are those words or phrases a company posts on a vision card or a wall plaque that gets hung in the HR office. Real Values are the underlying principles that supersede everything else but never get spoken about. For example, a company may post that they highly value Integrity, yet its employees are cutthroat with each other to make a commission. A company may show the public that it values an employee-centric workplace by increasing minimum wage but at the hidden cost of demeaning worker conditions.
Core Values are often NOT representative of the company’s Real Values.
What’s the deal here?
“Indeed, an organization considering a values initiative must first come to terms with the fact that, when properly practiced, values inflict pain. They make some employees feel like outcasts. They limit an organization’s strategic and operational freedom and constrain the behavior of its people. They leave executives open to heavy criticism for even minor violations. And they demand constant vigilance.” — Patrick Lencioni
Lencioni makes a valid point. Core Values, in their best sense, provide an idea of what the company stands for, but Real Values disclose their true identity.
Real Values Are Not Utilitarian
Imagine that you have an all-star leader on your restaurant team. This person has brought more accolades to your company than you can count, including a Michelin Star, but they have a side to them that you’ve never seen. They insult their staff, show favoritism, sexually harass female employees, and drink on the job.
One day, your all-star shows up to work highly intoxicated. He begins to take shots in his office with three other colleagues. By the end of the night, with an inflated ego and a full bladder, he urinates on the barstools.
A concerned employee brings this information to Human Resources. Luckily, your security camera catches all the action. Upon further investigation, you discover that this is not an isolated incident, but one of the many demonstrated forms of inappropriate behavior.
You read through all the data, then look at the word “Goodness” listed under your core values plaque on your wall. It is going to kill your business if you let this person go, most likely costing you your Michelin Star and millions of dollars. What do you do?
There is only one correct choice in this situation; however, many leaders will choose to keep their terrible employee because “Goodness” was never the real value here, it has always been Success No Matter What. Choosing “Goodness” would inflict too much pain on the company. Sales would plummet, ratings would drop, and the bottom line would suffer in an already difficult culinary economy. Living up to a core value hurts, but if you do not do it, your company culture will be caught in the crossfire. Once employees find out that the Core Values are not representative of the Real Values, they no longer work with passion. (Sadly this F&B story is true from personal experience).
If your Core Values are not hurting you then they are not Real Values. They are mirage values.
What your business stands for is telling of your character. People want to be part of something big, but do not want to be used in a Utilitarian environment. The challenge is to merge your Real Values into your Core Values initiative. If your Real Values are to just make boatloads of money, then you should be transparent about that; however, it is not the most attractive story. People want meaning, positive action, or social accountability. Many of them are craving things that add deeper value to their own lives.
Real Values are the foundation of a strong corporate culture.
Disney has had its fair share of employee disappointments, but from personal experience, their core values initiative is one of the best. One of their Four Keys is Safety. This one Core Value printed on a colorful card that employees carry with them has been transferred into a Real Value.
When my wife suffered from heat exhaustion at one of the Walt Disney World Theme Parks, the manager on duty did everything humanly possible to help her recover. They were more respectful, engaging, and hospitable than the actual EMTs who arrived on site. They immediately brought out a wheelchair and personally wheeled her over to the recovery station. They provided her with medicine, a comfortable bed, a personal nurse, and a private room to sleep. All the while, they bought dinner for us, allowed my daughter to jump the line on any ride while my wife slept, and gave us some Finding Nemo toys.
At every level, in every department that we interacted with, Safety was not just a word on a card, it was real. This story is what I always tell people about now when we discuss Disney World.
For a sincere look at positive corporate culture, analyze Netflix. Their approach to core values is not a mere list, but a living document defining how they want their employees to embrace the company. They even have a section titled Real Values!
Many companies have value statements, but often these written values are vague and ignored. The real values of a firm are shown by who gets rewarded or let go. Below are our real values, the specific behaviors and skills we care about most. The more these values sound like you, and describe people you want to work with, the more likely you will thrive at Netflix.
Values can set a company apart from the competition by clarifying its identity and serving as a rallying point for employees. — Patrick Lencioni
Help align employees with the goals of the organization. If you look at your Core Values when a dilemma comes up, they should guide you in the right direction. That is how you know they are reflective of your Real Values.
Values Versus Principles
Real Values create Real Principles. Every value should turn into an unwavering principle, not a rule that needs to be followed, but an unyielding mission to work by. Here are some examples of what principles should stem from Real Values.
Real Value — Respect
Real Principle — Never degrade employees, vendors, or customers
Real Value — Integrity
Real Principle — Never doing what is illegal, immoral and unethical
Real Value — Transparency
Real Principle — All employees are allowed to openly communicate and question decisions at all levels of authority
Real Value — Empowerment
Real Principle — Providing a safe environment for employees to make mistakes.
“If you’re not willing to accept the pain real values incur, don’t bother going to the trouble of formulating a values statement.” — Patrick Lencioni
It is too easy to make a list of engaging buzz words that you hope fulfills the most important piece of your business: what problem it solves and how it actually solves it.
Tether yourself to the Real Values that cause pain when trying to live them out. You, as the company executive, need to be willing to put them on display, talk about them, and reward those who fight to portray them. You will be scrutinized for not embracing your own values and your managers will follow your guidance.
If you want Core Values to work, then make sure your Real Values are honest, meaningful, and stretch the company’s comfort level to exponentially grow (look at Netflix again).
Lead by example, train consistently and feel the bitter sting of what it is like to care about the well-being of someone other than yourself. It may hurt today, but it beats feeling the pain down the road.
“We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment.” — Jim Rohn