If you’ve ever applied for a job or done a little research on a company, there’s no doubt you’ve come across a company values list.
These lists are a way for a company to define what it believes to be important and clarify to employees, customers, and the world at large what it is about.
I’ve always been suspicious of these. Whatever the context, these lists are meant to make the company more desirable, whether to potential employees, customers, or just the world-at-large. This is not to say that companies are lying when they state their values, it’s just a picture-day picture, not a just-rolled-out-of-bed one.
I wanted to look at some of the top companies in America (all of the below are ranked near the top of Fortune Best Places to Work list). You’ve probably heard of most of these companies. They’re not just great places to work, but they’re also hugely successful.
If you’re trying to develop company values of your own, there are plenty of reasons why you’d want to emulate businesses like these. I was curious if there was any common threads or a way to discern if the values were valuable.
There are certainly a fair amount of repeated words here. “Integrity,” “respect,” “innovation” are all values that repeat. If we pulled more top companies into this list, you’d see those and more values repeating.
One might see this and think that there’s a relationship between these values and a successful business. “Hey if these companies are doing it, it must be a good idea.”
Well, when you look at some of the not-so-great companies out there (I’ll spare calling them out, but a quick Google search of the worst companies to work for is one way to find them), you end up seeing a lot of the same lists of values.
It seems that putting down your values on paper doesn’t really indicate much at all. The difference between the top companies and the rest are the ones on top embody their values.
For example, if you do a Google search for “Glassdoor innovation salesforce,” here are some of the blurbs from reviews that show up:
- “Great and innovative company”
- “Very innovative”
- “We are encouraged to think innovatively”
- “Most innovative company in the world”
These go on and on and on. And if you do this for any of the companies I listed above with one of their values, you’ll find the same thing.
Having worked at Workday, I can speak to this. It was a great place to work and the reason had nothing to do with what they said their values were, it was the actions of leadership.
When a company develops company values, in order for them to be meaningful, they should be descriptive rather than prescriptive. Meaning, they should describe the state of your company, not what you think it should be.
This doesn’t mean company values can’t be aspirational. For example, if one of your values is creativity, you can always be working towards a more creative work environment. But if you are going to state creativity as one of your values and show no signs of it, you won’t be doing yourself any good.
So, if your organization is developing its list of values, remember that it’s more important that you can embody them in action than write them on paper. It’s what you do, not what you say, that will be the difference between succeeding and it floundering.