The Company Values That Need to Die

Every company has a team of values that it follows around with a puppy-like eagerness. Many of those values have grown and shown up any official planning. And some of those values need to die.


Values—What Values?

First of all, let's get on the same page. What are we talking about when we talk about values?

When you hear the word values, what leaps to mind may be a tired collection of bland truisms:

  • Integrity
  • Customer service
  • Teamwork
  • Innovation
  • Excellence
  • Professionalism
  • Blah. Blah. Blah.

Almost every business frames a similar set of words in their conference rooms, as if they've all subscribed to the Best Practice Values Delivery Service, and this randomized collection of buzz words is simply what showed up on the doorstep one day (frame sold separately).


Please note: this is not a real value.

Please note: this is not a real value.

Target One: Fake Values

Are you a subscriber to the BPVDS? Do you have values that are not true to your organization?

If yours were chosen mainly for their universal, timeless sparkle and allure, then they are your first company values that need to die.


Because they're not the company's real values. They're fakes.

It's like an IT startup claiming that they're special because they use technology, sell things, and seek to earn profit. (That should describe all IT companies, right?) Or, worse, claiming that they sell groceries—when they really don't—because they've heard everyone likes to eat.

Like that IT startup, your company is almost bound to have authentic priorities that aretrue and unusual, values that are worth talking about.

So identify your fake values, and put 'em on the hit list.


Values: They're Meant to Be Great

Some of you may be familiar with the ideas of core values and aspirational values because you've read Jim Collins' classic Good to Great, or Patrick Lencioni's wonderful book The Advantage. If you're not familiar with those books, add them to your Christmas list.

Core values, according to these gentlemen, are the valuable priorities that are true of you now, and should always stay true.

Aspirational values are the valuable priorities that may be true of you on your best days, but which will need some work if they're going to become a normal part of your company's life.

These kinds of values are not just good, they're grrrreat!

Hey, who put this guy on the payroll?

Hey, who put this guy on the payroll?

Target Two: Damaging Values

I'd like to introduce another category that neither Collins nor St. Pat names*: damaging values.

Damaging values are the priorities that are true in your company now, but that will actually keep you from being successful. They'll keep you from becoming a better version of who you are.

Damaging values don't just need to disappear: they usually need to be replaced with aspirational values that can become the proactive, positive alternates to those no-good lowlifes.

So, identify your damaging values. Then, stalk them down and take them out.


What Values are You Nurturing?

According to smart folks like Dave Gray, values grow within companies because they're rewarded or incentivized.

Imagine that!

If damaging values are lurking your hallways, it's not because they crept in through an unlocked window: it's because you hired them, and keep paying them bonuses.

Enron, for instance, claimed that their corporate values were communication, respect, integrity, and excellence. But their real values—the ones they incentivized and rewarded—were greed, pride, and disregard for ethics.

All of those actual values were damaging to them, and eventually led to Enron's demise. (For more on that, see Alex Gibney's fantastic documentary.)

While your damaging values may not be quite as extreme as Enron's, they're just as corrosive, just as worthy of a surgical SEAL Team strike.


As you look around your organization, what are your real values? And which of your values need to die?


If you'd like help discovering and strengthening your company's values, click here to schedule a free consultation.

* Lencioni does explain that some "Accidental Values" could be damaging, but others could be A-OK.

By the bye, I don't think all grizzly bears and yellowjackets need to die. It's just a symbol.