Culture Chat

And other musings on humanizing the workplace
3 Tips for Spotting "Fake" Core Values

3 Tips for Spotting "Fake" Core Values

September 11, 2017
Jamie Notter

In today’s era of “fake news,” I thought I’d draw attention to a workplace version: fake core values. These are the core values that sound good in principle and look good on the wall, but people don’t REALLY value them, and they don’t have a real impact on everyday behaviors. Perhaps the classic example was Enron having the value of “Integrity” up on the wall in their lobby.

So in case you just spent a LOT of time at that off-site word-smithing your new core values statement, here are some ways you can tell if your core values have ended up in the “fake” category:

They’re too broad. Listen, I love honesty, accountability, and respect as much as the next guy/gal, but if your values stay only at that high level, they are pretty useless. EVERYONE values those things at a high level, but, as an example, NO ONE tells the truth 100% of the time. And we don’t really want them to, either. It’s not that simple. Don’t waste your time codifying values at the high level. You need to get more specific.

They’re disconnected from success drivers. The people in your organization want to be successful, and if they don’t see a clear connection between your core values and what makes them successful, they’re going to ignore the values. It’s not that they don’t like the values, they just don’t factor them in to their decision making, so if you want them to pay attention to the values, explain the “why” better. WHY do you value these things? Show them that the enterprise will be more successful when people value these things. If they can see that, the values will matter more.

They never change. But wait a minute, aren’t these CORE values? Doesn’t that mean that they should stay the same, by definition? Not really. Both your organization and your environment are constantly changing—what makes you think the exact same values are going to stay constant in the midst of all that change? Some might, of course. Maybe that deep commitment to data-based decision making is going to serve you as you navigate your current waters. But you still need to make that case. Constantly.

So keep an eye on your core values, and don’t let them fall into the “fake” category. This is one reason I love the culture analytics that Workplace Genome produces. The Genome measures 64 different pieces of your culture, so you cut through the platitudes and get down into how people really experience the culture. It doesn’t declare whether the metrics are good or bad—that’s up to you, and the process helps you get clearer about success drivers. And there is no permanence to the Genome data—it’s a measurement from this point in time, helping you to stay focused on what you need right now, rather than declaring your culture to be one way forever. When we work with clients to make sense of their Genome data, we cut through these issues so you don't end up with fake values.

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