Giving Value to Company Values

Teamwork. Excellence. Transparency. Respect. Integrity. Bet you’ve come across these all-too-common company values before. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if your organization has one or more of them on a smartly designed PowerPoint slide or painted on a corridor wall in HQ. They’re there to remind you that leadership has agreed to a set of values that everyone should live by. That’s great. But for many organizations, seldom are those values brought to life by penetrating the psyche of each employee, influencing everyday human interactions and business practices—both internal and external.

One might wonder, with so many high-performing companies in the world, why is the shortcoming of corporate values still so prevalent? We think there are several reasons. Here are three of them.

Reason One: Values get glossed over.

Whether values have been created in a workshop with a consultant or as a CEO’s treadmill epiphany, the process and time given to their formation is often too constrained. Seldom does an organization look deeply into how each value will promote a thriving culture and impact the way business really gets done. Rather, success in values creation is often satisfied by simply agreeing to an adjective, such as “Winning!” The boardroom team will agree, “We are all about winning. That’s us, all right!” But what organization values losing? Not only is such a value undifferentiating, but if winning largely defines the culture, one might reasonably ask at what cost? Now that promises to be an interesting and instructive values conversation! But as the clock winds down on the single hour dedicated to hammering out the company’s values, the team leaves “Winning!” on the whiteboard and move on to the next adjective.

Two very different companies, yet two identical values.


Reason Two: Values appear good at the surface.
Take a corporate fan favorite: “Teamwork.” Imagine you’re an employee at a company with a culture that awards individual success regardless of how many colleagues a star achiever steps on to win. Were that company to have a value of Teamwork, not only would it be inauthentic, it might well be dispiriting—if not infuriating—to employees who know it to not be true. There is no end to the examples that can be easily conjured: the abusive manager at a company that values respect; inflated billing of a client at an agency that values integrity; the sweatshop conditions at a startup that values fun. If the values look good in an employee manual, but elicit eye rolling among employees, they are doing more harm than good.

Reason three: Values stop short of being inspiring.
“Innovation.” Seen this one before? How about “Transformation?” Now consider: “Disrupt or Go Home.” Which of the three options is likely to grab the attention of employees? Which is most likely to be remembered? Which promises a potency to truly influence individual actions within a culture that strives to push boundaries in bleeding edge technology?

In celebration of our values, the Oliver Russell Flag-bearer Award is awarded monthly to a member of the team who went above and beyond.

At Oliver Russell we recognized that our values “Collaboration,” “Progressive,” “Creative,” and “Socially Responsible,” while right in spirit, needed work in their expression and articulation. We divided the agency into teams, each working a value to explore how we might better embed it in our culture and business practices. The work concluded with dozens of recommended actions, including revised design critiques, focusing our volunteering, and introducing quarterly client business reviews. In addition, each value was relabeled to be more meaningful and memorable, as well as reflective of our agency’s personality. The result: Collaborative → We11 (read: We to the power of 11—our current employee count); Progressive → Seek positive change (committing ourselves to making a worthwhile impact); Creative → Stir Something (requiring that our work-product stir a desired emotion); and Socially Responsible → Mission Critical (a reminder that our chief purpose is to benefit humankind and the environment).


Examples we love.

We challenge you to take a close look at your company values. Are they inspiring to your workforce? Are they driving desired actions? Do they resonate with your customers? If not, it’s time to revisit them and turn them into a set of principles that will guide and benefit your culture and practices. In short, it may be high time to instill greater value in your values.