May 27, 2021

A solution to Meaningless Corporate Values

Redefining Organizational Culture and Values

Can you name your company’s values? Do you think about them when you have to make a difficult decision at work? For the vast majority of us, our answer to those questions is no. But why is that?Leaders often expend extensive amounts of time and money crafting immaculate values, even sometimes bringing in professional marketing agencies to make sure they are effective. Despite all that just 28% of employees strongly agree that their employers’ values and actions are aligned.

There are two primary reasons we have seen company values fail:

1. Lack of Relevant Stakeholders: If you outsource the definition, language, and iconography around your values to a marketing agency, then it is a small set of decisionmakers in your organization that work with the marketing team to come up with who you are. Then only a very small set of people from inside the organization are consulted about the values and they don’t reflect the company’s real values. It is especially important for intercultural organizations to bring everyone into the conversation to define both the value words and what that means.

2. Ambiguity: Defining values by giving them a definition is an academic exercise. The average company’s value definitions, while elegant, are incredibly ambiguous. They can be understood in too many ways when it comes to applying them to behavior.

The combination of both of these, leads to companies with values like “Communication, Integrity, and Respect” having scandals like Enron and Wells Fargo. On top of that, intercultural differences can contribute to differing interpretations of values. For example, if you value honesty does that mean you should be completely honest about your opinions regardless of the potential impact on relationship or should you only be honest in a way that preserves the relationship?


1. We need to redefine organizational culture with a holistic understanding from “actual culture.”

Working with self-culture in an international space has given us a unique perspective that we bring to organizational culture. Our Definition of Organizational and team culture is, “The sum total of the expression of the thinking, speaking and acting of its contributors.” With this definition the culture of your organization is not defined by your values but by the thoughts and actions of the contributors. A company might claim to value putting the customer first, or always following through. However, if you were to follow a contributor on the team around for a week, would you see that come out in their actions?

Unfortunately, most company values do not pass that test.

2. Now redefine your values to specific behaviors that are inter-culturally valid.

Now that we know what we need to pursue we need to make sure we are pursuing values that our employees can consistently align with. You might say, “who can’t get behind honesty and teamwork?” However, honesty and teamwork can mean very different things in different cultures. So, when you define your values to specific behavior make sure that is interculturally valid. Very often with western born multinationals, the values are defined by (I/G, individual, directed, achieved way of looking at the world). You can pick that up instantly from going to their website. The behavioral statement is a wonderful step, but you might need to go back and validate the values interculturally.

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