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Why Do We Cringe at Corporate Values?

Ask someone to recite their organisation’s values and the chances are they’ll look embarrassed. They might say “integrity” or “trust,” using a comedy boardroom voice to show they don’t really buy into it all.

But corporate values are shown to work, providing guiding principles for employees and reassurance for customers.*

So is it that people don’t want to be told what they stand for, or is there just something about the word ‘corporate’ that curdles conversation? Maybe the language used to describe corporate values is often too clichéd or full of jargon.

As part of a study, I talked to frontline staff at a large infrastructure client. They shrugged when I asked about their corporate values and I wasn’t too surprised. More than one guy said “Oh. Don’t we have them on our coffee mugs?…” and many said they didn’t see the point of “a load of words” at all.

But there’s a twist, and it came when the same people went on to say what they liked about their organisation. They spoke passionately about working together, how they respect each other’s knowledge and, heart-warmingly, how proud they feel about looking after the British public each day. They were showcasing their corporate values, without realising it.

Behind a business’ own definition of its corporate values is a set of real beliefs, held by employees about their organisation’s identity and their place within it. If corporate values represent the real culture and identity of an organisation, there should be nothing to cringe at.

A successful communications strategy will use the depth given by employee engagement and insights into corporate values, to build a set of meaningful messages around business change.

Do your colleagues know their corporate values and do they care? Maybe the discomfort lies not in the values but the clichéd choice of words used to describe them – are there fresher alternatives to words like ‘Integrity’ or ‘Commitment’? We’d love to hear your feedback.

*Creative communications agency Radley Yeldar conducted research across FTSE100 companies and found 75% of them have corporate values which they publicly state

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