Why organisational values are a waste of time – Organizations and their god complex …
When was the last time you heard someone say (and mean it) “My company released a new value system today and after I read the 100 page manual on how to be good I was a changed man, I used to lie now I only tell the truth, I was this, now I’m that …. “
I’m willing to bet it has never been heard by anyone, so what makes anyone of any intellectual depth think that a corporation is going to be effective at playing god and imposing some form of morality or values / ethics upon it’s employees?
We see it all the time, XYZ company releases it’s new company values of integrity, honesty, blah blah blah. In fact, here’s a list of values from one such company
We have an obligation to communicate. Here, we take the time to talk with one another… and to listen. We believe that information is meant to move and that information moves people.
We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment.
We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, then we won’t do it.
We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do. We will continue to raise the bar for everyone. The great fun here will be for all of us to discover just how good we can really be.
These were Enron’s corporate values and they were some of the biggest frauds of all time costing innocent people Billions of dollars.
Call these, what you will; Excellence / High Performance, Integrity / Honesty it makes no difference all companies pretty much set these out as their “company values”. They are the stock standard, HR la dee da and millions of dollars are wasted on them every year.
In actuality they don’t look that much different from historical values of civilizations in the past. The Egyptians had their book of the dead and they broke every rule without exception, the Babylonians had the Code of Hammurabi and they broke every rule without exception, the Jew’s had the 10 commandments and they couldn’t even keep the first. We in the western world have our thousands of laws and our jails are filled to overflowing.
We see “values” implemented in a company, only to see those values stretched and broken on a regular basis all depending on how someone feels. In fact I’ve even seen the day after a new set of values just like the above go live, an executive comes down and asks a team member to lie to someone about who is calling so they can buy a domain name cheaper than if the person knew who was really buying it. (No it was not a test).
It was George Santayana who said “Those who forget the past are destined to repeat it” and it would seem every business has forgotten the lessons of history en-mass. You cannot simply impose a moral framework as law upon people and expect it to be taken up, it doesn’t work like that, it never has and it never will. A moral law imposed by one human upon another human is merely one human’s opinion forced upon another human being, hardly grounds for morality and ethics because one person’s opinion is only as valuable as another’s is, so if I disagree with your moral code there is nothing you can say from a personal point of view that could ever be used to judge me on it and vice versa.
Why? Because we live in a world where people only see values in a relativistic light.
When the United Nations asked the question “How can we deal with absolutes in a morally relativistic world” they weren’t taking the mickey, they were being utterly serious, these people are thinkers, they know what the world is about, and they know how people think. The western world especially in the times of today and for the foreseeable future lives a morally relativistic life. A life where what is morally right is decided by the individual upon their own feelings rather than upon an absolute moral Law.
Oh there will always be people who agree with another person’s moral view, even Hitler had his supporters, but that does not make something morally absolute. It’s like how recently we saw SAP promoting it’s support of homosexual workers in its company like it was a good thing. But ultimately: What is Good? – That is not what things are good, but What is Good?
The support shown is merely a reflection of a moral code that says “we are an inclusive society where all views on sexuality are accepted” that is, all views except those that oppose the views that are held. This is because all morality is exclusive, none is all inclusive, even the inclusivity moralists exclude the exclusivists, do you see where I am going with this? Even those who think all views should be accepted don’t accept all views so how does that make them any more moral than anyone else? As one person put it, “I have seen gross intolerance in support of tolerance”.
Let’s go back to that question – What is good? If by good you are thinking “I don’t harm others” but you own a mobile phone, ultimately you have harmed others because in the process of manufacturing your mobile device people have committed suicide from stress and people’s land used for farming and water used for drinking has been contaminated with toxic substances. If you ultimately looked at it, you cannot even live by your own moral code unless your moral code is “do whatever I like because I think it is right”
And herein lays the tragic circumstances to which corporations think they can apply their own moral code and force it down the throats of people who do not believe they are doing anything wrong. The corporate’s 10 commandments that cannot even be kept for a day, let alone an extended period of time, even Google’s “Do no evil” statement as a moral value opened the question of “What is evil?” the founders saw flashing banners as evil but text advertisements as not evil, they see dictatorships as evil but bent their rules to gain income from china, a country notorious for corruption and human rights abuses. (While we are at it, who says humans have any rights beyond that of a bug?)
If we has humans cannot even agree upon the fundamentals of “What is evil” and “What is good” what on earth makes intellectual individuals think that corporate values will be given anything but lip service?
Oh they will be largely adhered to in a rough kind of way, because people are largely in a rough kind of way already agreed to the rough outline of the company values, except when it is not convenient for them. But that does not come from the company enforcing these values, they were already there in the person themselves and did not require a company rule book to bring them out.
Likewise a company rule book will not change a lying snake from being a lying snake, though it may give leeway for the person to be fired if caught by someone who had enough power (and care) to do anything about it. (Unless that lying snake makes the company too much money, then their transgressions are often overlooked).
I hope you see the conundrum I have pulled together here, a problem I have never seen anyone tackle effectively, in fact, it’s a problem that is ignored en-masse as history continuously repeats itself. In my opinion company values are a waste of time and a waste of shareholder money spent on coming up with them and promoting them. Companies should worry about points of law and leave moralizing to the moralists. There is no amount of money, resources and training that will ever change the heart of man, history has proven this time and time again.
Lastly I will leave you with this quote from Elbert Einstein:
“The definition of insanity is: Those who do the same thing expecting a different result”
P.S The purpose of this was not to offend but make you think, but if you are offended and feel the urge to flame, go right ahead, who am I to judge? 🙂