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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

Our Values

Communication
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.

Respect
We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment.

Integrity
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.

Excellence
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? 🙂

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12 Comments

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  1. Tom Cenens

    Hi Mapp

    Interesting blog post. You’re goal is reached, you have made me think.

    I like to think it depends really if it’s a waste of time & money.

    Why do I say it depends? Because a good number of companies are succesfully leveraging their corporate values (what do we stand for) as a unique selling point and a reason for customers to go and buy from them.

    Another aspect is the image of the company and their influence on others. To what extent does the public believes they are making an effort and to what extent does it influence others. In my opinion it is valuable SAP expresses support for homosexual workers in the company.

    Does that mean everyone will be aligned on that matter? I don’t think so, so  yes, you do have a point there that it is something that cannot simply be enforced upon every individual in the organization but the mere expression of this support can have a wider impact, outside of the organization.

    A lot depends on the perspective, I do understand your sentiment, reading your blog post.

    Ever since last SAP TechED, empathy has been a topic close to my heart. It’s amazing how things can be different looking at it from another perspective. In the end it changes the way I think about many things. It has become of great importance to me.

    If you have time I hope you’ll read my blog post on the topic:

    http://scn.sap.com/community/design-thinking/blog/2012/11/22/empathy-serendipity-likeneverbefore

    If anything, I hope my comment has made you think.

    Best regards

    Tom

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  2. Tom Van Doorslaer

    Hi Tyrone,

    I fully agree that you can’t enforce corporate values, top-down, on adult employees.

    Moral values are  thaught early on in your education and by your parents/family/environment

    You can’t teach an old fox new tricks, so trying to enforce “new” values on your employees is in vain.

    what you can do, is line out the corporate values, and actively hire people that support these values.

    That means you’re discriminating people who don’t follow these values, but then again, I found anti-discriminitation to be counter productive. What is important, is the trigger for discrimination.

    Example: I would never hire a murderer, because he does not have the values I look for in people. So I discriminate. but is that a bad thing? Now suppose that he killed someone who was on a shootout in a high-school. Although still a murderer, he would now be classified as a hero, because he saved the children, and I might say: “great, we need people like you”

    Morality is a very fuzzy subject. The good must outweigh the bad, but what is good, and what is bad?

    Many philosophers have dedicated their lives to defining this, and failed. Don’t expect to solve the conundrum.

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  3. Craig S

    Yeah.. I gotta comment!  😆

    Can I agree and disagree?  I agree that most companies make a mockery of their corporate values.  But is having corporate values and setting expectations inherently wrong and a waste of time?

    I saw first hand at DuPont, one of the most safety focused corporations in the world, how the most basic of all their corporate values, was twisted and contorted by middle managers terrified to have a safety mark on their record, at their plant, or in their department.  To the point that many injuries were hidden, reclassified or employees were encouraged to work hurt, do a different job, or take vacation days so no “lost days” would be reported.  And this was done knowing full well that if this was found out at high enough levels, someone’s career was probably over.

    Was this what the corporation and upper management wanted?  Absolutely not.  But in many areas this was tolerated and a blind eye turned. 

    But was this corporate value bad and a waste of time?  Having worked there and been indoctrinated by safety meeting after safety meeting,  I have no doubt that the DuPont corporate value of safety has over the years saved countless lives and prevented tens of thousands of injuries.  Even now after years away from DuPont I think of safety at home and on the job.  I feel guilty when not wearing steel-tipped boots when cutting the lawn or not wearing safety goggles when weed whacking! 

    And not just within DuPont but outside of DuPont.  Their safety programs, safety specialists, emergency response teams, etc. have been copied and consulted with countless times by other companies and industries.

    It is important that expectations be set.  If I never expect my children to go to college, they probably never will.  That doesn’t mean they will.  But without the expectation being set, the odds are tremendously greater they won’t.

    The crime in corporations is that most companies pay lip service to their values.  I see it in the quality management arena all the time.  For instance: We establish a quality policy that says “no material is to be used for production or sold if it is to expire within the next 30 days”.  

    But when they actually get into this situation, the first thing UPPER management asks is “how can we consume or sell that material.”  When according to their quality policy they should be just scrapping the material and figuring out why they had such old material still around in the first place.  But the root cause is rarely addressed.

    Setting expectations (i.e. values), without adherence and follow-thru is the true waste of time and money.  If you aren’t willing to sacrifice some $$$$$$, or admit guilt when you screw up, the corporate values are worthless.  Employees recognize and see this almost instantly.  So if upper management and middle management don’t hold true to the values, why should employees?  Employees quickly learn what management REALLY wants.

    FF

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  4. Jelena Perfiljeva

    While we are at it, who says humans have any rights beyond that of a bug?

    Uhm, United Nations?

    This blog (although very good) reminds me of the old fairy tale The Emperor’s New Clothes as it kind of states the obvious. Big evil corporations are breaking their own rules to make more money? Wow, what a surprise!

    The only thing that can be taken seriously is what the company does (AKA “walking the walk”). E.g. Trader Joe’s store chain (in the US) has a simple motto “no artificial anything” an I know that I can buy any item in their store without checking the label if it has “red # 5” or hydrogenated oils in it. Or Chick-Fil-A restaurants are closed on Sundays, so that their employees could spend time with their families / go to church / whatever. But that’s something I can believe in and relate to, no matter what is written in their mission statement (and no doubt they both are still evil corporations anyway, e.g. head of Chick-Fil-A openly spoke against the gay marriage).

    Just this morning a car driving in front of me had a bumper sticker “perform random acts of kindness”. But the driver has not signaled a single lane change or turn for over 5 miles! Some do-gooder, huh? An ultimate case of Mission Statement Fail. 🙂

    As far as my cell phone killing people in China – first of all, it’s a company’s phone 🙂 , second – sorry, but there are things I just chose not to think about, at least not all the time. If I can do something – I just do. I’ll try to buy local and organic food when it’s available and affordable. I donate to charities, recycle (although a stinky tuna can goes in the trash with no regrets) and avoid using excess plastic / disposable items. But I can’t sit around all day thinking about the world hunger and ecology, because it will just make me depressed and then I’ll go nuts and lose my job and there will be no money for charity and to buy local organic strawberries. No one wins. So my thinking is done for the day, thank you very much. 🙂

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    1. Tyrone Mapp Post author

      Jelena Perfiljeva wrote:

                             

      While we are at it, who says humans have any rights beyond that of a bug?

      Uhm, United Nations?

      Just had to ask –> Under what authority do they do this, based on what absolute moral law other than the authority of force? 🙂

      –> Are you ultimately prepared to let another human decide what rights you have or do not have all based upon their opinion that holds just as much weight as your own? 🙂

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      1. Jelena Perfiljeva

        Mapp Tyrone wrote:

        Just had to ask –> Under what authority do they do this, based on what absolute moral law other than the authority of force? 🙂

        –> Are you ultimately prepared to let another human decide what rights you have or do not have all based upon their opinion that holds just as much weight as your own? 🙂

        You might want to read the Wikipedia entry on United Nations to understand what their authority is and how they came to be. (Hey, by the way – look up Anarchism while you’re there. 🙂 )

        Not only I’m prepared for another human being to decide what rights I have – that’s already happening, “ready or not”. I have no problem when that human being is an official elected through the democratic process and when I have the right to free speech protecting me if I object to their decision. Certainly I’m not goint to let some corporation to dictate how to live my life. But that’s a beauty of living in a free country that I can decide who to work for and corporations can decide whether to hire me or not.

        Although in any case I’m not disagreeing with you – those mission statements / values are laughable for most part.

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        1. Tyrone Mapp Post author

          heh, I’m not promoting anarchism, I’m merely espousing the philosophy of Existentialism, without turning the discussion religious it is the philosophy that underpins Atheism.  🙂

          Yes the UN, created to prevent countries going to war and acting illegally, yet the US (a member state) invaded, illegally, Iraq and Afghanistan, both also member states, and the UN did nothing…. 😛 The UN is but another corporation … 🙂

          Freedom of speech doesn’t protect you from their decision, for example the anti smacking law came into effect in NZ a couple of years ago, we spoke against it because it criminalised good parents but the freedom of speech did not protect us from the negative effects it has had to our society since implementation and the criminalisation of good parents. We have also found that those who speak against policy set in place by people get added to dissident lists and are spied upon (numerous cases come to light recently)

          Good discussion 🙂

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          1. Jelena Perfiljeva

            Not sure how we arrived at the US foreign policy discussion… “I don’t like the US foreign policy, that’s why I live inside”. 🙂 (By the way, should I mention that war in Iraq was started by the president whom more than half of the country did not vote for?)

            If you look at the definition of the word (“A company or group of people authorized to act as a single entity […] and recognized as such in law.”) then UN actually kind of is a corporation. But what’s your point? That because they’re a “corporation” they had no right to issue the human rights declaration? But by the same measure might as well say that no one has any right to create any laws. Are you suggesting we scratch all the civilization and go back to the primeval society?

            Sure, there is no guarantee that the elected officials won’t make any dumb laws (after all they’re only human, just like myself), but does it mean that we shouldn’t make any laws at all? As I said, freedom of speech entitles me to object to the laws I don’t like and ultimately to repeal them. Throughout the history we see more than enough evidence where this worked, just like we see many examples when people were prosecuted for exercising that right. Nothing is perfect in this world, corporation or not.

            Interestingly – I see some similarities here with how people complaint about “standard SAP” – “who decides what is the best practice?”. 🙂

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            1. Tyrone Mapp Post author

              Not sure how we arrived at the US foreign policy discussion…

              All roads lead to Rome? 🙂

              hehe, I’m merely making the observation that morality is relatively implemented. We are happy to vote for them and have them make moral decisions provided we agree with their moral decisions 🙂

              Personally I think the west is rapidly heading towards an institution that will severely curtail if not cut off our freedom of speech and expression, we are seeing this in England already and progressing out to other western countries. – For example a woman was recently fired from her workplace for wearing a necklace with a cross on it, necklaces were not banned but a necklace with a cross on it was considered a fireable offence (which the courts upheld). This represents a severe erosion of our freedom of expression, after expression speech is followed.

              Don’t get me started on best practice 🙂

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