Values. Go to almost any business website, and you’ll probably find a section dedicated to the company’s core values.
They may be keywords like equality, diversity, authenticity and empathy. But these values can also explain what the brand is committed to, and why those commitments are important to the business and its people.
Values aren’t worth the paper they’re written on if they aren’t lived.
- If you say that always learning is important to you, is that backed-up by a training programme for your employees?
- If you’re “committed to diversity”, yet your team page is full of white men, what evidence is there that you’re trying to diversify?
- If teamwork and respect are values you identify with, what have you done to ensure that the team is working – and communicating – well?
Observers, customers and employees will judge the brand on what it says, if what it says is misjudged, or downright bad, but they will remember the brand for what it does.
We want to work with businesses that share our values
We’re seeing more examples of people holding their employers to account.
One 2017 study found that 63% of millennials expected their employer to “contribute to a social cause”.
As for Gen Z, according to McKinsey:
“In a transparent world, younger consumers don’t distinguish between the ethics of a brand, the company that owns it, and its network of partners and suppliers. A company’s actions must match its ideals, and those ideals must permeate the entire stakeholder system.”
PR agency, Edelman recently worked with an organisation that runs migrant detention centres in America. However, this work contradicted two of its values: having “the courage to do the right thing” and having; “the commitment to positively impact society”. Its employees raised concerns about the work and Edelman resigned the account.
Corporate social responsibility and brand ethics are significant concerns for the younger generations (and many people in older generations). If they spend part of their free time protesting about a major social or political issue, they aren’t going to be happy if they’re told to work for the benefit of brands associated with making the problem worse.
Edelman’s Trust Barometer Global Report found that:
- 76% of respondents felt that CEOs should “take the lead on change” rather than waiting for governments to act.
- 71% of employees said that it was “critically important” for their CEOs to respond to “challenging times” not just in their industries, or in the realm of employee issues, but also to political events and national crises.
Do we make a difference? Are we living our values?
People have always wanted to be proud of the work that they do, but we’re seeing an increasing focus on the social impact of our work.
In 2018, Google removed the famous “don’t be evil” section from its code of conduct. While “don’t be evil” had been interpreted as a general be a force for good type of statement, for the most part, it related to how Google employees should treat each other. However, the old code of conduct did say that it was also about doing “the right thing generally”.
A month before the code of conduct was rewritten, Google employees were protesting the company’s involvement with the U.S. military. Google was helping the Pentagon develop artificial intelligence that would improve video images and “could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes”. More than 3,000 employees signed the letter, which said that they believed Google “should not be in the business of war”, and invoked the “don’t be evil” phrase.
Should employees dictate what projects their employer does and does not work on? Some business leaders may feel that employee protests such as the ones putting pressure on Google, Edelman, Microsoft, Amazon, Ogilvy and Wayfair are out of line.
However, if businesses want their employees to be engaged and to be invested in the success of the business, they need to work as a team.
I’ve worked at Carrot for more than 12 years now, and I can think of a few business opportunities that have come along which made me feel uncomfortable.
We didn’t need to protest, because the team discussed the opportunity and ended up passing on it because it didn’t gel with who we are.
Values are meaningless if they aren’t authentic to what the business wants to represent. If those in charge aren’t prepared to lose business opportunities, or customers, as a result of standing by their values, there’s little point in having them.
Businesses need to be prepared to lose exceptional employees if they make a decision that may not go against the organisation’s values, but does compromise those of its employees. Some employees won’t be in a position to leave the business, and instead, they’re at risk of becoming disengaged and burnt-out.
There needs to be ongoing communication around values between businesses and their employees. Values are the scripture of a company’s soul, if it’s willing to compromise them, how can employees and customers trust that it ever means what it says?