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Company values... unknown is unloved

Working together, honesty, respecting each other, openness and enthusiasm. These are company values that come up all the time. They are empty words that don’t seem to have almost any meaning during my team coaching sessions. They are misunderstood or not understood at all and seldom translate to the wanted behaviour. In short, company values rarely come to life in a company.

No big deal? It is. What if tomorrow we would all be driving on the highway… without traffic rules! One big failure. I am admitting that it wouldn’t be such a mess if employees didn’t take the company values as seriously. But still, company values are essential. Firmly rooted values make sure everyone is heading the same way even if things are tough for a while.

In principle we all know the traffic rules. Mulish drivers literally pay the bill for their lessons but eventually we all succeed in driving civilised (in traffic jams) for a few hours a day. Companies learn from experience as well to keep their own ‘traffic flow’ fluent. Every day people from different nationalities, backgrounds and schooling have to work together. Maybe the comparison with a highway isn’t that strange now, is it? Right?

But a company is amorphous. To disregard the company values isn’t life-threatening - thank God - and a system of punishment seems to go too far. But how do you handle it then? Usually I hear stories of quarterly meetings with the CEO and large teambuilding events. They sometimes scornfully hum ‘Fietsen op de heide’, a Dutch song by Herman van Veen…

But still, company values often don’t sink in, even though the HR team tries its best. From experience we can distinguish five that cripple the power in communicating them:
  1. Too much top-down
  2. Complicated language
  3. Too many items on the list
  4. Too abstract- without examples so no recognition
  5. (last but not least!) Too little good examples by the top.
So make your long list of company values into a short checklist with rules which are not to be broken. The essence. A selection of at most five values that are essential to the company. This you can do best in a cross-functional workshop with the leadership team. I strongly value the following:
  1. Active listening (essential to be able to work in a team)
  2. Keeping each other responsible (a part of delegating)
  3. Entrepreneurial behaviour (essential to work out a strategic plan)
  4. Keep on thinking about the client (without this focus there is no growth)
In conclusion I want to emphasise that everything and therefore company values too look good on paper. But there is also the practical part. The employees have to live and breathe life into the company values. Repeat them on every occasion, use them, set a good example… in other words… be a good pater familias at work!


By Herman van Herterijck

"my ambition is to put the importance of pragmatic and continuous self-coaching on the agenda of current business leaders"

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