Going Beyond Abstract Company Values

For core values to be meaningful, you've got to show them in action.

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May 25, 2023

“Increasingly in today’s market, job seekers are evaluating potential employers based on their values. They’re interested in knowing where companies stand on issues that are important to them, such as DEI, work-life balance, sustainability, etc.” That’s what LinkedIn says about the section called “Our featured commitments” that organizations can now add to their company page.

It’s a nice idea, but the reality is that while every company has written down its values, not many actually live those values in a deeply meaningful way.

Data from “Why Company Values Are Falling Short,” a study by Leadership IQ, shows that employees are 115% more engaged when their organization has a well-defined set of company values. Unfortunately, the study also revealed that only 33% of people believe their direct manager holds people accountable to those values. Only 21% of companies embed their company values into their performance appraisals, even though people have 80% higher employee satisfaction if they do.

The issue isn’t whether an organization has articulated its values; it’s whether the company actually lives those values. LinkedIn says that in addition to highlighting its values, companies can also incorporate “more meaningful content, including reports, certifications, articles, blogs, and videos.” However, if those reports and blogs are going to impact candidates, they need to highlight real-world examples.

For instance, one large company I recently spoke with rolled out a new set of corporate values last year, including a value that addressed the importance of people. Having such a value, by itself, won’t mean much to the typical candidate.

But rather than letting the value serve merely as ornamentation on the boardroom wall, the CEO asked all of the company’s 5,000 employees to send an email to a colleague they saw exhibiting that value. Within days, there were tens of thousands of emails bouncing around the company, with employees affirming and encouraging one another. That real-world example is far more compelling than the typical corporate pablum.

Values matter to both employees and candidates, but only if you can authentically explain how your organization makes its core values a part of daily life. Much like the previous example of employees demonstrating the company’s values, you want to show how your values permeate employees’ daily lives at work. Perhaps values are a part of monthly meetings, weekly stand-ups, or every quarter the company gives an award to the employee who most embodies the corporate values.

Perhaps your organization has employee resource groups, employee volunteer-led forums that bring people together based on shared cultural or identity common interests. I asked Karen Gray, executive vice president of HR at A+E Networks Group, to describe her organization’s employee resource groups. She told me, “The employee resource groups organize events and trainings to share their knowledge with the company. These forums are not just self-referential; these groups provide brilliant teaching.”

The groups have budgets that they manage, they conduct training and events, and they offer valuable leadership experience and career enhancement. Not only are they operationalizing diversity in a meaningful way, but they’re also providing career growth and development.

Career growth is another one of those areas where company values are more words than actions. For example, the study “Career Growth Or Stalled Progress” discovered that only 23% of employees always think they have the kind of training opportunities to foster career growth and advancement.

The point of all this is simple: LinkedIn (and others) make it incredibly easy to share your values. While that’s nice, discussing values in the abstract isn’t nearly enough. If you hope to persuade candidates that your values are real, you’ve got to share real-life examples. Show people how your company and leaders live those values every day, and you’ll leapfrog all the organizations whose values are nothing more than empty words.

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