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Do your corporate values reflect reality?

When the labor market is tight and attrition rates are high, we try even harder to convince prospective employees of the benefits they’ll receive if they work for our organization. But there’s quite often a sizable gap between the hype and the reality.

Do Your Corporate Values Reflect Reality?

Many new employees experience buyer’s remorse in their first few months, as they come to realize the differences between what they thought they were buying into, and what they actually got. How would you feel if you bought a Mercedes-Benz, and then realized a few days later it was actually a Ford Pinto with a three-point star on the hood?

We all wear rose-colored glasses at times, and when we’re looking for a new job we want to believe everything we’re hearing and seeing: opportunities for promotion, professional development, and work/life balance are often embellished in the recruitment cycle. And we eagerly accept this on face value – we want to believe we’re test-driving a Mercedes.

Read more on the importance of authentic recruitment marketing.

What’s wrong with corporate values?

Almost every company has a set of values that adorn its office walls. There’s much talk of the culture these values underpin, and their virtues are extolled in annual reports and investor briefings. There’s just one problem: it’s rare that these aspirational values actually align with the reality of the company’s culture.

Almost every company has a set of values that adorn its office walls. There’s much talk of the culture these values underpin, and their virtues are extolled in annual reports and investor briefings. There’s just one problem: it’s rare that these aspirational values actually align with the reality of the company’s culture.

 

Most often, corporate values are developed to describe the way an organization would like its employees to behave, not how they actually behave. They describe a desirable future state that we should aspire to, yet the leaders of the organization pay little attention to the values day-to-day, and certainly make no attempt to build the culture that they imply.

There’s nothing wrong with having a set of corporate values that describe a desired future state. But to implement a constructive culture that embodies that state, the company’s leaders would have to agree, communicate, and enforce a minimum acceptable standard of behavior and performance.

It’s common for leaders to lose sight of the values when the pressing issues of the day dominate their attention. But, unfortunately, it’s also common for them to speak about the company as if the values are representative of reality – they overstate the role that corporate values play in the running of the business.

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Overselling the opportunity

When you’re hiring someone new, you want to showcase your organization in the best possible light, and it’s easy to oversell the opportunity to a prospective employee. You have to remember that your potential hires are quite vulnerable and impressionable during this process. They wouldn’t have applied for the job unless they wanted it, and they’re looking for positive validation: You want the job? Well we want you for the job!

You’ll often find plenty of evidence to support your claims of grandeur, because the board and the CEO create brand collateral to showcase the company in its best light. Many companies produce brochureware to extoll the virtues of their corporate values, the strategic plan, and the positive culture that the leadership has created (oh, and our people are our greatest asset, right!?)

But it doesn’t serve anyone’s interests to bring people into the organization, only for them to become disgruntled and disillusioned when the stark reality sets in.

The Employee Value Proposition (EVP)

As CEO of a major energy business Australia, competition for high quality people was sometimes fierce: but we weren’t in a sexy industry where the best and brightest young graduates lined up each day to fight their way through the crowd and hand us their résumés.

So we decided to take a more methodical approach, and put some serious effort into understanding how to sell the benefits of the organization, without overselling them. This became known as our employee value proposition (EVP).

We started with two key questions:

  1. What’s the difference in perception between someone with little knowledge of the company, and someone who has worked here for some time?; and
  2. How can we best convey that to prospective employees so that we showcase the organization’s benefits accurately, and enable them to make an informed decision about joining?

In this research, we took time to capture people’s perceptions at different stages of the recruitment process. We surveyed those who had just applied for the job to capture their impressions of the company based on the scant information in the public domain. We surveyed them again at the end of the interview process, whether they were offered the role or not. And for those who chose to join the company, we surveyed them again at various stages during their first six months.

From this, we managed to identify how people’s perceptions changed from the relative ignorance of a first-time applicant to the experience of a person who had ‘lived the dream’ for long enough to form a sensible opinion.

Once armed with this knowledge, we were able to develop our EVP. The main objective was to increase our chances of attracting the best candidates for any role, while at the same time avoiding costly hiring mistakes. But the EVP also became a reminder for everyone in the business about the positive aspects of working for the company, in a way that was both positive and authentic.

Developing an employee value proposition will allow you to accurately and honestly communicate your company’s values and culture to internal and external stakeholders alike.

Where should you start?

Not every company is able to invest the necessary time and effort into developing an EVP. But there are some simple steps you can take to ensure your company’s benefits are represented accurately to anyone who happens to ask.

Start by identifying the gaps. It’s important to understand and articulate the reality of the company culture, as opposed to the aspirational corporate values. People need to know where the company is now, where it’s heading, and what you’re doing to take it there.

Words are cheap, and if leaders don’t focus on driving change every day, the company becomes stagnant. So don’t fret about the gap in the corporate values – just take whatever steps you need to ensure that gap is being reduced every day, as you lead your team to a higher standard of behavior and performance.

Martin G. Moore is the founder of Your CEO Mentor and author of No Bullsh!t Leadership and host of the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. His purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally through practical, real world leadership content. For more information, please visit www.martingmoore.com.

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