Why Corporate Values Should Be More Than a List of Words

As we kick off our corporate values series, we consider how core values have grown in importance and how values play a role in the evolution of a company.
Core Values

This blog post is the first in Alyce’s three-part series on corporate values. In this post, we consider how corporate values have grown in importance and how values play a role in the evolution of a company.

None of us is a stranger to the concept of values. Throughout our lives, we’re taught to make certain ways of thinking and behaving second nature. Whether they stem from a culture, religion, nation, community, family, or organization, values are a guide for how we think, behave and view ourselves. And when values work as intended, they function less as ‘instruction manual’ and more as ‘cultivated instinct.’

Because values tend to be ingrained over time and function as a sort of instinctual mode of operation in our lives, we often think of values as more of a feeling or a concept than a written-down set of rules to follow. Think: the value of hard work tends to be instilled more so through watching others and taking actions as we grow up than by reading a step-by-step guidebook on how to be a hard worker.

Perhaps this show vs. tell nuance is why so many business leaders and corporate teams find it challenging to succinctly document a set of company core values. Corporate values should be both demonstrated through behaviors (living the values) and expressed in words (documenting the values).

The Rise of Corporate Values

Corporate values, also called company values or core values, may have been barely a thought only a generation or two ago.

A notable example of “early” corporate values articulation came around 1981 from a growing technology company called Apple. (Perhaps you’ve heard of it?) In the early 1980s, Apple laid out a set of encouraging, exuberant values dubbed Apple Values, which, as Cult of Mac explains, became “a way of teaching new employees a bit about the Apple culture they were entering.”

A bit later, in 1994, Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras released their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, where the authors presented research findings that revealed attributes of “visionary” companies and how these companies compared against their rivals. One hallmark of visionary companies that came through loud and clear was, as a 2004 Fast Company article put it, “having ‘cultlike cultures’; adhering to an ideology that went beyond the simple pursuit of profits.” And, as a 2002 Harvard Business Review piece expounded, readers of the book “stampede[d] to off-site meetings in order to conjure up some core values of their own.”

The Modern Era of Differentiated Values

Since then, companies large and small have made a point to outline a list of core values, many sharing those values publicly. One oft-celebrated example is Zappos, which announced its 10 Core Values in 2006. Articulated in a voice that echoes the brand’s personality – the list begins with “Deliver WOW Through Service” – Zappos’ 10 Core Values have been seen as a refreshing departure from the single-word value statements that had become so common.  

Corporate values may feel instinctual for company founders and core team members but finding the right way to communicate those values so that they can be cultivated throughout the organization as it grows can be a tough exercise. Because, not only must corporate values convey the ethos of the company – they should also be unique.

Think about it: how many times have you encountered core values that you know you’ve seen somewhere before? Studies, including this one, have shown that words like, “Integrity,” “Respect,” “Innovation,” and “Teamwork,” are among the most common showing up on core values lists from hundreds of companies. Corporate values can lose meaning if they sound like everyone else’s.

When Unique Values Drive Company Purpose

As companies vie for top talent, millennials and Gen Z bring a heightened desire for meaning in their work, and consumer loyalty statistics reveal a trend in favor of companies operating with purpose, differentiated corporate values are more important than ever. Basically, foregoing the creation of unique corporate values as a way to communicate your company’s purpose could turn into a threat to your business.

On this topic, the introduction of the 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study explains, “Purpose is more than just a mission statement or a commitment of values… Purpose must be deeply embedded within the organization, the brand and the experience that is delivered.” And, we’d argue, you need to have clearly defined, meaningful, differentiated corporate values in order to become – and be perceived as – a purpose-driven company.

Communicating what you stand for and the values guiding your company’s operation internally and externally matters. The same Cone/Porter Novelli study found that:

  • 88% of Americans say they would buy from a purpose-driven company
  • 79% of Americans say they would be more loyal to a purpose-driven company
  • 68% of Americans say they would want to work for a purpose-driven company
  • 54% of Americans say they would want to invest in a purpose-driven company

Taken together, it’s clear that a majority of consumers, employees, and investors believe purpose-driven companies – and the values guiding them – are more attractive than others.

Are You Demonstrating Differentiated Values?

It’s clear that the concept of articulating, documenting, demonstrating and reinforcing corporate values is here to stay. And for good reason: when your company crafts core values that are meaningful and differentiated, you stand to attract more business, talent and investment.

At Alyce, we’ve seen this firsthand. In the next post in our corporate values series, we’ll dig into how we created our Core Values and how we live them and use them here at Alyce. We’ll leave you with a question to consider (leave us a comment or drop us a line!): Are you getting value from your corporate values?

April 11, 2019
Nina Butler
Nina Butler

A born-again Bostonian and Martha’s Vineyard native (yes, people do actually live there year-round), I attribute my passion for making personal connections in my personal and professional life to my neighborly Island roots. I joined Team Alyce in January 2019 to be a part of a bigger story and have a little fun while doing it :) . While not riding the startup roller coaster, I love spending time traveling with my unbearably cute niece and nephew, attending New England sports championship parades and taking in the sun and sea at my favorite local beaches.