June 24, 2024

Company values in the hotseat

23% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they can apply their organization’s values to their work every day, and only 27% “believe in” their organization’s values.

And yet every organisation has them. 

In today’s episode, we are reclaiming the role of organisation values with my guest, Jackie Le Fèvre. We put common corporate values in the hotseat – like integrity and ethics – and explore why they make cynics out of us all.  

Jackie has her PHD is human values psychology and is the perfect person to geek out on this question. 

This episode is a follow on from the last week – so if you haven’t listened to that one, go back and listen to that first. 

Curious to determine your personal values? Get my tool here.


Connect with Jackie:

Weekly newsletter | Ask Catherine | Work with me | LinkedIn | Instagram

Big shout out to my podcast magician, Marc at iRonickMedia for making this real.

Thanks for listening!


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meaningful work is healthy work. It supports effective mental health. It also supports performance and productivity. So work is meaningful. Now, there are some organizations that might say, Yeah, but if they don't love the work, they don't belong here, find a different ways of saying it. Don't use the word love, I would say, because you have no right, really, to seek to extract that kind of emotional investment from folk. If they choose to do it, then fine and lovely, but you don't get you don't get to demand it.

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When did you last make as a leader of the organization a decision using one of your organization's values? If like me, that's never happened, that probably makes you pretty cynical about what the purpose of values are, then it seemed to you with the T shirts, the mugs are the brochures that they're printed on. Right? So welcome back to answer at work. I'm your host, Katherine stag Macy and executive and team coach interested in the conversations we don't have at work. So back to the topic of organizational values, they just feel like to me, some these this low level royalty rolled out on special occasions, by leadership, you know, when they need a bit of a song and dance, but by the very end there, it's been rolled out by the very people who, you know, if you caught them on a quiet Thursday afternoon couldn't even list the values for you. If as an organization, we were in one that was living the values, I think they'd show up in the sort of deep recesses of the organizations places that people aren't really looking like procurement or recruitment.

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But in my experiences, processes like that seem to be run based on on things like cost, and margins and decision making seems to be largely dominated by egos and large voices, not by values in my buses have never used values as a guide and couldn't have named what they were for had I put them on the spot. So today, we have a continuation of this topic about meaningful organizational values that do exist with my funny and wise guest, Jackie, an affair of and we today, we continue that conversation and we put some values very common ones under the microscope and get curious as to why they produce a cynical response and, and how you could frame them differently to get at the same thing. You introduced Jackie in full in the last episode, what's useful for you to know about her if you haven't listened to that I said, she has literally written her PhD thesis on values her PhD is in human value psychology, she is so good at articulating why the values seem so vacuous and sort of for fall short, we get into the values like love your work, very common in the tech companies quality clients first, then look at their unpack and pick some of those, we look at why single words are problematic, how to create meaningful values, some great examples from Jackie's own body of work, or how many core values put some really great decision making. Let's go and listen in. I feel like there's a PhD podcast worthy podcasts on the topic of values. But I want us to put some very common values that we you and I both seen in organizational values in the hot seat, okay, and punch them in the nose? Well, we will use your deep expertise to understand why they why I find them objectionable, and I can't put words to them, I'm sure you're going to put the words to them for me. So let's start with one of my favorites. This will be like the top five favorite values that I love to hate and organizational value statements is integrity.

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Oh sure it Yeah. If you want to have the same value that Enron had just before the accounting scandal broke, or the Barclays Bank had on its list in the weeks and months running up to the exposure of the LIBOR scandal.

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If you want to be in that camp, then Hey, knock yourselves out.

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But I wouldn't recommend it.

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It's a difficult one because it means different things to different people like we described respect. I actually think really, integrity is like an umbrella concept. Because integrity is in practical, everyday terms. Our word is our bond, you will know us by our deeds, if we tell if we say something, it will be the truth.

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If we make a promise we will keep it if we default on something we will be honest about it, we will explain ourselves and we will hold ourselves to account and we will we will make amends after those all the sort of ramifications that come off the word integrity, but it's so seldom what anybody actually means by it. The other thing I'd say about a single word is a single word as the label the name of the value is it's vulnerable to dictionary definition. You gotta look it up in the next shouldn't go well, that's not what the Oxford English says was what the third edition chambers says, well, well, my my, my my luxuries pocket dictionary says this instead, you'll get into that those semantic weeds. So just kind of don't go there. So I really, I have a really big problem with integrity. I think it's a lazy choice. I think it's there for organizations that want to conform to industry norms. They think they know what they're talking about, or they haven't actually given, given it any thought, and they're too lazy to do the work. And I don't like that one. If so, yeah,

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take that integrity. It For Me, integrity feels like one of those ones, where without even trying very hard, I could find ways in which the organization is failing.

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Yeah, it's aspiration like, of course, we all want to live with working integrity, but it's most of us don't most if you want to

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go public and publish some values, by golly, you need to be ready to hold yourself to account against them. Because that's what they are. They are a framework and values existing systems. So they're not just individual, they have a dynamic with one another. Like we were talking about making spaces, they kind hearts, you can't look that up in the dictionary, because it's two words. But it's, it's an idea builds this generous empathy creates connection and belonging, which then paves the way for tailor making, for nurturing the unique relationships that enable you to make every day count. And it makes sense that you work through them like that. And integrity is it's too big a construct with a lot of other things underneath it. And another the things that are underneath it are hygiene factors, I should be able, quite frankly, to take it for granted, the organization is going to tell me the truth and keep its promises. Really, you need to you need to remind people that's what they're supposed to be doing. Your problems and your values.

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Okay, now we've got the pot stirred. What about quality? One of our core organizational values is quality.

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Yeah, cuz if we didn't have this on the list, we'd just make rubbish and sell it to you anyway. Because one of the things is human beings, right, we have an idea of self and values are very closely interwoven with our sense of self. And many, many human beings. Seek to be honorable in what they do, to try to do the best. I do. Do not believe that people get out of bed in the morning. So this is one of my troops in my world, get out of bed and morning and go into work thinking to themselves today, I'm going to fail, epically.

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Today, I shall routinely underwhelm everybody I meet, going through the day with that kind of self concept. What they're trying to do is the best that they can with what they've got. So they will be trying to do their best. So what is it that makes for quality? I would argue it is curious people, because those are the ones that notice opportunities for improvement. It's people with a passion for learning. Because with new knowledge and new skills, proficiency increases and improves qualities.

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bedfellow is excellence. I don't like excellence in there either.

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I think I might be wrong about this. I'll confess I might be wrong about this. But I think excellence or quality was one of G for SS values in the run up to the 2012 Olympics, where they got the big contract for security. And then they got to a few weeks before went Oh, actually, we can't do it. Could you send us the army? Yeah, I mean, where was quality and excellence then exactly. So I think that that is another of those things which you should either be charged to do a good job, or you should shut up shop and go home.

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To dropping into this little conversation with Jackie, if you enjoy this conversation about values and curious about your personal values, I have just the tool for you. Knowing your own values can really help you understand who you are and what matters to you. They can guide you into making difficult decisions and feeling content about those difficult decisions.

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I was 40 years old before I learned my own personal values before I knew what personal values were and then actually fine on my own. And I wish I'd known them sooner. So in just 10 minutes of your time this exercise is going to reveal your top three personal values and that's going to give you kind of your north star in a clarity to know what truly matters to you and just to live accordingly to that the link to the exercise in the show notes and excited for you to do that work. But for the moment. Let's go back to the interview with Jackie. I've got a joke with my friends. It goes back decades now of This idea of you going to the shops? Can you buy some nice bread? And so my response and it's an outstanding job because I'm not going to ship bread, I won't bring some nice bread. It's a cycle. It's like, when you think I'm gonna go out and buy the shittiest bread, it just doesn't. I'm starting to put words to it and setting the name thing but we say it's so easy and feels like it's in the in the space of quality and excellence go by quality bread. A good thing you mentioned that I was going to take the stuff out because Sainsbury's been sitting in the back in the backyard?

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Absolutely. And more discerning thing to say would be Could you bring me back some of my favorite bread? Yes, that then comes about value that comes about what matters most?

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To me.

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Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Love that. So there's two that kind of go together clients first, and we value our people. I mean, one is that we're looking when within looking. We value our people,

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I see that a lot. And I always saying, all right, maybe, depending on what you do, because a value is brought to life through the process of valuing. So even if people are treated as more important than other things, then maybe is working as a value. So you described the company that when times are getting tough, could lay a bunch of people off, but actually is enough cash flow in the business, that everybody could take a little pain, which spares all people big pain, or that if people is part of what they say they value, I would I would, I would go with that. If people is part of what they value, and they have above average, above the statutory minimum parental leave. Leave can be shared, to be honest, if compassionate leave is available for the loss of a dog. Dogs will really really matter to people. Yes, I don't know. Because I'm not a cat person, with your dog quite vividly as a relatively young adult, the couple of days following hafting, to say goodbye to my first dog that I'd had as an adult. I'm being genuinely absolutely heartbroken. There could be a whole host of quite kind of small but highly significant things that an organization has in its practices, the show that actually the people are put above that things.

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And is that would that be the whole the same for clients first?

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Yeah, it cleans first, that it's such

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a pity this isn't a YouTube channel, just because your face you're

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saying it's not a pretty sight. But I don't believe it. I don't believe it.

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I don't I don't believe it.

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Because the organization and organization even if it's tiny company, I My mind's a tiny company. Actually, the things that have to come first are, are being legal, and being viable.

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There's a whole host of things that an organization has to have in place in order to be able to serve clients in the way that it serves clients, it then needs to really put his best foot forward and do it absolute best job. But you can't put clients first, it

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makes me think of the example that you said earlier about that organization who could turn down the contract? Had they be operating under clients first, then you would have argued the client is right, we just have to suck it up and take this contract

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clients first, does it mean that we need to stay in the game so that our clients continue to be served, but we give them a bad service?

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Or do we accept the contract, but then not deliver according to the specification and instead bend it to what we think it ought to be? In which case we'd take weekly in breach of contract, which is not a great place to be? Because what does that mean? So no gravity and sustainability of service fires?

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Or do we say no, because no client should be served like that. It just your client first doesn't help you in that situation. There is knowing that what your organization is there to do is support folk with meaningful lifting. So this is a different one of my organizations, and it's not them turn down the contract, but I'm using them as an illustration, meaningful living, which is about bringing together diverse people and resources to put the everyday within the reach of everyone. When you look at that contract and go, can we bring together diverse people and resources put the everyday within the reach of everyone under those conditions? answer's no. Hence it's a no. Yeah,

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and they don't You know, I mean, this is just an example. And I'm already feel clear in the example, I don't know this organization and yeah, my body's like, yeah, that's a no, where's the the earlier one just fills all messy and you know. And then also, if you have clients first and we evaluate people, I'm like, you're going to take the contract because it's a shitty contract, because clients are first and then you're going to ask people to operate in ways that are bad for them to have them resigning and six months.

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And I know, that doesn't feel helpful at all. I mean, it strike, I mean, this is probably obvious work. But for listeners who are just going to new to this work, it feels useful to have case study examples, if you are in this work, and are doing it on your own. Because you can, of course, work with people like Daggy, to do this kind of work.

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To talk through experiences that you've been through, how would you have handled the the furlough redundancy experience three years ago through this current set of values? How do you handle that crunchy client conversation or renegotiation during the turn of values? So final, final one for in the hot seat here? Let's put in the love your work? Oh,

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I'm now going to get on one of my high horses, because one of the modern kinds of things in the chatter is bring your whole self to work.

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organizations require you No, no, no organization has the right to demand your whole self.

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No, they have a right to your professional self, to execute the work, how much of the rest of you you put in has to be your choice. Because for some folk, their lives are complicated, maybe with caring responsibilities, or maybe with limiting health conditions, they're managing themselves, or maybe with a past history of trauma, or whatever it happens to be people are complicated. So people need the scope to determine what they can bring into their workplace and love may not be part of it. And I don't think it's a fair ask.

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Because you're you you are differentiating between people on something that is out of your control as an organization and to an extent, maybe even out with with the control of the individuals don't do that. Don't love your work. Now. What we want is for folk to experience the work is meaningful to experience the work is worthwhile. For that to happen.

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It has to align with some of their personal values. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with valuing financial security, and coming to the work and doing the work well, for the security of the paycheck. That's an honorable exchange. They don't have to be heart and soul in it at all. Yeah, meaningful work is where it's at meaningful work is healthy work. It supports effective mental health, it also supports performance and productivity. So work is meaningful. Now, there are some organizations that might say yeah, but if they don't love the work, they don't belong here, find a different way of saying it. Don't use the word love, I would say, because you have no right, really, to seek to extract that kind of emotional investment from folk. If they choose to do it, then fine and lovely, but you don't get you don't get to demand it.

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I'm speaking to people who are thinking about the next chapter of their lives and realizing how utilitarian their work career has been to somewhat To their surprise, but maybe a piece of that, that I have worked for 2030 years and it wasn't the highlight of my life, but it has allowed me to live a life now that I love and may have choices I can make choices now because of that. And I think it's it's kind of counter the passion and purpose and if you if you don't have a purpose and a why your life is not meaningful, I'm like, that's just incredibly unfair. And to your point, misses the complexity of the human experience sounds, a lot of which is not another trying

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to be fair to all of us is that the reality is that living through a global pandemic rattled everybody's values that rattled everybody's values, and it rattled everybody's values, because it rattled everybody's beliefs. And everybody in the world it rattled everybody. And the studies are coming out now that actually are kind of giving us the empirical basis of the things that we knew to be true anyway. Because if you just think about the UK, that we've had a bunch of beliefs for a while. Pre pandemic, like the NHS is basically, you know, it's maybe not as good as it used to be, but it's basically there and it'll basically look after me it will be able to sort me out, and then it got overwhelmed. So that's not true. I live in a relatively enlightened and well developed country with an economy that should be able to sort out the stuff that needs to be sorted out and epoxy little via So don't get me I'm only in my 30s. And I'm relatively healthy. And then people who were relatively healthy in their 30s were dying on intubation machines or living

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with lung COVID, you know, having another 60 years of their life and a mental change.

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I always bounce back no matter what I get, I always bounce back on a broken shoulder, I decide that the other always bounce back. And then there's all COVID Go, I eat the right stuff, I do the physio i, and it's just not happening.

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So there was a whole host of the government will make decisions in our best interests and seek to keep us safe. I'm not going to rehash what's going on in the COVID inquiry, some of those beliefs have been rather shot out of the water as well. Which makes us go if the world is not like that, but I thought it was.

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And the world is actually more uncertain, because I also never thought I'd see price inflation like I've seen and didn't think it alarm bass war in Europe, they didn't think that we would, in my lifetime See, international authorities behave in the way that we're seeing them behave in Israel and Gaza.

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And these things make no sense in this world with what we know and what we can do. How can this also be true? I personally hasent a personal opinion, I can't understand how anybody took Trump seriously the first time. The second time, I just and it rattles us. And then we go, we go. So what is it that really matters? What is it that really, really matters? Because I thought it was having enough money to renew the lease on the car when this one's 18 months old. And now I'm wondering, is that the point. And this is the thing about the fact that and then I will shut up I will say one more thing, our values are naturally unconscious. That is the job that they do. That is how we are wired. That is what it is to be a human being. What we know is if we do the work to bring them up out of the unconscious wraps and vocabulary around them so we can make them concrete enough to consider and to use. We make better quality decisions. We end up more content with the choices that we make. And we are mentally and emotionally healthier. All reckon there's value in values.

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And I hope I might have persuaded you feel

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like you've made an excellent case.

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Yeah, wow, what it was we've ended up in personal values again, which is a lovely place to end. I think having been started here and ending this in personal values. And I think we've both met our own personal values of my cholesterol card.

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Say it you need to find a better minister. Minister once you've been molesting us, system making a verb. And I've been learning and curious what we'll find could we have? It's been a delight. Jackie, thank you for your time, complete

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joy. And thank you for the invitation.

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It means that a fun way to learn why company matters can be so annoying, and how to fix that.

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So I'm Deki has turned my cynicism into a lot of hope actually, really looking forward to reinject book when it's published. The world needs more of pioneering in this field to help those of us who want to create better organizations to do it with values and to do better. Next week is going to be the final episode in the season.

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I'll tell you more of the plans that I have and do a wrap up but until next week, this is your wing woman signing off