Vision, core values and corporate culture backfire

This post will be controversial.

The goal of this post is to document a phenomenon I have observed: vision, core values and corporate culture constantly backfire to the point of being negatively disruptive.

Examples and Symptoms of the backfiring.

1) Company A has all sorts of value statements, missions,  training courses and service awards etc. around “delighting the customer”. Yet the present “waiting line” for a customer to get to a service attendant in 45 minutes, and the infuriating voice menu that they have to listen to when they dial in is 5 minutes long. All the staff view corporate values related to delighting customers as (in Hebrew) “harta-barta”, which roughly translated means “unrefined crap”.

2) Company B’s culture emphasizes the advantages about being global in all its corporate artifacts.  Yet all the corporate officers come from the same ( North European) country, English is used sparingly in all in corporate emails from very senior staff, and the  HQ plants a representative from home base to spy on each regional manager outside the home geography. Employees say “every time I hear the word global, I want to throw up”.

3) Company C has made “innovation” its middle name, as reflected in mission, values, and culture. Yet this just provokes only  cynicism because the company makes money by operational excellence by cost cutting. There is no other innovation.

Why does this backfiring occur?

1) Business reality changes (competition, context, client baseall the time ,and these cultural artifacts tend become firm outdated relgious tenets.

2) Corporate cultural artifacts are administered as a religion by HR priests, and this leads to cynicism.

3) The vision, culture and values are often just part of a management system seen as manipulated and oppressive , and people learn to beat systems.

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7 thoughts on “Vision, core values and corporate culture backfire

  1. Absolutely true, but what is “controversial” about it? I constantly witness that in my work. In fact, I still have to come across an organization where declared values correspond to the actual values, mission and culture. In my experience every company has all three of them, but hardly any is consciously aware of what their “true” mission, values and culture are (and how different they are from whatever HR preaches and what they stick on the walls).

  2. I agree there is a lot of cynicism about culture and values within organisations, especially multi-nationals. This is usually because the desired organisational culture is inconsistent with national culture beliefs, organisational practice, leadership behaviours or all three. An organisation that trys to assimilate outside groups into a mantra culture will fail. The key here is integration and empathy. I find this article only focused on the problem and not the solution and therefore provocative but not very helpful.

  3. It is not vision, values, and culture that are the problem. It is the disconnect between what people in organizations say and what they do. Furthermore, initiatives led by HR typically have little to nothing to do with the deliverables of the organization. Operations and senior leadership are the ones to set direction, establish norms, and articulate expectations – and then make them real through their own behavior. Behavior makes cultures, not lip service.

  4. It is not vision, values, and culture that are the problem. It is the disconnect between what people in organizations say and what they do. Furthermore, initiatives led by HR typically have little to nothing to do with the deliverables of the organization. Operations and senior leadership are the ones to set direction, establish norms, and articulate expectations – and then make them real through their own behavior. Behavior makes cultures, not lip service.

  5. Vision, Values and culture backfire and become negatively disruptive ? If that really is the case, then there is something wrong. In my opinion a vision cannot backfire. A vision is not something that is communicated with external parties. That is the internal GPS system of the company.

    The mission, can certainly be a problem. If the company does not live up to the corporate mission, which is communicate with external parties, then the company makes a fool out of herself. They should quickly remove the mission from their website and first make sure that the mission is aligned with core values and corporate culture. We see often that corporate missions are not more than cliché’s. Look at the corporate mission of 100 ad random chosen companies and you will find the same words/expressions in many of them. How much time was spent to make shared values, vision, mission, culture and objectives one strong unit?

    In the traditional top-down organizations, the Board develops the vision and makes it available to a few key people in the organization. They write subsequently the mission and expect all employees to live up to it, whether they agree or not! Not many companies work intentionally and consciously at improving or changing a culture. That is anyhow a matter of years, rather than months. Culture is intangible and hardly backfires. It is often difficult to describe accurately the culture of a company anyhow. It is certainly possible that the Board formulated a corporate mission that is impossible to achieve with the existing culture and with the explicit or non-explicit values in which case the mission is the problem and not the culture or the values.

    You probably read between the lines that I am not exactly an advocate of the traditional top-down management style. Once the board really listens to the people and take the opinion of the people into consideration, the whole backfiring problem is solved.

    Am I wrong?

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