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Your Corporate Values Are Bullshit

Most companies nowadays have a set of corporate values, especially in the tech industry. I think it’s cool, but often times the implementation is subpar. How many companies in this world have integrity, teamwork, honesty, and positive intent at their heart? On paper, many. In real life, not so many.

“Treat passengers fairly and consistently in the case of oversales.” — United Airlines Customer Commitments

One of United Airlines’ commitments is clear – fairness and consistency when customers are impacted by overbookings. But when no passenger accepts their compensation model, they do this, because they need empty seats for their own staff. Even in tricky situations, all they think about is profits. That’s corporate greed, not treating passengers fairly. That’s not commitment towards the people who pay your salaries. United is just one example, but there are more.

Most of us have worked in places where integrity was a core corporate value, and where employees didn’t always do right by their customers. Did someone take action? I bet not. This is because in most companies values only exist because someone read Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” or read about Atlassian’s success story. True values come from the top. 80% of your culture is your founder. These values are important, not only a trick for the marketing and recruiting teams: join us, look at our values; we’re honest and all that!

Few people care about company values during their day-to-day routine. They’re too busy. And they won’t care just because the values are up on the walls. They care if they truly believe in them. That’s why hiring for the right culture fit is more important than hiring for skills. Take Atlassian’s “don’t fuck the customer” as an example. If you care about the people paying your salary, Atlassian is the a good place to work. If not, you can always join United and their commitment to *treat passengers fairly and consistently in the case of oversales*.

Companies are better off not having any values at all, if the alternative is “honesty, integrity, and commitment to quality work”. These sound like they are written by a PR team. They’re vague and mean nothing. No company accepts a lack of integrity or dishonest communication. Just like no company accepts negative intent and a lack of accountability. Those are not values. Those are expectations.

Not all companies need values. If you’re a mom-and-dad bakery, you don’t need them. Maybe not even if you are a public transit company. Who cares? Take me from A to B and move on. I couldn’t care less about your values. Values should be reserved for companies that really embrace them.

As some of you know, I recently joined Beyond. What I like about Beyond is that they have four down-to-earth values. It’s simple:

  • Entrepreneurial spirit: it’s expected of you to be able to start and do things on your own
  • Support each other: everyone’s voice matters, no one is too important for anyone else, and we’re all in it together. Don’t be an asshole!
  • Be inspirational: we strive to create an environment where it feels as though the bar is being raised every single day
  • Never stop learning: if you aren’t getting better, you’re getting worse.

These are true values. Atlassian has true values. Zappos has true values. Southwest Airlines has true values. They are true because it is expected that all employees live by them. No exceptions.

Think of corporate values like a mirror. All your employees need to stand in front of it naked. If they don’t feel comfortable, there’s something wrong.

You can’t convince someone to follow values, so you need to hire the right people. But what is more important, you need to stop talking about bullshit values, because they won’t do you any good. If anything, they will just annoy some of your people.