Where have all the Corporate Values Statements gone?

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values?Recently, I was sent down a values statement wormhole with a simple client research assignment.

The task: gather the values statements of leading edge Silicon Valley high tech companies.  The goal: review the values statements of these “cool firms” for ideas about how our client might make their values more appealing to their increasingly hip and Millennial workforce.

The sample: 8 leading companies: Google, Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tesla, Genentech, Electronic Arts, Zappos.  The surprising finding: half of these companies seemed to lack either formal values statements, transparency about them, or both.

About an hour into my research, it seemed the most fascinating thing about this project was how difficult it was to find mission and values statements for many of these companies!

You would think these world famous companies would have obvious publicly available mission and values statements. You would think.

Apple, it turns out, is notorious for it’s total LACK of mission statement. The best values statements I could find on the web (definitely not on their website itself) were gleaned from an interview done with CEO Tim Cook. No management retreats and formal values statements for this company – just some bullet points from a CEO interview.

Similarly, though Facebook has a clear but somewhat uninspiring mission statement (to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected), the closest thing to a set of official values available online comes from CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s description of “the Hacker Way” ethos as described in his IPO letter to shareholders. Outsiders have equated these with the company’s 5 core values, but to me as the external researcher, it wasn’t totally clear.

Tesla left me guessing too. No values or mission statement on their website. I extracted what seemed like mission and values statements from the basic customer-focused marketing copy on their homepage. LinkedIn’s values were hidden away in a plain text paragraph in their Code of Business Conduct and Ethics document on the shareholder section of their website. This is a new wave in marketing according to Third Digital Media, it is quite like when hip restaurants began omitting a front sign, making it look more appealing.

Then there’s Zappos at the other end of the spectrum, who has made their core values into an essential lynchpin of their company culture, the focus of a book by CEO Tony Hsieh, and a core aspect of the social movement the company spearheads around bringing more happiness to the workplace. An entire section of their website (as well as the additional social movement website!) were focused on detailing their core values. Google was a little more toward this end of the spectrum with their “Ten things we know to be true” corporate philosophy statement. (Yet their much touted informal motto “don’t be evil” is the core of their Corporate Code of Conduct).

Genentech & Electronic Arts proved the Goldilocks role for this sample with more middle of the road values statements  – not tomes like Google & Zappos, but not missing entirely as with Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn and Tesla.

This research left me curious about what these data points have to say about the value of values in the new business paradigm. I for one still find them incredibly, well, valuable, especially as we move toward more complex decision-making environments, more mission-driven companies, and as more research links employee engagement and productivity with having a clear sense of organizational identity and meaningful work. There are still plenty of examples out there where clarifying corporate values has been central to a company’s success; Ford’s turnaround under Alan Mulally’s leadership comes to mind.

So what’s going on with values in top tech firms? Back when the learning organization was a new concept, corporate values were a new priority. That was around 20 years ago, and I’m left wondering:

  1. Are top companies just over values statements? Are they just “so 1999”, not cool enough for west coast firms?
  2. Or are they just not sharing them externally for some secretive strategic reasons?
    • i.e. are they being intentionally clandestine about their values, as part of the secret society employees-as-“in-crowd” culture many of these companies seem to like to create for their Millennial-heavy employee base?
    • Or is it part of their “secret sauce” that they just don’t want the public to know about?
  3. Or, my third and final guess: are they so embedded in some of these more cult-like corporate cultures as Facebook, Apple, and LinkedIn that the companies don’t even think to call them out separately? Perhaps these companies are like fish, not paying a lot of attention to the water they swim in.

As is often the case, one research question leads to another, and now I’m left with this new question: what’s the value of values these days among top high tech firms? And in the spirit of collaboration and transparency, I’ll turn it over to you — let’s crowd-source some insights and start up a conversation.

  • Dana Reynolds

    I’m going with your third guess. Tech firms with a strong company culture i.e: Apple, Facebook, don’t state their values because it is so embedded in who they are, they live and breathe it. I like your metaphor like fish not paying attention to the water they swim in.

    Or maybe the decision not to have value statements is even more intentional in that they have a philosophy similar to “actions speak louder than words”, let’s not say we are about it, let’s just BE about it. That feels edgy and “cool” and that’s how I see companies like Apple. Although, I guess that wouldn’t make too much sense for Facebook where words hold the power. Facebook would want to SAY they are about it right? Share it on social media, let all their friends know?? Hmm… where is your value statement FB??

    • Brooking Gatewood

      Thanks for the comment Dana! My guess is that Facebook is in the same genre of silicon valley culture as Apple so the same logic would apply with them. Facebook does share these things on their page but it’s a bit confusing discerning the corporate info from the company Facebook page and posts!

  • KristinCobble

    “What’s the value of values these days among top high tech firms?” Having consulted or coached in 5 of the organizations you looked at, my take is that values are alive and well. They may not be on the website, but they get brought up informally when a decision is being weighed. “We are all about impact and speed. This approach seems to slow.”

    In terms of the larger question, “What’s the value of values?” I heard Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, talk about how we all have the capacity to cheat just a little bit and at the same time, feel quite good about ourselves and our own morality. However, through running various studies, they figured out that, “When we remind people about their morality, they cheat less.” It made me wonder if having explicit values on the walls motivates us to be our better selves. For a really interesting NPT Ted Radio Hour, listen to “Why do We Cheat?” to learn more!

    • http://www.groupaya.net Brooking Gatewood

      Thanks for the comment and insider knowledge Kristin! I have been sitting with this question of informal values since sharing this post and reading comments, and thinking about our own relationship with our values at Groupaya. My sense is that the ideal set up is, as you allude to here Kristin and Dana as well, my above-mentioned “fish in water” relationship with values. That is, that employees automatically operate with a clear understanding of the core values and don’t tend to think about them as a set of bullet points on a website.

      Using ourselves as an example: Someone recently asked me about Groupaya’s own values and how integrated they are in our team. So our team had a discussion about this earlier this week, and though no one had memorized our (long) stated values list on our website, when they read them people felt they were for the most part not surprising, accurate, and didn’t need much adjustment. Some wanted us to have a pithier presentation of the long list — we definitely do not have the simple & sticky style values list at this time in our own work team — and yet they do capture our approach. In a funny way, I notice that I actually like this – partly because we are a small enough company to get away with this, and partly perhaps because complexity and paradox are part of our values ;)

      The other thing we all noticed was that many of these values come up on a day to day basis in our conversations and decisions, as Kristin mentioned in her client example above. E.g. one of the core values that seemed most obvious and showing up in day to day conversations and decision-making was the value around learning. Another one that comes up a lot with our group is authenticity. So in our case we may not have a memorable verbal presentation of our values – it’s long and wordy – but it does capture an essence that shows up ‘in the water’ of Groupaya’s day to day.

      And lastly, the thing I do like about having a values list posted on our website is that it also speaks to clients and our community – it is a way to get to know us. And as with Google’s approach and Zappos as well, I think the longer list can be more effective in that sense than a list of just a few memorable words. That said, “Don’t be evil” is pretty catchy and catch-all, too :)