Culture: Consistency – Core Values

by Ron Potter

In just about every company I’ve worked with over the last 30 years, their values were printed somewhere.  Some times they’re in the employee handbook or other printed document but the majority of the time they’re printed in a beautiful art form on the front wall in the reception area.  They were there for everyone to see.  But employees don’t see them.  They probably saw them for a few days after the reception area was remodeled or repainted but then they walk right past them every day without notice.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

I’m not sure who first spoke those words but I believe it came from direct observations.  People will say almost anything for various reasons.  But their actions demonstrate what they really believe.

Printed words mean nothing in the face of behavior.

Words of the Core Value Culture Survey

Some of the words from Core Value questions include:

  • managers practice what they preach
  • there is a characteristic management style
  • a consistent set of values
  • held accountable
  • ethical code guides behavior

You’ll notice that only once do words come into play.  They practice what they preach.  And the focus is not on the words but on the practice.

Printed Words Mean Nothing

The only time printed words become meaningful is when they’re violated.  Few people believe words.  Everyone believes actions and behaviors.

One of the simplest explanations I’ve seen of corporate cultures and values is a straight line drawn left to right.  This line represents the current level of values or culture.  This is where the “bar” is set.  If someone violates one of those values and there are no consequences for that violation, the bar was just lowered.  Corporate Culture is less valuable when that happens then it was prior to the lack of accountability.

Corporate leaders must be vigilant in protecting the values and culture of the organization.  It slips away very rapidly through simple acts of violation with no accountability.


I’m reminded of the old story about someone who went bankrupt.  When they were asked how that could happen they said

Well, I had a missed payment here, made a bad decision there, made a bad loan to an old friend and pretty soon I was bankrupt.

Bankruptcy, like lost values, doesn’t just happen one day.  There were little things along the path that were pointing toward an eventual bankruptcy.

Core Values in corporate cultures are not just lost one day.  There are always little things along the path pointing toward the bankruptcy of values.

Mile Markers

I was once consulting with a division of a large corporation.  Things were going quite well at the moment.  Sales were up.  Marketing seemed to be clicking with potential customers.  Productivity costs were down.

But my final report after spending two weeks with the leadership team said that they were in trouble and headed for disaster.  I based that assessment on what I observed as the constant erosion of Core Values even over a short two week period.

My report fell on deaf ears.  All they could see were the positive numbers and metrics that were happening at the time.  They wrote me off as not knowing what I was talking about.  Two years later they were hemorrhaging.  Most of the leaders had left, numbers were bad and getting worse.

It turns out that was just the tip of the iceberg.  The leader of that group left when times were good to become president of another company.  He only lasted a couple of years.  The division went from being profitable to being sold.

Pay attention every day to Core Values.  Don’t let things slide.  Don’t just let “this one” go!  You will slip into bankruptcy quicker than you think.  Protect the Core Values with every bit of your fiber.

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