Are Values Statements Rubbish?

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This week I was going to write something on innovation from Garry Hamel’s book What Matters Now until an article in the Australian Financial Review about how Ruslan Kogan, founder of the booming on-line business approached hiring people and I felt compelled to challenge some of what he says.

The first provocative subheading that I don’t agree with in the piece is “Values Statements are rubbish”.  I take issue on this because Values Statements only become rubbish through poor leadership and application. I do agree with his sentiment that having Values written on policy documents and staff lanyards is poor application and only paying lip service to the importance of Values. He went to take aim at Enron and rightfully so for displaying the words “honesty” and “integrity” on an office plaque.

But who was Enron? Enron was the sum total of its people at every level from the most senior leaders to junior staff.  Values only live when the leaders bring them to life by actively role modelling them and using them to guide behaviour, decisions and performance.

Values are the foundation on which the organisation’s culture is built.

Within any organisation there are stated Values and there are unwritten Values. In the case of Enron, their stated Values appeared on a plaque, however, there were more powerful unwritten Values in play that were endorsed by Enron’s leaders that allowed one of the greatest examples of corporate greed, lies and cover-ups to play out.  The point to remember was at any point, leaders and their people within Enron, had a choice to challenge the unwritten Values and associated behaviours or accept the status quo.

Interestingly in this article Ruslan Kogan shares what he looks for in people he hires. In my view he states quite clearly what he values. He nominated five areas:

  1. Innovation – He wants people who can harness new technology as it comes to market;
  2. Dedication – People need to have a 24/7 attitude to work;
  3. Frankness – People need to tell it how it is – feedback is open and honest;
  4. Initiative – People are rewarded for contribution, not length of service, education or age;
  5. All ideas are valid – Experiences and points of view are valued from any level of the organisation.

The five points above do two things; first any prospective team member can be in no doubt what is expected of them if they were to be the successful candidate for any position offered in Second it demonstrates what underpins the culture – the way people are expected to behave to fit in, be successful and be rewarded.

What’s valued only comes to life and stays alive when people at every level agree that the stated Values are the way they want to do things around here. Which are stronger in your organisation, the stated Values or unwritten Values?


Vivente Australia enables leaders and managers develop the bond between people and performance, creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its best.