Brand Debate

Corporate Values: Commitments or Commandments?

Or an alternative title: “I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two types of Corporate Values.”

Let’s call the first “Commitments”
A Commitment is an utterly unique statement about how the organisation goes about its business. It’s a commitment that everyone in the organisation understands and is very much at the heart of the organisation’s culture – and perhaps is incomprehensible to outsiders.

It’s also unique because the organisation believes in itself – that it has a unique role to play in the world. It is this role or purpose that can be called ‘unique and defendable core proposition’ – the central motivating thought at the heart of any well-managed, proactive corporate brand.

A Commitment bristles with confidence. It’s very clear when the value is being followed and importantly when the value is not being followed. It’s a moral statement that doesn’t preach, just reminds employees of ‘how we do things here’ when they need to make a decision.

It’s also rare. Google got close with ‘don’t be evil’ as the central theme of their corporate values. However, the true test of a Commitment is whether it is reflected in the actions the organisation takes.

But how do you get there?

“The Commandments”: a good name for the second
The Commandments tend to be a number of statements – normally four of five – but can go up to ten (to capitalise on the religious undertones), and focus on commonly held principles: ‘Be Professional’ or ‘Be Passionate’ seem to turn up often.

On the face of it this is a good tactic. However, it is precisely because the principles are commonly held that these Commandments are difficult to gain consensus on and therefore embed – they are not specific to the culture of the organisation.

People choose to express their values when they want to – some people are passionate on the football terraces and some are passionate on a Saturday night, but that’s for another post.

And this is where the real nub of good communications comes in: corporate values are essentially a change management tool – they start by helping a business get to where it wants to get to. For corporate values to be an effective tool they must be about the journey not the destination. Which in turn opens up interesting questions – what journey does the brand want to take over the long-term? It is at this point that emotion moves centre stage and individual products and services offered by the company become less relevant.


2 thoughts on “Corporate Values: Commitments or Commandments?

    • Thanks for the comment Brook. You raise an interesting question.

      In my mind, a corporate brand needs today to carefully choose the conversations/debates it wants to be part of. This requires a shift in mindset from the commander, who is used to pumping out tired top-down didactic messages onto an ever more cynical ‘audience’.

      Perhaps the Commander becomes the Committer when he/she pushes the brand into a ‘space’ where it has the confidence to frame the debate, to create the network of people it wants to engage, and to clarify and build the brand narrative at key moments (which to me is more important/compelling than a simple message).

      I use the word ‘space’ deliberately – what kind of space does the brand want create to engage the people it needs to? Metaphorically speaking: is it a theatre, an art gallery, a private dining room, a 13th century country pub, etc, etc – another important choice when creating the type of engagement the brand wants.

      I could carry on, but I think I need to a) go to bed, and b) pick this up with another post!

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