When Company Values promise but don’t deliver…..


Let’s face it - company values, as described in an Annual Report or the “About Us’ section of a website can be pretty bland, forgettable, even inter-changeable, with heaps of other firms saying the same thing. For example, here’s a set of values from a leading player in the UK transport industry (not that you’d know):

Colleagues – we want to help all our colleagues make a difference. Customers – we treat all our customers in the same way that we’d like to be treated. Innovation – we strive to be better every day and take steps to make it happen. Integrity – we are open, honest and keep our promises. Social Commitment – we are a responsible neighbour and invest in our community. Costs – we spend money on the things that really matter.

Offensive ? Of course not.

Inspiring ? Not Yet.

The true test of a set of company values is not whether they are bland and boring, or snappy and sexy. The test is in whether they are delivered. It’s how the values are put into actions that define the true spirit of a company.

Earlier in 2010, discount retailer Primark faced a backlash of criticism in the UK for its line of padded bikini bras….for seven year olds. Mums groups, politicians and the media alike lined up to attack this inappropriate sexualisation of children and irresponsibility from the High Street chain. After quickly withdrawing the product, Primark promised to donate any profits already made from the garments to a children's charity, adding curiously that it "sells in relatively small quantities". The two statements made it hard to determine the true depth of feeling within Primark’s actions. And when set alongside their company pledge of “Delivering value, trading ethically”, Primark’s value set starts to look a little skin-deep.


Last week, one of our team saw British Home Stores, another iconic UK retailer, merchandising slogan T-Shirts for children emblazoned with “Looks from Daddy, Brains from Mummy”. BHS is part of the Arcadia retail empire, which aligns itself with a series of childrens’ charities, within its Fashion Footprint initiative. Set against this laudable background, it’s hard to understand how placing slogans which promote gender stereotyping on young children contributes to ‘playing a valuable role in the community’ (as stated in Arcadia literature).

Ultimately, it’s nice when a company builds a set of values that are distinctive, recognizable and aspiring. But it’s more important to have values that are demonstrated and brought to life in a 1001 ways, across the organisation.