We have all been at "that" company or department. The walls are littered with motivational "proof" of just how awesome the culture is, yet, everyone knows it is a lie and this is just another terrible place to earn a living.
But I am not writing about "that company" here. "That company" is pretty easy to spot after about 2 days (if not during the interview process) it is clear that this culture is just (yes, I am going to say it) - "the writing on the wall".
I am writing about another kind of place. This is the place where the company values are taught to you after you "join the team". This can feel really good, and the people teaching it certainly seem to be 100% bought in to these 3 to 5 values that are held so dear.
You soon learn that there is a team of people who are dedicated to making sure everyone knows the values and knows how to talk about them in context. These company values are the "secret sauce" to the company success or so the story goes.
Then, you notice that one of the senior most people is falling a bit short on one of the values.
Then you notice it is not a one-off event.
You decide to ask your manager about it - Leadership (or some name or another that tells you that you are empowered) is after all one of the values. The answer you get back is a whitewash; you know it right down in your bones, but, you take it. You have been trained since you started here that these values are held dear and that everyone follows them, how could this senior person not follow them. She in fact has the (insert annual award reserved for only the most flawless of values followers) plaque.
After a time, you notice that this is not just one person and that others also "know" and just ignore it; and some of these are the very people responsible for teaching the values.
You decide to talk to some of the people who have left this company. A theme emerges, relief. Most all of the people say that while they can not put their finger on a specific event or issue, they have realized after leaving just how much day to day stress was present at this place and the sheer sense of relief they now have.
The values are not any more real here than at the place with all of the motivational posters.
This company has just done an extraordinary job at internal marketing - and in fact, this is worse because of the sheer effort to manufacture and protect the lie (yes, I said it - lie).
In short, this comes down to a value I hold dear and aspire to - Integrity.
If you are a leader or aspiring to be one; this next little part is for you.
There are not good values and bad values - there are only real values.
Here is a little test that includes one of the most common "values" I have observed in one form or another - caring, love, compassion, break out the thesaurus, but you get the picture.
Is Caring for fellow employees really one of your values? Ask yourself if you would manage some one out or fail to hire them in the first place if they did not demonstrate this value on a regular basis. Close your eyes and imagine the scene - "Yes, Mrs. Chairman, I did manage out our top sales person for failing to demonstrate the value of Caring and I stand by that decision." If you can not say with certainty that this is what you would do - then Caring is an aspiration, not a value.
Over-marketing values that are aspirational or not real is outside of integrity and in the end is a disservice to the people who allow you to lead them.
There is another kind of organization that operates like this; we commonly refer to them as cults.