Do We Need To Change Our Approach To Corporate Values?

Corporate values should not be seen as a Board-imposed enforcement tool
but can help with providing an ethical business framework.

With the fallout of the Banking Royal Commission expected to continue for a long time following its final report, various corporate experts have called on the need for active corporate values led from the ‘top-down’.

The release of the interim report in September last year prompted an immediate clarion call for a better-understood set of corporate values that could be carried by the Board and filtered down to the organisation. However, as I have previously posted, this is not what research published by the Harvard Business Review necessarily endorses to effectively develop an ethical business. Aside from the perils of imposed values, individuals will respond differently. Some will comply, others will find them compatible with their own, while some will use them for personal gain. Not all early adopters are zealots. A more robust yet simpler process is to revert to the core ethical question: ‘Am I doing the right thing?’.

Additionally, Board-defined value sets seem to assume omnipresence of the Board, but this, under current Western management practices, is simply not the case. A Board can influence senior appointments, define behaviour, repair and enforce breaches, but that is not the complete solution. Behaviours don’t start at the Board, they start everywhere.

So where does that leave corporate values? Share and stakeholders will demand them, so there is no question of not having them. Well, we could consider changing the meaning of what they are meant to achieve. They are not an enforcement tool or an aspiration, they are vital behaviours for the day-to-day operations of the organisation. They need to be grounded in the perils of the human condition, acknowledging the good and bad heritage of the organisation and not as a tool for manipulation by management. Ultimately, they need to provide the framework for answering the question, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’, but that question at its core is always based on an individual’s own ethical beliefs.

About the Author:

Jason Thomas is the Founder of de Montaigne Strategic Planning, which provides robust strategic planning and training services to small to medium-sized enterprises, not-for-profit organisations and government departments.

He has over 30 years’ experience in senior leadership, operational and planning roles across the military, public and private sectors. In addition, Jason holds numerous degrees and qualifications including Gold Mastery Certification with the Haines Centre for Strategic Management.