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Lencioni, P. M. 2002. Make your values mean something. Harvard Business Review (July): 113-117.

Summary by James R. Martin, Ph.D., CMA
Professor Emeritus, University of South Florida

Behavioral Issues Main Page | Ethics Main Page

This article begins with a statement of the following corporate values: communication, respect, integrity, and excellence. These are the meaningless values stated in Enron's 2000 annual report. Most value statements, according to Lencioni, create cynical employees, alienate customers and undermine management's credibility. To develop a meaningful set of values he recommends organizing values into four categories as follows:

Type of Value Definition
Core values These are deeply ingrained principles that guide all of the company's actions and are part of the organization's culture.
Aspirational values Values lacking, but needed.
Permission-to-play values Values that reflect minimum behavior and social standards for employees.
Accidental values Values that develop without being cultivated by management and reflect the common interest and personalities of employees.

Many organizations confuse aspirational values with core values. Values do not become core values by placing them in a corporate values statement.

Values need to be authentic. Motherhood-and-apple-pie values statements such as integrity, teamwork, ethics, quality, customer satisfaction and innovation don't set an organization apart from competitors.

Lencioni argues that values initiatives should not be developed by building a consensus. Instead values initiatives should impose a set of fundamental, strategically sound beliefs on a broad group of people. The best values are developed by a small group including any founders, the CEO, and a handful of key employees. This process should not be rushed.

After an authentic set of core values are established, they need to be integrated into every employee related process (e.g., hiring, performance measurements, criteria for promotions and rewards, and dismissal policies) constantly reminding employees that core values form the basis for every decision the organization makes. Core values should be embedded into the system and continuously promoted and reinforced. Wal-Mart is mentioned as an example of a company that applies the recommendations presented in this article.


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