A widely reported survey of 2,000 UK employees conducted by Rungway found that 49% could not name their organisation’s values. More than a quarter (27 per cent) feel their organisation’s vision or values have too much corporate jargon and almost one in five (18 per cent) say they don’t reflect what the company is actually like.

This does not come as a surprise. In the course of my work in values-based ethics and compliance I have found it is a rare employee who can name some or all of their company’s values – let alone tell me what they mean. Even fewer feel that they are of any use in their day-to-day work.

Not invented here – and why

The reasons for this may be found in elsewhere in these research results: two in five (39 per cent) say they wish they had more involvement in contributing to their company’s vision and values.

One of the biggest mistakes that companies make is identifying their values and vision in the Board room, which I call, “plucking them out of the air”.

Even assuming that senior management can honestly identify what is important to their employees and to the success of the company based solely on their own experience, this method guarantees the application of the “not invented here” syndrome.

Properly identified and developed, shared values and vision create internal cohesion; they draw people together. An important factor in the success of values in guiding behaviour and decision making is employee’s participation in identifying and defining them. This is partly because the conversations that take place in doing so help develop a common  and familiar vocabulary.

Perhaps it is also a reflection of the IKEA effect, identified by Professor Dan Ariely and his colleagues in a series of experiments discussed here.

The IKEA effect

The IKEA effect refers to a cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created. Ariely and his colleagues used IKEA furniture assembly as a proxy and found that “labor leads to love” as they put it, but that it depended on an additional crucial factor: the extent to which one’s labor is successful. They showed that successful assembly of products leads to value over and above the value that arises from merely being given a product, or merely handling that product.

Why would this be the case? It is easy to see that contributing to making something would give it more meaning and value. Ariely and his colleagues suggested that  successful completion gives people a sense of confidence; whereas failure does the opposite.  They also pointed out a danger stemming from the IKEA effect –  that “not-invented here” syndrome would cause people to overvalue their own possibly inferior ideas over superior ideas invented elsewhere.

All very logical, but what does it all have to do with identifying company values?

To the extent that your employees participate in identifying and developing core values, they are more likely to reflect what is important to them, so they will value them more highly. However, that might only be the case if they feel that their contributions were considered; so don’t ask if you have no intention of listening!

Next time I’ll talk about how to get all of your employees (and other stakeholders) input when identifying and developing (or reviewing) core values.