Post COVID business corporate values: lots of promises and little effect.

We have seen that corporate cultures will emerge transformed from the COVID crisis, or at least should (a nuance that is important). This is for a fundamental reason: where digital transformation has unfortunately been built around technology, the lessons of COVID will be about the individual: his place, his role, his impact, the way he is taken care of and used to the best advantage, etc.

The questioning of culture could only lead to a questioning of values. Indeed, and contrary to what we can read here and there, the business has only a limited impact on its own culture. A corporate culture is lived and observed, but it cannot be mandated.

What the business can do is to intervene a posteriori to correct what seems to be deviant in the evolution of its culture and to work on its values. In theory, if everything goes well, culture is the transcription of values into real life and the best way to have the desired culture is to start with a base of shared values and to verify that they materialize in daily life.

The historical problem of values

We didn’t wait for COVID to ask ourselves the question of business values and their evolution. They are often criticized for several reasons.

They are elaborated at the top of the pyramid and in some cases it is thought that it is enough for them to be written down and proclaimed in order to be implemented in everyday life. And even before talking about their materialization in everyday life, the question of their sharing arises. When most employees, and even managers and, a fortiori, a certain number of leaders are unable to cite them, there is an issue.

In businesses where there is a kind of permanence at the top (the founder is still there or his heirs), a gap is sometimes created over time between values and culture. The values are the things the founder believes in deeply, the culture is what the business has become over time, with the arrival of new people. There is then a gap between what the founder wanted to build when he arrived and the reality of a business that has grown from a “baby” to an adult and has become emancipated under the impact of those who have joined it and made it grow.

Values are rarely differentiating. A visit to the HR sites of a panel of businesses generally leads candidates to say: “they all say the same thing”. This translates into either “it’s the same everywhere” or “they all lie”. Somehow it is logical: values are not or no longer only convictions on which we build a way of living, working and thinking, they are also communication tools and sometimes more for the outside world (clients and candidates) than for the inside world (values are the model apartment…) and therefore there are mandatory elements, things that must be said and things that cannot be said. Today, we will find in particular what concerns social and environmental responsibility, the famous ” exigency and benevolence ” which means everything and nothing.

Finally, because if it is often said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, business and the search for performance do the same with values, especially when the job market is under pressure, when objectives are high and when the people who recruit for their teams have not been exposed to these values, which are often believed to be a reality if they are written down once. How many businesses reject a qualified candidate who has always performed above expectations because he or she is a little out of step with the company’s values? What if it’s a rare profile?

We did not wait for COVID to raise the issue of the materialization of values or even their refinement. But as in many areas, COVID has brought pre-existing problems to the forefront and amplified them.

Employees expecting new values after COVID?

Employees changed during COVID, instead deciding to be more firm on what matters to them. Expecting new values or more reality from existing values?

We have heard a lot about how human and “care” would be the key values of the post COVID era. Are they? Because they weren’t already before? I can’t remember a business that didn’t say that. An execution problem then?

What is driving employees today to leave their businesses in droves, the so-called “great resignation”? A bad response to COVID? Inadequate values? Low wages? A recent MIT Sloan study answered this question.

She compared the different causes of resignation to the one that everyone spontaneously cites: salary. So if salary is “1” in terms of reasons for resignation ….

…poor management of the COVID is 1.8 times more important, lack of recognition 2.9, and a toxic business culture 10.4! So it counts 10 times more than salary when it comes to motivating a resignation.

Everyone knows what a toxic business culture is, that it exists, and some people have even experienced it, and it is becoming less and less taboo. Toxic business values, on the other hand, is something I have never seen or heard of!

The real problem is not so much in the values but in the way they permeate the business culture. Whether or not the values really inspire and impact the culture, or whether or not the culture is allowed to live on its own.

An execution problem as always

Values and culture are very much linked but do not blend together, contrary to what one may sometimes think.

Values are a kind of promise, a moral contract that must have a materiality in the culture.

Culture is not what we want it to be or what we pretend it is, but what employees and customers experience every day.

Between the two is a question of translation and execution. Again, nothing new, except that the big gap is becoming more and more unbearable for employees.

What about tomorrow?

Since we know the problem (or rather, we are aware of it) and we know the solution, we can say that the post-COVID business should quickly realign itself with the values (even if it means revisiting and updating them).

But if it were that simple, it would have already happened before and we know that this is often not the case.

There is nothing more complicated than giving life to corporate values. You have to agree on them, share them, translate them into expected behaviors, make sure that these behaviors can find their place in the real world (that what is asked operationally and managerially is not opposed to the adoption of good behaviors), that you invest if necessary in personal development, that we dare to put back on the right track (or even sanction) those who are not aligned with the values in question and do not make any effort in this direction (regardless of their role and weight in the organization), that we have a means of permanently measuring the gap between the proclaimed values and the reality on the ground. This requires resources, a substantial effort and a little courage.

The price of the non-alignment between values and reality and of the non-materiality of values in the daily life of employees is gigantic, but up to now we have rarely seen any willingness to do what needs to be done in this area: even if it means setting up a change process of this magnitude, businesses prefer to dedicate resources to operational performance rather than to the culture/values dimension because its impact is more direct and tangible.

There are countless reasons not to tackle this issue:

  • the time and resources required are in competition with more operational, higher priority projects.
  • in terms of recruitment and promotion, the bonus for a good CV is often greater than the penalty for toxicity (if one knows how to evaluate the latter).
  • we still believe too often that it is enough to proclaim values for magic to happen.
  • too often, the top of the pyramid assumes that it is exemplary in the matter and that “the problem is the others”… it therefore excludes itself from the system when it is the source of the evil.
  • we think we can find other ways to fight against mass resignations.

Conclusion

The COVID reminds us of an old problem and amplifies it. From there to believe that this time we will do what has rarely been done in the past is a step I will not take.

Of course, the spectre of “the great resignation” can raise awareness in this sense. But there are so many “cosmetic” ways to fight against resignations in a tactical and non-strategic way that it is likely that for many people values will remain just words.

In this series :
The post COVID business: myth or reality?
COVID has not been a change agent but an excellent consultant
The post COVID employee: an one-unseizable person market
The post-covid manager: more indispensable and lost than ever.
The post covid organization: flatter, agile, flexible and fast.
Post-covid operations: formalized, simplified, automated and people-centric
The post covid workplace: hybridization in pain.
Post COVID business culture: the great reconstruction in the mess
Post COVID business values: a lot of promise and little effect
The post-Covid Digital Workplace: ATAWAD and open to all

Image : Corporate values by kenary820 via Shutterstock

Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
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