Shape up or ship out

Shape up or ship out

Shape up or ship out

Rachel Miller (@AllthingsIC) asked an interesting question this morning after sharing the breaking news story on Sky News about the apparent leak of an internal memo from Barclays CEO Anthony Jenkins.

In an uncompromising email to Barclays staff Jenkins sets out clear expectations regarding their conduct and in essence challenges them to ‘shape up or ship out’:

“… there might be some who don’t feel they can fully buy in to an approach which so squarely links performance to the upholding of our values…

My message to those people is simple: Barclays is not the place for you. The rules have changed. You won’t feel comfortable at Barclays and, to be frank, we won’t feel comfortable with you as colleagues.”

Rachel’s question was “would/ could” your leader communicate like that? Rather than get personal, I’d rather look at this through the ‘should’ lens and keep it hypothetical.

My answer is a big fat YES!

It is great to see strong leadership expressed in writing – articulating something leaders often want to say to people whose behaviour is at odds with company values but shy away from doing so en masse in the interests of diplomacy and avoiding conflict. To launch a Code of Conduct or set of ethical principles with such high level sponsorship and unequivocal support is a beautiful thing to behold. It’s bold, spirited and unambiguous. It’s impactful and will get everyone talking.

My only issue with the note is the apparent language around core values, which are sadly being chucked around like some kind of disposable toy. Core values are enduring truths about what is important to people within an organisation. They are not objectives. They are not aspirational. They do not seek to change behaviour. They cannot be invented. They already exist in every organisation. You don’t create them, you uncover them. Regular readers may recognise this sermon.

So for Barclays to switch from its current five core values (Keep it simple, Own it, Work together, Think smart, 100% energy) and replace them at the flick of a switch with “respect, integrity, service, excellence and stewardship” feels a bit contrived and lacking in credibility. It doesn’t help that 2 of the 5 new Barclays values are the same as Enron’s at the time their particular merde a frappé le ventilateur* (respect & integrity) over a decade ago.

A company’s Code of Conduct needs to be aligned to and consistent with its core values, however at the same time it must be recognised that is a wholly different beast. It can and should be a blueprint for desired behaviours and conduct and as such can be aspirational and can seek to change behaviours. If you contravene the Code of Conduct you can expect to be hauled through the disciplinary process. As such it needs to be prescriptive and give detailed examples of what you can and can’t do as an employee, both on and off duty.

Desired behaviours can be amended to shine the spotlight on a particular problem that needs fixing. Core values cannot, and sadly that for me takes the edge off an otherwise courageous piece of communication.

* ‘shit hit the fan’ sounds so much more acceptable in French

There’s value in values

What’s the difference between brand values and core values?

Brand values are owned by the brand musketeers in Marketing, often with enthusiastic kettling from ludicrously expensive external consultants. Their job is to communicate to the external audience in a way that creates an expectation of a particular experience with a product or service. They are therefore likely to be aspirational and even on occasion (shock horror) a little bit contrived.  They’re there to sell. They are therefore prone to change and re-invention as new products and services are developed and existing products wither and die.

Core values on the other hand are more likely to belong in the HR stable, often with enthusiastic kettling from ludicrously expensive external consultants. They are directed at the internal audience. They serve as a set of guiding principles to employees. They are enduring truths about what is important to the people within the organisation. They are not objectives. They do not seek to change behaviour. They cannot be invented. They already exist in every organisation. You don’t create them, you uncover them. The essence of core values is that regardless of any changes in your products, services, and the world around you, they remain constant and resonate with everyone in the company.

Forget everything I just said about the above distinction because I don’t believe it really exists – and if it does at your place, sort it out now because it won’t be doing you any favours.

Brand values and core values should be the same thing. Granted, they may need dressing up in slightly different clothing, given that the external and internal audiences will be looking at them from different angles. Regardless, they should be the same thing.

Externally, customers will be looking to see what they can expect when they buy stuff from you or do business with your company. Internally, this message cannot afford to be a promise; it needs to be a deeply held and enduring truth. There has to be full alignment because any disconnect is likely to result in customer disappointment.

Core values that are not deeply held and enduring truths are empty promises.

Core values that are empty promises will not amount to engaged staff.

Brand values that are empty promises will not amount to engaged customers.

Brand values that misalign with core values will lead to internal friction and a lack of engagement with either the brand values or the direction of the company. Staff will question the development of products and services they feel are not aligned with the company’s core values. At best they will become reluctant passengers. They may still travel with you but you will lose their best work and natural advocacy. At worst they will seek every opportunity to apply the brakes.

Whichever way you cut it, customer disappointment is inevitable.

If your brand values are driven by the success of a single product, they will have a shelf life limited to the success of that product. If your brand values are driven by your core values they will have longevity and a dramatic impact on your future product development pipeline and organisational growth.

Take a few minutes to listen to what Steve Jobs had to say on the value of values way back in 1997.

He knew the score.