Brand: Don’t confuse corporate values with customer expectations

The process of defining one’s values has unquestionably become one of the hottest trends in corporate and employer branding.

And when integrated into a well-functioning, healthy culture, the results can be extraordinary in many ways.

  1. Values help to differentiate the brand by telling customers and employees what the company stands for.
  2. They establish guardrails and provide guidance for making company-wide decisions throughout all levels, no matter how large or small.
  3. Greater onboarding success can be achieved as hiring managers will know what traits and qualities to look for in potential hires.
  4. People will know what they can expect and experience from the brand.
  5. When work teams share a common set of values, not only does productivity increase, there is more harmony than conflict in the workplace.
  6. When competitive products and services appear equal, people will typically support brands with values they believe in.

However, in the process of defining values, some organizations make the mistake of boasting philosophies and principles that simply reflect the bare minimum requirements a company must practice if it is to stay in business. Thus, in my opinion, they are not worthy of being characterized as values.


Consider the following examples:

    1. Honesty. Unless your company is in an industry rife with deception and manipulation, I would avoid characterizing honesty as a value. Think of it this way: Your mother may have told you not to trust anyone who says, “Trust me.” The same applies in business. However, if you still feel strongly that honesty needs to be one of your values, a better option may be transparency.
    2. Respect. Not to diminish its meaning, but this isn’t anything special. If respect isn’t a part of your company’s culture, you have much larger problems to contend with.
    3. Integrity. Because of such widespread and excessive use, (like the term innovation) its meaning and relevance has been lost.
    4. Teamwork. See #3 above.
    5. Thinking outside the box. I’m surprised every time I see this one. It’s an ancient and currently irrelevant way to express creativity and innovation. In fact, some argue that thinking “outside the box” can be counterproductive and detrimental. Apple creatively circumvented this with their tagline, “Think Different.”
    6. Customer Service. If your company is not focused on your customers, you won’t be able to keep any.

When thinking through what your values are, or what they could be, I would encourage you to think in terms of the mindset you will need to take your company to successive levels. One CEO shared with me that his original team did a great job of getting his company to hit $5 million in sales, but not all were up to the task of hitting $10 million. And although he was proud of his culture, he admittedly never went through the process of thinking through what values would be necessary to achieve $10 million in sales and beyond.

After much thought and introspection, some of the values he defined and instilled in his culture include: courage, risk-taking, no excuse accountability, embracing diversity of cultures and perspectives, welcoming oppositional thinking, and embracing failure, among several others.   

Today, he is currently running a $22 million company and is convinced it would not have been possible without defining and hiring to a set of ordained values.

Maybe he is onto something.