It is rare to find a company that does not profess a set of core values these days. Visit any corporate website and if it misses a section outlining its vision, mission and values, the page is probably still under construction.
Corporate values communicate the worldview of a company and show that a business stands for something beyond its bottom line.
The noble principles that are purported to define a corporate culture often fall into three broad categories: ethical conduct (integrity, transparency, humility, care); commitment to customers (reliability, excellence, innovation, accessibility); and pride in the job (teamwork, passion, ownership, achievement).
If there has ever been a time for companies to demonstrate that their values are more than the product of a boardroom branstorming session, it is the coronavirus emergency.
We are living an unprecedented moment in the story of the globalised world and businesses are expected to play a leading role in the drive towards social recovery. Many corporate values express a company’s interest in the wellbeing of employees, customers and the wider community and the current crisis brings into view the profound interconnection between these three stakeholders.
Nevertheless, inspirational words laser-engraved on office wall plaques will sound utterly hollow unless companies are able to live by their stated values in this critical period. The emergency is an opportunity for businesses to show that their vows of authenticity, customer-focus and team spirit count for something tangible and significant.
Tough times reveal the corporate character and when the tide finally starts to turn, companies will be judged on their actions throughout the crisis. The coronavirus, therefore, presents a litmus test for businesses and consumers will be watching their behaviour closely, holding them up to the very standards they proclaim.
This is a difficult scenario for management teams who, besides dealing with urgent financial pressures, must also think long-term to protect the brand’s reputation. But core values offer a steady guide in times of disorientation and, today more than ever, companies must calibrate their hour-by-hour decisions with their basic beliefs.
In fact, if brand values have any practical use at all, it is to steer companies in times of turbulence and prepare them for comeback. While the virus spread rages on, management teams would do well to revisit the ‘values’ tab on their corporate sites to chart their way ahead.