François Dupuy: corporate values and cynicism

Your company probably defined a set of values proudly displayed in the lobby and on the corporate website. François Dupuy, in his book Are We all Lost in Management?is rather sceptical about these values and he dedicated a whole chapter, “What Is the Value of Values?”, to this need for values. First of all, it appears that most companies, at least in Europe, have more or less the same values[1] although they hoped that spreading their values would be a differentiating factor. That is not all. These core values seem to have counter-productive effects and may even “undermine trust in these managers obsessed with and spouting “abstract slogans” so remote from their everyday lives. François Dupuy start with the analysis of the Innovation value:

« The first of these values is innovation, and the authors of one study show that is the case right across Europe. That is understandable, given that innovation can give companies an edge in today’s increasingly competitive economies. But each employee, and especially each manager, understands the profound contradiction between making innovation into the mother of all virtues and issuing ever more rules and red tape. The latter confine behaviour within an ever-tighter straitjacket, conflicting with the freedom vital to individual and collective creativity. They thwart the “permanent change” prophesied by Schumpeter when he described it, like deviance, as one of the conditions of innovation in particular, and of initiative in general.

I have been struck by chief executives’ inability to grasp this dilemma. In popular parlance: They want to have their cake and want to eat it too, or to put it in another way, they’re scared to look out of the window for fear of what’s under the table. They want to maintain strict control over what everyone does, with more emphasis on “how” than on the outcome; at the same time they want these victims of creeping coercion to display a sense of initiative and think “outside the box”. That they neither participate, understand, nor address the way in which these two dimensions clash robs the word “value” of all meaning and throws doubt on the authenticity of their desire to innovate. Meanwhile, we began to grasp that a value that conflicts with the firm’s actual practice produces nothing concrete where behaviour is concerned. It merely fosters a corrosive cynicism that rises to the surface of its own accord, the moment management can no longer tell reality from ideology.”

How about the core values defined by your company? Are management practices aligned with them? Does the whole hierarchy embody these values in their day to day behaviours? Do you “walk the talk”?

Clearly, there could a link between the lack of engagement among employees and the inconsistencies of values regarding daily practices.

[1]« 10 valeurs essentielles : Les incohérences de l’entreprise française » (10 core values: The inconsistencies of the French firm), Courrier Cadre, n°36, 2010. Study carried out by Welcom Agency.

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