Courage as a “Value” gets Redefined for the Corporate Culture

During the last six months, I’ve heard stories from two different colleagues on what seems to be the latest fad in corporate America. While each works for totally different companies, their stories are very similar. It seems that the new trendy programme du jour is all about “Corporate Values”. Sounds very high-minded, eh? Don’t worry, I wouldn’t be writing about this if it had anything to do with morals and ethics or any other personal or societal belief systems. This is all about what the corporation values – and you’d better as well if you know what’s good for you!

Corporations are now developing “Values Statements”. I guess that the old “Mission Statements” (fad from the ‘80’s & ‘90’s) are now passé. These “Values Statements” sure sound real high-fallutin’ all right. They’re chock full of emotionally charged trigger words like “Honor”, “Resilience”, “Ingenuity” and “Courage”. The one statement that I’ve seen so far is as impressive looking as the Ten Commandments or the Bill of Rights.

I remember years ago when companies started to hire real live evangelists and charismatic preachers to stir up the lower level management and rank and file employees with near religious zeal about their firms. In hindsight, I believe that it was probably more of an Elmer Gantry-esque response to the Japanese style of management that had become very popular yet was seen as a threat by many American businessmen. The corporate elites loved the loyalty, teamwork, camaraderie and “all for one” spirit of that culture – but didn’t like the team drinking, carousing and the costs of cradle-to-grave employment that came along with it. Couldn’t more of employees’ energies be channeled into generating profits rather than hangovers and pension liabilities? Why not use the religious angle? It seemed to be working on TV at the time. Anyone watching the mesmerized followers of the televangelists had to be amazed and impressed. Although that fad came and went, the proponents of psychological gimmickry live on in the corporate suites.

So let’s see just how these new “Corporate Values” are being developed and what they actually mean. If you’ve read any of my past treatises, you know that corporations are always looking for the elusive employee “Buy-in”. Nowadays, there seems to be an overriding need for the corporate elites to convince themselves that they have convinced employees to not only share their values but also take “ownership” of them. Of course, the rewards for taking ownership are never the same. The stock options, perks, bonuses and golden parachutes are reserved for the upper echelon. The rest get to keep to their jobs but are expected to “feel” as passionate about the business as their superiors do – and work even harder. What better way to obtain this “buy-in” than to have the employees themselves develop these values? (But not without the appropriate level of supervision from above)

The process seems to go like this: Teams of employees are assembled under the guidance of a corporate “minder”. Each “value” is trotted out to the team for roundtable discussions and definition. Here’s where the “spin” takes place. This is where the common societal definition of a “value” is cleverly nuanced into having a slightly different meaning to fit the needs of the corporate culture. It’s groupthink at its best, lead by a well indoctrinated facilitator. When the reeducation camp is disbanded, the new definition of the “value” is published with all of the fanfare of a revolution. That’s right! The employees have defined the “values” and will now support them to the death. Off with the heads of any nonbelievers!

So my friend and I went over the new definition of “courage” as determined by one of these groups in his company. We all value courage and I suppose we all have a slightly different perception of what it is and what it means. In the context of my chum’s organization, “courage” is defined as the ability to accept and support decisions that one may disagree with. Hmmm. I never would have guessed that. I would have thought that was a better definition of “acquiescence to authority”. Oh well, I guess it makes one “feel” better to think of oneself as “courageous” rather than “acquiescent”.

Start the revolution without me.


2 Responses to “Courage as a “Value” gets Redefined for the Corporate Culture”

  1. Kevin Carson Says:

    Wonderful post, Jerome. It speaks volumes about the corporate view of human nature that the only thing seen as necessary for imbuing us worker bees with loyalty to the corporation and dedication to the customer, and squeezing every last ounce of effort out of our empty husks, is to give us a load of horseshit about “Core Values” and “Fish!” But you’ve got to pay Nardelli or Welch more money than God makes to keep them from screwing over the stockholders and taking off for Costa Rica with the loot.

  2. thecorporatecynic Says:

    Thanks Kevin,

    I’ve only scratched the surface on this topic. There will be more to follow!


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