Hugely successful, universally recognizable companies like Microsoft and Apple uphold teamwork, integrity, and innovation. However, these cookie-cutter values are shared by millions of other firms, including some of the biggest losers on the S&P 500 in the first quarter of 2019.
Putting values into practice makes all the difference. Let’s see how some of the biggest companies in the world live by their values.
How are core values a foundation for growth?
A 2019 survey by Glassdoor of 5,000 adults in the US, Germany, France, and the UK showed that more than half of respondents felt their company’s culture had a more pronounced impact on job satisfaction levels than how much they earned. 79% said they’d study a company’s values and purpose of activity before applying for a job there.
This builds on prior survey data that indicates values can give employees purpose. More than two-thirds of employees feel work largely defines their purpose. Values give companies and their staff a code to live by, improving productivity, employee engagement, and the bottom line.
Values tell your employees, customers, and clients what your organization stands for and what makes it different from similar organizations.
Values can foster collaboration and leverage teamwork, uniting teams with a common goal and purpose.
Finally, organizations with strong and clearly defined values naturally draw and retain employees who are more likely to uphold those values.
Airbnb, Coca-Cola, Comcast: Living by integrity
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky established a set of core values when he co-founded the company. He looked beyond common ones like honesty and integrity and crafted a unique set based on a deep understanding of his company’s innovative proposition:
- Champion the mission
- Be a host
- Start multiple businesses
- Embrace the adventure
Airbnb’s values have a direct bearing on its responsible hosting mission. Hosts are provided with safety guidelines and advice and consistently reminded of how important security is. The company’s ultimate goal is to provide guests worldwide with a consistent accommodation experience.
Apart from integrity, Coca-Cola’s core values are leadership, collaboration, quality, passion, diversity, and accountability. They aim to leverage collective potential and emphasize the courage to shape a better future. They also have a slogan fixed to each value. For example, for accountability: If it is to be, it’s up to me.
Accountability is one of the most desirable corporate values, and the one companies most often fail at putting into practice. A Harvard Business Review study found that almost 50% of high-level managers received poor ratings on the metric “holds people accountable, punishes them when they don’t deliver.”)
The corporation’s social impact page illustrates initiatives involving supplier diversity, human rights guidelines, and gender diversity. In exemplifying diversity as a value, Coca-Cola created Employee Inclusion Networks, which are resources led by employees that everyone at the company uses.
Integrity is one of Comcast’s main values as well. The large telecommunications conglomerate defines it as simply “doing what’s right and treating people the right way.” Their mission to promote accessibility and inclusivity culminated in Project UP, which was aimed at advancing digital equity. One of its goals was to supply tens of millions of people with affordable internet services. The conglomerate pledged $1 billion to carry out the project.
When industry determines core values: The case of Disney
Company values can be determined by their industry, at least in part. For example, Disney’s values are optimism, decency, community, and storytelling. They are highly specific.
Optimism makes sense for a company dedicated to theme parks and animations, which wants to create a positive tone.
Storytelling is a crucial element of their mission, and decency is paramount when creating products for children.
Ben & Jerry’s inspiring commitment to social values
It’s hard to grasp how much courage a business needs to take a stand for a cause. The risk is substantial: many won’t agree with your stance and you could lose a lot of customers. That prospect alone is enough for many companies to abandon their desire to do good.
Ice cream makers Ben & Jerry have a firm commitment to social values. In their words, their social mission “compels us to use our company in innovative ways to make the world a better place.”
Shortly after Unilever sold the Ben & Jerry’s brand in Israel to Avi Zinger, its local licensee, Ben & Jerry tried to block the sale through a court. The company argued they didn’t want to sell their products in the occupied West Bank because it was inconsistent with its values. The eponymous founders, both of whom are Jewish, disagree with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
Ben & Jerry demanded their trademark be returned in a subsequent lawsuit. They requested the court issue an order to prohibit Zinger from selling the ice cream in the West Bank.
Ultimately, the parties reached a settlement and Zinger will be selling Ben & Jerry’s ice cream throughout Israel and the West Bank under the Hebrew and Arabic trademarks.
Microsoft’s intrinsic values: respect and accountability
Microsoft, an undisputed global tech leader, is known for its person-focused, innovative culture. Their three core values are respect, integrity, and accountability. The values statement is as follows:
We recognize that the thoughts, feelings, and backgrounds of others are as important as our own.
Could that be one of the secrets to its lasting success? Respectful leader behavior has the single-biggest impact on employees, according to a study by Harvard Business Review, in which almost 20,000 employees from across the globe took part.
Treating everyone at the workplace with kindness and being polite and courteous are key to cultivating a respectful environment. You should treat everyone with respect, not just those people from whom you expect something in return. This doesn’t mean agreeing with everything; it means taking part in healthy debate and enabling dialogue based on respect.
Affirming respect as a value means approaching each interaction accordingly, even if you think the other person does not deserve or hasn’t earned your respect.
Microsoft states that they accept full responsibility for their actions, decisions, and results. They put their value of accountability in action by monitoring their supplier organizations to make sure all products are sourced responsibly. The tech company takes active measures regarding zero tolerance of forced labor.
Toxic work environments are characterized by a lack of accountability. In some cases, leaders don’t hold themselves accountable. In others, they don’t hold their employees accountable, and sometimes both are true.
Accountability isn’t easy to enforce. It helps to set fair expectations with your team to behavior and to reward efforts made to execute the value.
The sports giants: Playing to win vs. playing for the community
Adidas, a leading sports apparel manufacturer, places its core values within a competitive framework. Their motto, “We play to win,” leaves little to the imagination.
Adidas wants to change lives through sport and has been on a mission “to be the best sports company in the world” since its founding.
They elaborate that just like athletes, their company will not settle for average. Employees come to work every day to produce and sell the best fitness and sports items worldwide and to offer the best consumer experience and services.
They mention sustainability in this context, an area where they are lacking.
They close out their values statement with the pledge to connect and engage with buyers.
Nike remains the biggest and most valuable sports apparel producer in the world. The sports giant’s market cap is estimated at around $200 billion, which is more than twice that of Adidas, the second-most valuable sports goods company.
Nike’s values are quite different from Adidas’. They focus on diversity, community, and social responsibility. They offer 12 weeks paid leave for military veterans and have been recognized as the best place for members of the LGBTQI+ community to work – 18 years in a row.
What do they have in common?
The sports companies share the dubious honor of forced labor allegations.
According to a Guardian report, researchers from Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences and the Agroisolab in Juelich found traces of cotton in Adidas and Puma shirts and T-shirts sourced from Xinjiang, China. The companies had promised to stop sourcing material from the region after evidence of widespread forced labor there became public.
Nike also has a Xinjiang connection. A 2020 report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute revealed that hundreds of young women in the Uyghur ethnic group were being forced – by the government, no less – to make Nike shoes in Laixi, Taekwang factory. This factory, which is owned by a South Korean business, was among the sports giant’s biggest suppliers. They made Shox, Air Max, and other signature lines and manufactured 8 million pairs of Nike shoes a year.
After the report was released, Nike assured the factory would stop using Uyghur workers. They wrote on their website that no Uyghur remained at the facility following “an independent third-party audit.”
Keeping up with the times: Apple’s value transformation
Like Microsoft, Apple is a tech giant with succinct and simple values. Their values set is listed on their website with a link to relevant resources following each core value.
Apple’s organizational values include accessibility, environmental protection, and privacy. The company believes technology should be accessible to everyone. The more people who leave their mark, the more powerful technology is.
These values don’t remain on paper. Apple products include state-of-the-art privacy protection features, thanks to which people can control their data. Some functions that protect privacy are transparency on app tracking, the ability to lock photos in a private album, and Apple’s Safari web browser, which keeps trackers at bay.
A shift from earlier values
Apple’s corporate values were quite different in 1981. They were more casual and conversational in nature and included priorities such as “going on an adventure together” and “setting aggressive goals.” This is understandable as they were aligned with a developing start-up’s needs. As the company grew, its values changed and evolved to reflect the goals and aims of a big corporation.
Predictably, successful companies’ core values are actionable and clear. Companies that adopt core values that are hard to implement or vague find they can be a liability rather than an asset.
Should you copy them or carve your own lane?
If you have a start-up with five people and adopt a value like diversity, it probably won’t be effective. Values often depend on the size and form of the company. Below is a typical list of values for small businesses:
- We believe in family.
- Go the extra mile.
- Dedication to customers.
- Enjoy the ride.
- Team members always come first.
- We embrace change.
- Love powers grit.
- Sense of adventure.
- When the team members win, the company also does.
Newly founded or small companies should be prepared for adventures, for better or for worse. As they grow and become more stable, this value may fade into oblivion. However, Airbnb retains it to this day. Perhaps it’s a value for the traveler to adopt, insinuating that they should be prepared for anything and everything when they go somewhere new.
Successful start-ups share values like customer focus, transparency, integrity, respect, innovation, recognition, and passion. Interestingly, many of those overlap with corporations’ typical values. As always, applying them in practice makes all the difference.