Walking the Walk and Living The Talk – The Implications on Corporate Values

Published on: Wed 16 April 2014 by Admin

Haven’t we all had enough of the carping from every angle about the behaviour of the banks, the confusion marketing of the supermarkets, the labyrinth of price plans from energy suppliers and the unaccountably high insurance renewal premiums reportedly asked of ageing web phobic home owners.

In December, Barclay’s CEO announced that it will take until around 2024 until it is a trusted brand once more (providing it stays squeaky clean for the decade). Ten years is a long time; it proves how long it takes to rebuild trust in a damaged brand. As consumers, we want to feel we can trust those with whom we do business. However without a few weeks of spar time and help from a lawyer, it is difficult to see how any of us could read, appraise and judge whether an organisations terms of business or contractual conditions are better or worse than their competitors.

Of course we all know about the sleight of hand of marketers who can make a holiday resort look like it is in paradise in the brochure when in fact it is in the middle if a building site or when a ‘Des. Res.’ is a shack next to a busy motorway.  They are recognised and rewarded on results not on how closely their marketing-speak aligns with the organisations corporate values.

Whether or not we have bothered to find and read the corporate values of any big business including retail giants, insurers, banks or energy companies we would expect them to be pretty similar:

  • Great Customer Service; Equality for all; Environmentally Responsible; Return for Shareholders; Honesty; Openness; Fairness. These are the principles on which their businesses are conducted and if they are seriously espoused, will be prominent in corporate literature, websites, on-boarding, customer service training and management development programmes. But what happens when commercial imperatives like making a profit or stealing an important competitive edge on the competition forces a compromise on the corporate values?

What did bank employees feel about their employers when they aggressively targeted high sales numbers of income protection policies (IPP) they knew were useless to many customers who trustingly bought them? How did it affect their ways of thinking or behaving toward their colleagues, their managers or the organisation itself?

If I were a new employee of a supermarket, how should I feel as I stacked shelves with nets of eating apples prominently and enticingly promoted as two nets for £4 (no price/kg only unit price per apple displayed), while the same variety of apple on the shelf below is for sale priced per kg, and 25% cheaper, but not promoted as such? Being complicit in this mild deception might worry me as I watch older or less affluent customers thinking they were picking up a ‘bargain’. And as I was introduced to the business’s values during my induction, you could not blame me for being slightly confused. It seems that my employer’s promotional tactics directly contravene their company values.

Here comes the next dilemma.  A colleague shows me how to bend some rules to ‘filter out’ produce for my own use, without paying, with minimal chance of being caught. Should I do it? After all, if the two nets for £4 trick is OK by my employer, then why should I not benefit from being complicit in this crime by taking a little extra and stretching my hourly payment rate?

Not surprisingly theft from UK supermarkets is currently running at a reported £3bn a year of which 35% approx. £1bn is due to staff.

The recent Which? Campaign has forced the big retailers to commit to open and clearer pricing. No more ‘special offers’ that only hoodwink consumers into thinking they are getting a bargain when they are not.

And when we see that happening, will the retailers be truly living their corporate values and will part of their reward be a reduction in staff pilfering?

Once the policies of these large corporations truly align with their values, will we, as customers, slowly come to trust them again and no longer worry about whether we are being misled, deceived or ripped off. And will employees increasingly have better confidence in their employers and start to live the corporate values?