Recent research conducted by MIT's Donald Sull confirms what most people already know - the vast majority of companies have a nice sounding set of company values, but most employees have no clue what those values are, and companies themselves do not conduct their own behaviour in accordance with those stated values.
Values are, however, a key strategic lens through which to channel company culture and behaviour. They are a vital tool for a business to use as a brand differentiator and are very useful in guiding critical decision-making. Values codify a company's culture and capture the essence of what makes a group of people, who are trying to create value in the world, unique.
In reality, most companies select meaningless generic words like integrity, trust, innovation, passion and excellence to be their official values.
Meaningless because no company in the world would publically admit that integrity, trust, innovation, passion and excellence were specifically not how they conducted themselves in business; which makes stating these things, as to what you do believe in, completely pointless.
Amazon has a famous values-driven saying within their organisation - 'it is always Day 1'.
It's always Day 1 at Amazon because their greatest fear is becoming complacent, arrogant, and believing that they are just too big to learn something new every day.
When asked the question in an all-hands meeting in 2017; "What does Day 2 look like?" - this is how Jeff Bezos responded.
“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
How does Amazon actively defend against getting to Day 2?
They are customer obsession, have a skeptical view of proxies, are eager to adopt external trends, and strive for high-velocity decision making.
[BTW - you can get more clarity on what each of these values means to Amazon thanks to Jeff Bezos' 2016 Letter to Shareholders.]
These four key factors (that add colour to the 'Day 1' statement) are the golden kernels that make Amazon, Amazon.
Most companies these days are run by accountants and analysts that only really care about delivering financial returns to shareholders.
They know very little about leading a team of people into a future that is focused on creating value for customers, staff, shareholders, and society. This is why values are so universally underutilised.
Society is however increasingly demanding more from business - the scrutiny on how companies conduct themselves is only getting more intense.
I have a strong hunch that the importance of values is set to increase.