When It Comes to Culture, Does Your Company Walk the Talk?
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When It Comes to Culture, Does Your Company Walk the Talk?

Company practices often conflict with corporate values. Closing the gap starts with communication.

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Companies tout their core values and corporate culture on their websites and in CEO interviews. Does all that hype impress company insiders and employees? Donald Sull of MIT’s Sloan School of Management and his co-authors Stefano Turconi and Charles Sull considered the array of values corporations claim to embody and tried to match them with assessments from those companies’ employees. The results aren’t pretty; when it comes to corporate culture, employees aren’t always buying what their employers are trying to sell. 

Summary

Businesses publicize their values and company culture to promote themselves to their workers, customers, clients and other stakeholders.

Corporate culture statements are meant to serve as internal guideposts to explain to employees what their organization values, how they should act, and how they should make moral and practical choices. These value statements tell the marketplace what norms determine the actions of a firm’s leaders. Stating corporate values is a practice that has continued to grow ever since Johnson & Johnson promoted the first company creed in 1943. Now up to 80% of large companies in the United States have published a set of corporate values; they are a common topic in magazine interviews with CEOs.

But how well do organizations live up to their stated values? Ethics scandals at corporations like Volkswagen, Wells Fargo and Boeing – which specifically touted the values of integrity, quality and safety – increase the temptation to describe such statements as nothing more than virtue signaling.

Corporate culture statements usually list three to seven values that guide a firm’s practices...

About the Authors

Donald Sull, who teaches at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and Charles Sull are co-founders of CultureX, an AI platform for interpreting employee feedback. Stefano Turconi is a teaching fellow of strategy and entrepreneurship at London Business School.


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