When I ask my students to give me examples of core values, many offer words such as honesty, integrity, quality, and other predictable and terms. So then I ask, “How are these values exhibited behaviorally?” In other words, what actions, policies, and business practices can I observe that tell me that these are a company’s core values?
In a recent article posted on Forbes.com, Trevor Burrus proposed that Hobby Lobby has a right to align its business practices with its company values. Because I disagree with Hobby Lobby’s position on providing birth control benefits to its female employees, I want to disagree with Burrus, the Supreme Court, and those that supported this case. The problem is I can’t, because he’s right.
A fundamental element of any thriving organizational culture is a clear line of continuity between the leadership’s values, the company values, and the resulting company practices. Ethics scandals are often characterized by companies that espouse one set of values but then practice another. Indeed, it should be refreshing to see a company state its beliefs and then behave accordingly. Granted, I disagree with their beliefs, but this doesn’t change the fact that the principle of aligning business practices to stated values is vital.
In this same article, Burrus goes on to showcase other companies—companies such as Whole Foods—that have stated core values and strive to practice what they preach. This example brings up a good point, and that is that we can choose to shop where we feel affinity for the stated culture. I agree with Whole Foods’ stated values and am please as all get out that one went up mere blocks from me. Another great example is Ben & Jerry’s. (A gold star to anyone who can find the words “weapons systems” in their values.) Likewise, Hobby Lobby has no monopoly of which I am aware. Joann’s and Michael’s are available to me and are more than happy to have my business. So as strange as it may sound, Hobby Lobby is doing the right thing to create the culture it wants to promote; it just doesn’t happen to be a culture I want to in turn promote with my dollars.
So does this mean that Hobby Lobby has a thriving culture? Value alignment is only part of the equation. The question now will be how this will affect employees’ ability to thrive. The irony is that while Hobby Lobby felt that it was fighting government tyranny (in saying that the government had no right to tell it how to run its business), it created a form of corporate tyranny (by taking the choice away from its employees). Time will tell how employees perform in this environment.