The Forsaken

What happens when you temporarily forsake one or more of your corporate values, intentionally or unintentionally?

In short, I have never been a party to such a situation so I don’t know. But I do see some clear paths that are likely:

The company learns to appreciate the benefit of the value.
This is the corporate equivalent of taking a sabbatical from sex just before the wedding. The basic concept is that the deprivation of something for a period of time makes it that much more desirable and enjoyable when it finally happens. While the analogy may (or may not) ring true for sex and marriage, there is a pivotal difference between the sex-marriage analogy and the corporation-values one. This difference comes from the fact that most people are able to let go of corporate values, especially ones they never truly aligned with, easier than they can part with the idea of something as strongly reinforcing as sexual contact. In order for this to work the reward at the end of the deprivation period must be strong enough to sustain the company throughout the entire deprivation period.

The company loses its desire to uphold the value.
This can happen for a couple reasons. First, the company may decide that the benefit, after the deprivation period, is not strong enough to warrant the wait period and they give it up. Second, people may gradually become accustomed to the value not being present. Either way, the populous gradually shifts their paradigm such that it excludes the value. Once this happens it is no longer a matter of reintroducing a previously held value but attempting to introduce a value that is now foreign. In order for the value to become a core part of the business again it will take extreme effort.

The company identity shifts.
There are two main reasons this can happen, the first of which is mentioned in the previous point. The second is that the growth of the company will dilute the population that still holds the value. This will typically be more prominent in high growth companies but can happen anywhere. For example, assume a company has 100 people, 70% of which are highly attuned to the value when it is forsaken. By the time the company reintroduces the value, they have grown to 300 employees. Assuming that the original 70% still are attuned to the value, which is highly unlikely, we now have diluted the workforce down to 23% of the people that are in accord with the value. This results in the same problem as the last point in that it will inevitably take a herculean effort to resurrect the original value.

People Leave, People Arrive
If people are so attuned to a value that the lack of that value separates them from the company they will likely become disenchanted. Once people become disenchanted they either create change or they move on. If the dropping of the initiative is involuntary these people will likely try to revive it. However, if the drop is intentional then people will typically just move on. With this transition, the company will begin to appear more attractive to individuals who struck a discord with the value. This will continue to shift the corporate personality away from the dropped value, making it harder to reintegrate in the future.

This is the typical path. This is what I would expect to happen. However, there are times when the unexpected choice ends up making the difference between levels of success or between success and failure. Every now and then you hear about a leader so aligned with his or her company that they are able to make bold moves, that the critics denounce, and bring about broad and positive change. On the face of it, dropping a corporate value seems like a bad move. Whether there are hidden benefits is something that I can’t see but await a case study that shows the true outcome of such a situation.

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Jason McDonald

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