Statements of corporate values trivialise ethics and demean employees

Jules Goddard
London Business School
Tony Eccles
Cass Business School, City University

"When we deliberate, it is about means, not ends."

Transition: From values to virtue

"The de-moralisation of society is advanced when the word 'values' supplants the word 'virtues' in political and ethical contexts. when we move beyond talk of good and evil, when the categories virtue and vice are transcended, we are left with the thin gruel of values-talk." George F. Will

No one can deny that corporate talk about 'values' – along with the organisational effort that goes into writing and promulgating 'value statements' – has increased dramatically over the past 20 years. It is equally self-evident, and perhaps paradoxical, that organisational behaviour is no more moral now than it was before this fashion for talking about it took hold. Indeed, we can perhaps discern an inverse relationship between the amount of time we spend talking about morality and the amount of effort we invest in behaving morally. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons."