CEOs love to live their (expendable) values, but not their morals

Morality has become a dirty word. At least if the lack of use of the word in business language is anything to go by.

Sometimes things are notable by their absence rather than their presence. 

So why do we never hear speak of business morality?

Everywhere you look companies are “living their values” but with no mention of morality.

It’s worth noting that the Nazis had strong values: Hard work and efficiency were among them.

Values can be viewed as morally neutral, or worse. The Romans too, are said to have had strong values. That didn’t make their empire ethical.

Wikipedia disagrees with me and says values are linked with ethics. But when you look at most corporate values statements, that’s just not true in every day language use. 

I’d argue values have become disassociated with ethics in general usage and have become associated more with general corporate culture. Then they seem to become optional, as recent comments in the Financial Times suggest below.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is claimed to have said “Our culture is friendly and intense, but if push comes to shove, we’ll settle for intense.”

I also recall a company stakeholder meeting where executives said “we’ve just hired a new CEO, so our values have changed”. When asked about the new values, they said, “well, er, fun, and friendly, and… um.. I can’t remember the others”. A year later the company was in deep ethical trouble. Perhaps there was a connection.

We don’t see companies discussing morals. Why this this?

Morality is a very loaded term for corporate executives.

The word morality feels like one is preaching, or being preached at.

Neither are management traits you hear celebrated on MBA courses.

(That is unless you are Steve Jobs perhaps, who was said to have had strong values but was not known as an ethics leader in the workplace)

Is it time to bring back a bit of morality into the workplace?

Can the word be de-toxified? I’m sure there’s a consultancy or branding agency that would love to modernise it for personal gain.

I’m not sure it needs a makeover.

There’s nothing wrong with being a moral manager, running a moral workplace, or having moral debates in the business.

It just requires more courage than throwing the world “values” around willy-nilly, removing their meaning with inappropriate usage, and then dumping them when a new CEO takes over.

After all, you can’t go a stakeholder meeting and claim you’ve got new corporate morals.

Let’s turn the word around and use it to cement positive, progressive, ethical behaviours in business.

Morality should be an opportunity, not a communications risk. Let us make it so.