ThoughtWorks Values

I have a rule of thumb that you can tell the worth of a corporate value by inverting it and seeing if it still makes sense. If the inversion is self-evidentially meaningless or trivial then the value itself is meaningless. For example, if you have a value that says: “Build shareholder value” then the inversion would be “Destroy shareholder value”. This is clearly nonsense and therefore this is not really a value but in fact something that you have to do to run your business. You agreed to build shareholder value when you or your predecessor floated the company.

TW actually does okay by this yardstick, only three are meaningless and I think they (Customer Commitment, Fun and Best People) are actually the methods by which we intend to succeed rather than values. Two (Social Responsibility and Uncompromising Principles) are interesting as a company specialising in Social Irresponsibility and Compromised Principles would not appear to be a going concern. However often companies use other values to arrive at the same thing. Let’s take a look at Blackwater’s values. Sticky wicket I know. Look at the last value there: Efficiency. Having efficiency in your values is a way of saying that you’re going to aggressively guard your margin. That means putting a value on things and deciding whether they pay their way or not. Redressing historical discrimination, to pick a grandiose example at random from the TW list, is not going to be an efficient way for any company to spend money as there is little discernible value to be gained in doing it. There are lots of ways of curbing unprofitable entanglements in your values so I give TW some credit here for putting down a marker here.

So finally there are the two TW values that truly mean something: Entrepreneurial and Global. Personally I am a huge fan of the former and somewhat suspicious of the latter. People who display entrepreneurial spirit in companies are often thought of as mavericks and liabilities to the collective good of the firm. Encouraging this value actually colours your business and opens you up to both risk and opportunity. This is a genuine value you want to uphold when running your business.

Similarly Global could be inverted to Local which would also be a perfectly viable business model. I worry that global thinking tends to obscure issues that need to be dealt with in a timely manner, the local signal getting lost in the global noise. I have also worked for companies who mistook the global success of their organisation for success in local markets. US firms in particular can be hugely successful in the States which blinds them to their lack of success in the European or Pacific markets. There is a lot of tension in that word global. However I think the world has been dramatically shrunk and parochial thinking is unlikely to get an progressive organisation anywhere.


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