If you work for a company–small, mid-sized, corporate behemoth, whatever–chances are pretty good that you’ve been provided with a company values statement. Chances are also good that it’s laminated in a convenient wallet-sized card that does not, funnily enough, reside in your wallet. Readers of The Radical Leap will know that I’m dubious at best about the value of values statements. I think there’s a major problem with almost all of them, but it’s not, you may be surprised to hear, in the way they’re written. It’s in the way we read them.
The problem is in the pronouns.
Allow me to demonstrate with this excerpt from Home Depot’s corporate values statement. (This isn’t a commentary on Home Depot, per se; they just came out near the top when I Googled “values statement” corporate). Here’s how it’s written:
Doing the right thing: We exercise good judgment by “doing the right thing” instead of just “doing things right.” We strive to understand the impact of our decisions, and we accept responsibility for our actions.
The problem is that many people will interpret the pronoun “we” as “other people around here; a group that doesn’t necessarily include me.”
Now try reading it this way:
Doing the right thing: I exercise good judgment by “doing the right thing” instead of just “doing things right.” I strive to understand the impact of my decisions, and I accept responsibility for my actions.
Feels different, doesn’t it? That’s the power of the first-person singular pronoun. That’s the power of “I”: nothing’s going to happen around here unless I do something about it.
So, back to your company’s statement. Go find it, dust it off, and read it again with a new set of first-person singulars–change the “we’s” to “I’s” and the “ours” to “my’s”. How do you feel when you read it that way?
Maybe we should do something about that.