How (not) to write your company's core values

Lists of corporate values are a rich source of bad business writing. So today I announce a new series looking at some real-life examples of embarrassing “core values”. By the end of this exercise, I’m hoping we’ll have a definitive list of core values for any compiler of core values. First up is some excruciating copy from a well-known financial firm:

At the essence of the company stands its core values: Colleagues, Customers, Company, and Community. We invite and encourage every colleague to live these values – what we call “standing in the circle.” In doing so, we can fulfill our mission of becoming the most admired card and lending business in the world.

Lessons from the above 1. Don’t let a poor grasp of syntax prevent you from writing about your core values. Appropriate use of prepositions and noun-verb agreement have never made it into anyone’s list of core values (except, perhaps, the core values of that grumpy old cow who writes for Good Copy, Bad Copy).

2. Know that your core values need not be values at all. If you’re really stuck for inspiration, simply list various groups of people.

3. Choose your core values on the basis of alliteration alone. Call attention to said alliteration through inappropriate capitalisation of non-proper nouns.

4. Underscore the touchy-feelyness of your values with woowoo-sounding language such as “standing in the circle”. Even better if said language inspires a circular graphic illustrating how your values are all interlinked. Clever.

5. Emphasise the ethical nature of your core values by stating their role in helping you achieve a soft-sounding goal that can’t be measured, such as becoming the “most admired” of your kind. Don't commit yourself to something hard-nosed and businesslike, such as profitability - that's asking for trouble at the next shareholder meeting.

Cartoon: embedding your core values