Vague Values, Popular Principles

In the opinion piece linked below, the author takes companies to task for the lack of precision, and downright silliness, that sometimes invades corporate attempts to state publicly what they stand for. The criticism in on-target, for sure. One quibble: the author occasionally refers to things like “respect and responsibility” as principles. Those aren’t principles. They’re values. From a technical point of view, values are abstract terms for things we happen to think are important — things like honesty, privacy, bravery, and so  on. Principles are rules (or proposed rules) that put values into action. So if you and I agree, for example, on the value of honesty, we still have to sort out the principle according to which our company, perhaps, is going to put honesty into action. Will the principle be “Never lie to customers,” or “Always be honest and open with customers,” or…?


LINK: (Corporate values matter but they must go beyond buzzwords (by Brooke Masters for Financial Times)

Official statements of corporate values are often a maddening mix of hokum and gibberish. When the Financial Times’ former parent company adopted “efficacy” as one of its top goals, the sceptical newsroom made fun of the decision for days.

A new survey of 525 of the world’s largest public companies by the AMO advisory network confirms that my former bosses are not alone in their enthusiasm for vague principles.

Integrity, innovation, respect, responsibility and sustainability topped the list of popular buzzwords….

What do you think?

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About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.

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