Corporate values online: show, don’t tell

Company values pages are home to some of the worst clichés on the corporate web. They can often seem an afterthought, rather than an opportunity to showcase what is unique about a company’s culture and turn it into a selling point. In the spirit of ‘showing’, Jason Sumner shares a few examples, good and bad.
 

‘Show, don’t tell’ is a longstanding principle in creative writing. Authors, so the advice goes, should illuminate setting and character through action and dialogue, and avoid vague summarising or heavy-handed explanations directing readers how to feel about the story.

The same principle applies to company ‘values’ on corporate websites. In fact, the problem with many of these pages can often be boiled down to ‘too much telling and not enough showing’.

The bad
 

Danaher: Bullet points and clichés

Danaher’s ‘Shared Purpose and Core Values’ page not only ‘tells’ the values of the US industrial healthcare conglomerate via well-worn corporate clichés; it puts them in a list of bullet points, a sure-fire killer of originality. The video at the top of the page could have worked well, but in Danaher’s case, it is just as vague as the rest of the page.

 Danaher's 'Shared Purpose and Core Values' page

Danaher's 'Shared Purpose and Core Values' page

Shire: Ideals without evidence

The ‘Our Culture’ page on Irish pharmaceuticals group Shire’s corporate website  does not use bullet points, but its approach, one dense paragraph, is equally dry. It includes statements such as: ‘Our patient and customer focused culture encourages employees to embrace innovation and challenge the status quo’; ‘honesty and transparency are inherent in all that we do’; ‘we foster an environment where leaders are positive, accountable, results driven and great people managers’, etc.

These are all noble ideals, and Shire’s employees may well know many examples of how the company puts them into practice. Most visitors to the website, however, will need to take these statements on trust. At a time when institutions, and especially large corporations, are under scrutiny, it is risky to make statements without any evidence to back them up.

 Shire's 'Our Culture' page

Shire's 'Our Culture' page

The good
 

Barclays: Videos lend believability

In practice, digital teams may have some input on the company values, but little power to change them once they are agreed. That may even involve a directive from above to put them on the site ‘as written’, even if that means a bulleted list.

Barclays, the UK financial services firm, manages to augment the conventional bullet points on its ‘Purpose and Values’ page with a number of relevant and carefully crafted videos, showing ‘values’ in action. The employee profiles are most effective, with members of staff explaining how they apply the values in their work and everyday lives.

One drawback – the videos could be better signposted; they are at the bottom of the page in a tabbed menu, where they are more likely to be missed.

 Barclays 'values' videos

Barclays 'values' videos

Total: Embedding links and videos

French energy giant Total bolsters its values page, ‘Five strong values embedded in our DNA’,  with embedded videos and links to resources around the site. For example, there is a short film about how an employee in Kenya rose through the ranks to illustrate Total’s ‘stand together’ team spirit.

 An embedded video on Total’s values page

An embedded video on Total’s values page

Google: Linking stories to values

Google’s recently redesigned ‘corporate’ home page has an ‘Our values in action’ section, with a horizontally scrolling list of graphic-panel links to relevant stories housed across its sprawling web estate.

For companies with a library of stories, it could be useful to think whether they illustrate the company’s values in any way and, if so, link to them from the relevant page.

 The Google corporate home page: ‘Our values in action’

The Google corporate home page: ‘Our values in action’