Companies talk on and on about their “corporate values.” Words like integrity, excellence, respect, teamwork are emblazon on headquarter walls or website sub-pages. But what do they really mean? Do individual employees live by them, or even executive management for that matter? Why are they usually so generic if they’re supposed to differentiate a company from its competitors? First of all, let’s talk about the “generic-ness” of most corporate values. What company would be outwardly against integrity or teamwork? Who says, “we believe in being “sub-par” and generally disdain our employees and customers?” If you’re going to state a value, say something that’s unconventional. Defy traditional thinking. Second, a value is meaningless unless it is tested. Who cares if you say, I stand for full-time employees getting medical insurance and a minimum wage. It’s a requirement for doing business. You’ve given up nothing to stand for it. Values are worthless, if you have nothing to lose. Just as the measure of a person is based on his or her ability to stay true to their beliefs against overwhelming challenges, the measure of a company’s values is whether they’re willing to do it even if it costs them money. Zappos is famous for this. They’re all about delivering a “wow” experience for their customers. That means returns up to 365 days and random upgraded shipping to exceed expectations. Could they increase their profit margins by not doing these things? Definitely. But it wouldn’t be who they are. And that’s why people LOVE them. The simple test of whether a value really means something for your company is to ask yourself, would you still live by it, even if it cost you and there was no direct benefit? Are you willing to do the right thing, even if no one’s watching?