Your personal values determine your perceptions of what is good and bad, and right and wrong about life, both in terms of morals and how you feel about everything around you. Your business values are no different. They provide the framework within which your business engages with customers, employees, stakeholders – all of its audiences – and ultimately influences and shapes your company culture.
By the end of this Help File you will:
- Understand the importance of values in clarifying and creating your business purpose and culture.
- Have created a list of your top 1 to 10 core values.
- Have defined what those values mean to you and why they are important.
- Have determined HOW your core values are communicated and reflected in your business.
- Have identified any actions you need to take in order to ensure that your core values are effectively integrated into your organisation and communicated and demonstrated to all your stakeholders and audiences.
Why Values Matter
All of us have our own personal core values, our firmly held inner beliefs about what matters in the world, what is good and bad, what makes us a person of value and what we see as valuable in others. Our personal values are reflected in our actions and our behaviour. They determine the choices and decisions we make.
We are attracted to people who share the same values as us. Our values determine our friends and our relationships, the things that matter to us, the kinds of people we like to hang out with and the people who like to hang out with us.
The clearer we are about our own personal values the easier it is for us to make the decisions which allow us to stay true to our values, form relationships with people who share those values and choose a path in life that is congruent with our values, and that we will find rewarding and motivating.
The problem for many people, is that they have never though deeply about what their values are and why they are important to them. The result is poor decisions, failed relationships and unsatisfying life choices. It’s exactly the same for your business.
When you start your own business, whether you realise it or not, you bring your values, and your clarity, or lack of clarity, about what those values are along with you.
And just as your personal values determine your life choices, your business’s values determine how business decisions and choices are made, the way your business acts, the kinds of clients or customers you attract and retain and the kinds of staff, suppliers, partners and associates you develop relationships with.
Just as being crystal clear about your values and staying true to those values helps you make the right choices, develop the right relationships and follow the right path in life; the same is true for your business.
Complete Key Activity 1 to clarify your core list of critical values to assist you with:
- Refining your business purpose, mission and vision
- Making key business decisions
- Attracting and retaining the right customers or clients
- Building and maintaining relationships with the right business associates: partners, suppliers, contractors and sub-contractors and other stakeholders.
- Attracting and retaining the right staff
- Creating an organisational culture which is in line with your values
- Empowering your team to make decisions and take actions which are congruent with those values.
KEY ACTIVITY 1: Determining your core values
Complete this activity to clarify your personal core values and the values you bring to your business. Where there is only you then complete this activity by yourself. Where you have partners in your business you should all complete this activity so that the end result reflects your shared values.
- Review the list of words in the table in the downloadable version of this page.
- Cross out any of the words which you can instantly identify as NOT being one of your CORE values. There are no right or wrong answers. Crossing something out doesn’t mean that you don’t think it is valuable or important. It just means that it isn’t something which is critical to your decision making, the choices you make and the way you live your life.
- Don’t spend too long thinking about what the words mean… allow yourself to react to them:
- Are they words which your family and closest friends would use to describe you?
- Are they words you aspire to? If someone was writing your eulogy, which words would you most want them to write about you?
- Are they words which describe the kinds of people you love to be around? That doesn’t mean you love to be around people who don’t have that characteristic. Take integrity for example. One hopes that integrity matters to everyone and I hope you don’t want to hang around people who lack integrity, however if we assume a certain standard of integrity then other things such as wisdom, community and creativity may stand out more to you. On the other hand integrity may be the only thing that matters to you.
- Try to reduce your list as much as possible. This is not a case where more is better.Some businesses choose to focus on just one or two core values which underpin everything. The objective is to get to the heart of what really matters to you. Those things which you can’t live without, the core principles which impact the decisions and choices you make.
- Once you have crossed out as many words as you can write each of the remaining words onto a separate card or Post It Note.
- If need be add a new card or Post It Note for any additional values which are important to you and which are not listed in Table 1.
- Once you’ve reduced your initial list as much as possible it’s time to review. Evaluate each word on your list against the set of six questions below. Don’t just pay lip service to these questions… try and think of an example of each value in action which will really test how much the value truly matters to you. Unless you answer YES to EVERY question it’s not a core value and you should remove it from your list.
Example: suppose you have said one of your core values is environmental sustainability and the ONLY place you can purchase the raw materials needed to manufacture your key product is involved in the widespread destruction of natural rainforests. Would you choose to purchase those raw materials and compromise your value around environmental sustainability or would you rather go out of business/close down until you’ve found a new supplier or a new way or manufacturing?
Q1: Would you personally continue to hold this core value even if you were not rewarded, or were potentially even penalised, for holding it?
Q2: Would you want your organisation to continue to stand for this core value no matter what changes occurred in the future?
Q3: Would you give up a customer, lose a sale or incur a loss rather than give up or compromise this value.
Q4: Would you leave or close down your organisation before giving up this value?
Q5: Do you believe that people who do not hold this core value simply do not belong in your organisation?
Q6: If you were to start a new organization tomorrow in a different line of work, would this value apply in the new organization regardless of its activities?
Hopefully by now you have a list of ten or less core values. Five or six is ideal and some companies chose to only have one core value which underpins everything.
If you still find you have too many, or if you’d like to reduce your list further then use the “Sophie’s Choice” activity below.
Sophie’s Choice was a 1982 movie starring Meryl Streep in which the heroine and her two children are taken to a concentration camp during WWII. As they arrive at the camp she is forced to choose between her children, choosing which one will live and which one will die. If she refuses to choose then both children die.
The “Sophie’s Choice” activity to reduce your list:
For each value remaining on your list pair it with another value and ask yourself “If upholding Value A meant compromising Value B? Which would I choose?”
Example: Suppose you have decided that one of your core values is environmental sustainability and that you would prefer to stop manufacturing/go out of business before you would purchase from the supplier in the previous example. However one of your other core values is loyalty and going out of business will mean laying off all of your loyal staff. Which one would you put before the other?
Turning Words into Deeds
Congratulations… you should now have a list between one and ten core values which truly matter to you and your business. Values which will help you to quickly and easily make decisions and choices and determine your direction.
You will be able to use these values to refine your business purpose and mission.
However just knowing your values is not enough unless they are effectively integrated, communicated and demonstrated in all of your business activities. Unless you, and your team if you have one, walk the talk.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with a host of large organisations with lists of lovely sounding values published on their company websites which bear little or no resemblance to how the organisation and its staff actually behave.
It’s how you integrate your values into your business, how you communicate your values and most importantly how you demonstrate your business values in your day to day activities that:
- Determines your business culture,
- Attracts and retains customers and clients, staff and associates for whom those values are important,
- Enables your team to quickly and easily make decisions and take actions which are in line with your business values,
and in the long term determines whether or not you will be successful in realising your purpose.
To be effective in integrating, communicating and demonstrating your business values you need to answer two key questions:
Why is this value important to us? Why does it matter?
As children I expect most of us had the experience of asking “WHY?” and of being told “It just is!” or “Because I say so!”
However in order to get our children to do as we ask willingly, or to get our team to follow us, or to get our customer or potential customers to truly believe that our values aren’t just mere words on a piece of paper or a page on a website, we need to be able to answer the question WHY!
How do we communicate, demonstrate and embody this value in our organisation?
What behaviours do you and your team exhibit? And what behaviours don’t you exhibit?
What can your clients and customers, your suppliers and associates and your staff expect from you and from your business? What does this value “look like” in your business?
How is it communicated?
You need to live, eat and breathe each of your core values. That is what creates a strong organisational culture.
KEY ACTIVITY 2: Turning Words into Deeds
Get the free downloadable help file for space to record up to ten core values plus space and to write your answers to these two questions:
- “WHY is this value important to my business?” and
- “How do we integrate, communicate and demonstrate this value in our business?”
When you have completed that activity for each of your values you will have built the core foundation for all of your future business planning, decision making and policy creation.
Here are a couple of examples.
(These examples do not represent any one company – they have been compiled from a number of case studies)
Core Value: Innovation
Why is this value important?
We believe that innovation is essential in an ever changing world and we believe passionately that if we aren’t constantly looking for new ideas, new challenges and new solutions we’re not maximising our potential to make the world a better place.
How do we integrate, communicate and demonstrate this value in our business?
We encourage and support our clients to look at problems from new perspectives, to try different solutions, to think outside the box; not for the sake of being different but because if we keep doing the same thing we are likely to get the same results.
We encourage our team to be constantly looking for new ways of doing things to get better results. All our team are given time every month to work on new ideas.
We hold regular innovation meetings where every idea is encouraged, no matter how wild or crazy it sounds because we know that some of the best solutions can come from thinking outside the box.
Core Value: Environmental Responsibility
We believe that the future of the planet is more important than short term profits and more important than any one company or set of individuals and we believe everyone has a responsibility to work towards a sustainable future.
How do we integrate, communicate and demonstrate this value in our business?
We practice 100% sustainability in everything we do.
All of our operations are 100% carbon neutral. Every supply we purchase, no matter how small has been purchased from environmentally responsible sources. We will only do business with suppliers who are able to guarantee the reliability of their supply chain.
Our clients know that while we may cost a little more by purchasing from us they are contributing to ensuring the long term sustainability of the planet.
Our employees are encouraged to implement sustainable practices into their homes through both education and support.
Making it Happen
Now you have a plan and a vision for the future of what your business will look like when you live your values. Perhaps you’re already there – in which case congratulations.
However in many cases there are some things you’re going to need to DO, as the business owner to bring your values to life in your business.
Here are some examples.
If one of your values is quality then your commitment to quality can be reflected in your guarantee, and you might decide you need to change the wording on your Guarantee to more fully reflect your value statement. This is something you or a member of your team has to DO. It’s an action item.
If one of your values is innovation then you might decide to follow the model in an earlier example and give your staff creative time every week or every month. If you’re going to do that you’ll have to work out what it will look like, how it will work and how you can afford to pay for it. Something you have to DO.
At a more basic level you may need to complete a number of actions to ensure that your values are effectively communicated throughout your organisation.
- Posting your values on your company website and in your marketing materials.
- Posting your values on your office wall.
- Ensuring that your business goals, objectives and strategies reflect your values.
- Reviewing your alignment with your values as part of your ongoing planning process.
- Ensuring that your values are reflected in all of your company policy documents and guidelines if you have them.
- Ensuring that your values are reflected in all of your organisational systems and processes. (For example if one of your values is quality, then you will include high standards of quality assurance in your production systems and you will have outstanding guarantees on all your products)
- If you have staff:
- Including information about your values in any staff training and induction material.
- Ensuring that alignment with your values is included as part of your recruitment and selection processes.
KEY ACTIVITY 3: Making it Happen
“What are the things which I need to DO as the business owner to enable the HOW to happen?