Values play a pivotal role in defining the path to success. They act as guiding stars. They illuminate the way forward and ensure that actions align with the core essence of the organization.
But not every company has them. And it’s easy to get stuck when trying to define them. In this blog series, I wanted to take some time to explain the concept of business values, outline mine, and how to identify yours.
What are business values?
Business values are not just a list of buzzwords. They’re the essence of how we want to behave, regardless of our titles or roles. Values provide guidance. They help us make decisions about what products and services to provide, how we will interact with customers, suppliers, employees and partners, as well as what lines we will not cross. Values define a company’s culture. They are not something that can be imposed; instead, they grow organically and authentically. They don’t happen overnight, and they require input from everyone.
1) Be client obsessed!
No matter what this sounds like or how difficult a conversation may be, it’s all with one purpose: putting my client’s needs and desires first
2) Act with integrity and transparency
I wholeheartedly believe in this value. It reminds me that trust is a precious currency that can only be earned through unwavering integrity and openness.
3) Choose kindness and respect
I’m a great believer that interactions rooted in empathy and mutual respect achieve much more than those that don’t. A simple premise, yes, but a hugely important one.
4) Sustain confidentiality
Building trust means recognizing the importance of safeguarding sensitive information. If clients tell you private things – keep them private!
5) Tell the truth
Confront difficult truths and address concerns that others might shy away from, even to people in a position of power
6) Keep an independent perspective
It’s good to try and keep a sense of perspective. It allows me to give unbiased and objective guidance instead of relying on personal bias.
These values aren’t superficial guidelines; they’re deeply ingrained principles that shape who I am.
How can you define yours?
Nurturing authenticity: defining business values
“Nike sells a commodity, they sell shoes,” said Steve Jobs. “And yet when you think of Nike, you feel something different than a shoe company. In their ads, as you know, they don’t ever talk about the product, they don’t ever talk about their air soles, how they’re better than Reebok’s air soles. What’s Nike do in their advertising? They honor great athletes and they honor great athletics. That is what they are about.”
It’s strange to think one of the most successful companies in the world, Apple, took a leaf from Nike’s book. But they did. Borrowing from others happens every day in business.
How businesses often borrow values
Regardless of their size or industry, businesses often find themselves inspired by the values of others. What’s gone before continues to guide others today. But borrowed values can’t exist on their own. We cannot pick them up, drop them on a business, and expect success. Blindly copying them without introspection can lead to disaster.
Instead, borrowed values should complement the authentic ethos of your business.
How can you do this?
Aligning values with genuine business ethos
One of the values I hold dear is, “Tell the truth to power.”
This value is a call to confront difficult truths, regardless of hierarchical positions. Too often, employees are afraid to tell CEOs and other senior leaders anything negative. They don’t want to rock the boat and prefer to remain silent.
By telling the truth to power in a way that someone can hear and accept, senior leaders can gain a deeper understanding about their impact and modify actions that they otherwise would not even be aware of.
For my business, it’s not just a catchy phrase; it’s a fundamental principle that guides our interactions with clients. But remember, authenticity is key. If your business doesn’t genuinely believe in and practice this value, it becomes superficial. Authenticity ensures that “truth to power” isn’t just a slogan but a living, breathing part of your organizational culture.
Another value close to my heart is “Everything we do starts with the client.” It’s a value borrowed from the wider service industry, where client satisfaction is paramount. This value is authentic for my business because we always prioritize our clients’ needs and desires.
For example, we do not offer “off the shelf ” products. When I worked for The Coca-Cola Company, I hired a lot of companies and consultants for specific projects. Everyone wanted to work with TCCC. So they’d bring their product and pitch how they could change it to meet our needs. Of course, the cost was always much higher than their initial pricing because their off the shelf products required extensive modification.
Off the shelf products serve a useful purpose and are often sufficient or require minimal customization to work effectively for some clients.
I’ve chosen to work with clients who have highly specific needs and challenging human dynamics. Our family businesses and philanthropy clients have unique needs that can’t be addressed through software or a “one size fits all” approach. They also don’t want to pay for customization. They want a tailored product or service that is cost effective and meets their unique needs.
We start with the questions our clients need to answer and focus on possibilities that will meet their needs. But blindly adopting this value won’t automatically lead to success. It requires a genuine commitment to putting clients first in every decision and action.
I encourage you to evaluate the authenticity of your organization’s existing values. The values you choose to embrace must reflect your core purpose and guide everyone’s actions. Borrowed values can be powerful, but only when they align with your genuine business ethos.
Let’s continue with arguably the trickiest part of the process – how to apply these values in a practical sense.
Transforming values into action: the blueprint for business success
Patagonia is well known for its values of sustainability and social responsibility. Why? Because everyone visits their website to read them? No – because they put them into action.
They use recycled and organic materials in their clothing. Donate 1% of their sales to environmental causes. Advocate policy change to address the climate crisis.
It’s not an easy task, though.
In this article, we’ll examine their role in decision-making and governance, before looking at some steps and strategies to succeed in putting values into action.
Role of values in decision-making
Values are more than just fancy words on a wall or slogans in a handbook. They guide decision-making, acting as the compass on your business journey.
Embedding them into your culture, and sticking to them, will ensure your decisions align with your core principles. With what result? More informed and more sustainable choices that benefit the business long-term.
Importance in governance and stakeholder relations
Your business values also play a pivotal role in governance and stakeholder relations. For family businesses, particularly, values provide the framework for sustainable governance. They act as a common language that unites stakeholders. They help to maintain harmony, transparency, and accountability within the family unit and, in turn, the business itself.
Steps and strategies to embed values in everyday operations
Turning values into action takes time and commitment but it can be done. Here’s how:
Lead by example
Leadership should exemplify the values in their daily conduct, setting the tone for the entire organization.
Training and education
Educate employees about the values and their practical application. You can do this in a number of ways, such as:
- Training programs
- Conversations in staff meetings
- Initial onboarding of new employees
- Management development
Integrate values into performance metrics
Encourage employees to integrate values in their day-to-day roles by rewarding them for doing so.
Feedback and improvement
Patagonia define integrity this way: “We examine our practices openly and honestly, learn from our mistakes, and meet our commitments.”
So ask for feedback from employees and stakeholders to see how well the values are being integrated and be open to making improvements if necessary.
Show clearly how your core values drive both the governance structure and decision-making process. Make both easily accessible to employees.
Stakeholder engagement and introspection
As well as looking introspectively for guiding principles, seek input from stakeholders too. Aligning your values with their strengths and passions will create a shared sense of purpose.
Get the ball rolling
I encourage businesses to start internal discussions about values today. Engage your team, family members, and stakeholders in conversations about the role of values in your business.
The power of values in family business leadership is undeniable. Business values are not buzzwords but the essence of how an organization wants to behave. They guide decision-making, shape its culture, and define its ethos. Patagonia’s commitment to sustainability and social responsibility demonstrates that values must go beyond rhetoric.
To define your own business values, it’s essential to nurture authenticity. To align these values with your genuine business ethos. To ensure they are not just borrowed, but deeply ingrained.
To put values into action, leaders must lead by example. They should educate employees and integrate values into performance metrics. They should seek feedback for improvement, and maintain transparency. It’s also useful to engage stakeholders and seek input from all involved parties which can create a shared sense of purpose.
Finally, hold regular; value audits’ and stay committed to your authentic ethos when things get tough.
It takes time, effort, and perhaps a little guidance to define and implement values – which is where I can help. Book a free, no-obligation chat with me today to find out more.
Thanks for reading.