Why Defining Your Values Is Critical To Successful Business

29 Sep 2010

Why Defining Your Values Is Critical To Successful Business

Everyone has values

They may not always be stated out loud and often they’re unconscious. But nevertheless they motivate you to do the things you do. They encompass the criteria you use to decide what you’ll do, and how you evaluate what you’ve done.

Why defining your values is critical to successful business.

Values provide the purpose and motivation behind your actions.

So given the impact that values have on your life and business it might be useful to define your values and establish what’s important right at the beginning, when you’re starting your business – or better still – before you start!

Clearly defined values should:
  • Be incorporated into your business branding.
  • Guide your behaviour, as the leader in the business.
  • Guide the behaviour of everyone who works for you.
  • Become part of the culture of an organisation (so better to have them clearly defined, rather than run the risk of anarchy as everyone does as they please!)
  • Help create a harmonious work environment and avoid conflict between people.
  • Support your company mission.
  • Motivate you and your team; by understanding your individual team members’ values, you’ll automatically know how to motivate each one. And if you don’t know, you could be inadvertently demotivating them.
Values are more than just labels

When business owners are asked about what is important to them they might say things like; teamwork, challenge, flexibility, respect or use any number of other key words.

Key words symbolise each value

But if you asked four people to define what each of those words actually mean, they would undoubtedly have four different meanings. Let’s explore ‘Flexibility’ as an example:

For one person, flexibility might mean freedom, being able to work late into the night if necessary. It might mean shopping or going to the beach when others are working. It could also mean adapting to what’s happening in the moment and ‘going with the flow’ to a certain extent.

A second person might interpret the same word, flexibility, as starting and finishing and hour earlier than other employees, or having a bit longer for lunch. So, while there’s a big difference in meaning, both people use the same label word, flexibility. You can probably start to see how problems can surface if you don’t clearly specify what those labels signify.

Now you need to ‘walk the talk’

Once you’ve clearly defined your values, it’s important to ‘walk the talk’.

In other words behave in ways that are congruent with your values.

Any astute person will be able to define what’s important to you by how you behave. So use your values as a touchstone to ensure you measure up on a daily basis. Otherwise, you just come across as vacillating, at best, or as insincere, moody or hypocritical at worst.

Defining Your values

How do you identify your value labels and then what’s underneath all of the value labels?
Here’s an exercise you can do. You’ll need probably 1 to 2 hours to complete it. If you think that seems like a long time, just think of the time you’ll save by employing the right people, knowing consciously what’s really important to you about your business and having a kind of moral compass to ensure you stay true to yourself.

  1. Ask yourself, “What’s important to me about my business?” Note any key words that spring to mind. Repeat the question and note any new answers.
  2. Think of a time in the past when you’ve felt extremely motivated in your business or work (it doesn’t have to be in business if this is your first business). Relive the experience in your mind and define what was important about that time. Repeat with a couple of other instances where you felt very motivated. Add any new values that come to mind to your list. You should end up with 6-8 primary values.
Put them in order

It’s a good idea to use sticky notes. Put each value word/ label on a separate note. Create a hierarchy with the most important at the top. Generally lower level values contribute towards and support higher level values. Check that the order feels right.

Define what those labels mean

Look at each of the value labels and answer these questions, writing down your answers.

  1. What does this (value) mean to me?
  2. What kind of experiences let me know me I have this value?
    What’s important about those experiences?
    Use your senses to define what you see, hear and feel that lets you know your value is being met in that business or work context.
  3. Why is this value important to me? When you get an answer, drill down a bit more by asking the same question on your last answer. For example:

“Flexibility is important to me because it gives me freedom.”
And why is that [freedom] important?
“Freedom is the reason I went into business for myself.”
And why is that [going into business for yourself] important?
“Because I like being independent and I don’t want to answer to other people.”
Repeating the question will get you in touch with what’s at the core of your values.

Now what?

Now that you have a deeper understanding of what drives you and your business, make sure that all your business decisions fit with the values you’ve defined as being important. Revisit the first list at the top in this article to ensure your values fit with your business.

Review them every so often

While your values are unlikely to change drastically or overnight, it’s worthwhile reviewing them every couple of years to see if they’ve changed slightly or if the order or importance has changed.

It’s also good practice to review them more regularly as part of your business practice to ensure they’re well embedded into the business culture and that everyone understands them.

  • We all have values in any given context.
  • Defining your values should be a business fundamental.
  • They guide your decision making and the way you E-Value-ate those decisions.
  • When your values are being met, you will be highly motivated.
  • When your values aren’t being met, you’ll find it hard to drag yourself out of bed in the morning.
  • Shared values become the culture of an organisation. Make sure they’re worth sharing.
  • Your values should be embodied in your behaviour.
  • They’re often unconscious, although if something makes you mad, it’s probably conflicting with one or more of your values.
  • They can cause conflict or contribute to harmony.
  • They’re hierarchical.
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