Values can shift as things change in your business. Follow these six steps to help you determine — and stick to — yours.
Every person and every company lives and operates by a set of values — or at least purports to. Too often though, we state our values, then ignore them — and eventually forget about them. Revisiting your values on a consistent basis is extremely important — especially for businesses.
Values are not static. Times change, businesses change and leadership changes. If your values aren't reflective of these shifts in your business, things can get off track quickly. As a family business consultant, I encourage my clients to revisit their company values every five years — especially if the owner is planning on retiring in the next decade and transferring the business to new leadership. When companies are changing hands from one generation to another, there can be a variety of sticking points and head butting. More often than not, these can be traced back to a divergence of values.
Every Company is Different
While many companies have shared values like “hard work” and “honesty,” each company should have values that apply directly to their operation. Some businesses value employee loyalty, giving them a strong sense of team, community and stability that will help the company thrive even in difficult times. Some businesses, like manufacturing operations, may value attention to detail. Some may value faith or ethics. Bottom line, every business is different, and should develop and live their values based on their unique approach. So, what does that look like?
Core Value Exercises
Revisiting your company's values every five years ensures that your business stays on track and, if applicable, your transition to new leadership goes smoothly. But simply picking a day and calling a one-hour meeting isn't enough. Take a full day and meet away from the office. Values require a deep level of thought that can be easily derailed by everyday distractions. Bring all major stakeholders in the company, and ensure that everyone has a voice.
Every company or consultant has their own approach to determining values. As a family business adviser, I prefer a simple, clear approach that looks something like this:
• Start by breaking into smaller groups. This way, people will feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.
• Have each person identify 10 concepts they believe reflect the company's culture — things unique about the company or things the company would never do.
• Have each person share her list with her partner or small group and identify common themes.
• Have each group choose 10 values it believes define these core concepts, then condense the list to the top five values it believes reflect the company culture.
• Once the list is condensed, have each person write a paragraph he or she believes summarizes the company's values.
• After the group session, have the whole team get together and discuss the results and come to a consensus, finalizing the Core Values.
There are plenty of exercises to facilitate this, but the main point is to have open and honest conversations about where the company is, and where it's going. In some cases, the values stay the same. In others, they may change to meet the realities of the market or the vision of the next generation. Whatever your group agrees on will help guide the company and its leadership going forward.
Operationalize Your Values
Identifying and agreeing on your company's values is an important and necessary step. But it won't mean much if they are not operationalized. That means making decisions based on their fit to your company values.
Hiring employees who fit your values will go a long way to ensuring your company culture stays intact — and your operations run smoothly. Operationalizing your values also factors into your day-to-day business decisions. They serve as a guiding principle when there are disagreements on the way forward.
Operationalizing your company's values also empowers employees to take more ownership in the day to day, and feel more at home in their environment. Your values are a living, breathing blueprint to the way your company operates today and into the future. Make sure your company, from leadership on down, lives those values every day.