Business values are the secret weapon most businesses ignore.
It’s not like most businesses don’t have values.
We see them, carefully typeset, hung in foyers and displayed on websites – like tapestries of “Thou Shalt Nots” gathering dust above pianos in Sunday School pictures.
It’s just most businesses don’t know how to use them.
Yes, the words feel nice to say.
But saying them isn’t the point.
They don’t work unless you act on them.
In the simplest sense, our values are those things we choose not to compromise on.
They guide our actions.
Our values connect our ambitions to our deeds.
This is true of people. And it’s true of business.
One of the reasons most people can’t tell you what they truly value is because most people can’t tell you what their real ambition is.
Most of us don’t know why we do what we do.
So, we recite the nice-to-say words they think other people like to hear.
Truth. Justice. Fairness. Equality. Sustainability.
Yes, these are important things.
But they don’t differentiate. They don’t guide. They don’t make it easier to make hard decisions.
Most businesses, and the people in those businesses, seem to forget why they have values.
It’s not because other people (customers) like to read that stuff.
It’s because your people need to live that stuff.
To determine if your business truly values what it says, try this simple test.
Can everyone in your business tell you why the business exists?
Not what the business does.
Or how the business does it.
But why the business exists.1
If they can tell you why, congratulations, you’re in the top 10% of businesses most likely to succeed.
There’s a delightful article in the Huffington Post about this.
It’s a bit of a ramble, but here are the key points.
A 2012 IBM study of over 1700 CEOs and other business leaders concluded the top three things a business needs to focus on in order to succeed are values, ethics and purpose.
(Because, clearly stated values and purpose and ethics give your people a clear understanding of why they work, and a transparent system for judging their performance – and the performance of others. Which, while it can be confronting for leaders who just want to pick up a cheque, can add a lovely rosy glow to the bottom line.)
But, according the Harvard Business Review, less than 20% of business leaders knew what the purpose of their business was.
Profit can’t be ignored. Business needs more money coming in than going out.
More and more studies are showing purpose driven organisations tend to have less staff turnover and get more return from their staff than businesses driven by profit alone.
Values should be things that can be hard to live up to.
And they must serve the ambition and purpose of the business.
A purpose, without underpinning values, is just a dream.
Values, that serve no defining purpose, are just words.
Hung, and forgotten, like faded “Thou Shalt Nots” on presbytery walls.