Why You Need to Talk About Business Values With Your Team


Why You Need to Talk About Business Values With Your Team

Many large companies have alluring business values which they put into marketing materials, incorporate into sales pitches and stick up on office walls.

Those values are meant to describe in big picture terms what the company cares about and how it operates. But whether leaders and members of that company genuinely live up to those values is another question.

Perhaps this is why, in Small Business circles, the idea of identifying and committing to business values can have a bit of a bad rap.

However, as a workplace strategist, I’ve also seen many Small Businesses that have really nailed this concept and successfully defined a set of values that made their operations smoother and more successful. In fact, some Small Business owners use values masterfully, understanding their purpose and potential really well.

Values can help answer difficult questions.

The right values can not only help you strengthen your brand, improve your marketing and sales results, and find team members and partners who are a good fit for your business – people with the right attitude, work ethic and passion. They can also help you and your team decide what to do in tricky situations at work, which may occur almost every day.

I’ve been in positions during my career when, in the absence of clearly defined values, I frequently faced dilemmas like these:

  • Should I give clients the type of advice they want and expect from us, or what they really need for solving their problems?
  • To what extent should I play along with clients’ ideas, and to what extent should I challenge them (for their own benefit, of course)?
  • When is it a good time to innovate, and when is it a better option to stick to safe, tried-and-tested solutions?
  • What should I do when we don’t have a big enough budget to complete a certain deliverable to the desired standard?
  • Should I discuss unforeseen problems with clients if I believe that they can help, or should I try to get it solved within the team?
  • What should I do when I can only complete a task in time at the cost of my own or my team’s health and wellbeing?
  • When a decision needs to be made urgently, but a crucial piece of information for making the best decision is missing, should I wait or go ahead?
  • How much of my personality can I show when I meet or communicate with different clients?

Your team members might also often struggle with similar questions. They may go through internal turmoil, or experience friction amongst themselves, perhaps having the same sorts of arguments over and over again.

They probably don’t even realise that they are involved in a values conflict – they may just think it’s difficult to communicate and collaborate with each other.

Either way, chances are that they don’t always end up with the best decisions in these situations, because without clearly defined values the answers to such questions are not obvious; a solution that works for one business could harm another.

How to define business values.

Entire books are written about business values, but in essence, the way I see it, they are answers to these simple questions:

  • What is considered right and what is considered wrong in our business?
  • What is acceptable and what is unacceptable?
  • What is very important and what is not so important for us?

(Values shouldn’t be confused with beliefs, which are essentially professional views and opinions answering the question, ‘What is true and what is not true for us?’)

You might already know that you value quality, integrity and innovation, for example. But when you define your business values, it’s important to dig deeper than that. Even your most skilled, well-intentioned and creative team member can’t necessarily tell what’s the right thing to do in a difficult situation without knowing the agreed priorities in your business in sufficient depth.

As part of the process of identifying your business values, you’ll probably find it useful to discuss with your team the kinds of dilemmas they face at work and the sometimes recurring disagreements that arise between members.

Values don’t need to be expressed in single words.

Here are a few possible examples:

  • Putting clients first.
  • Creating meaningful change.
  • Enjoying work.
  • Looking after ourselves.
  • Being ahead of the competition.
  • Building friendships with clients.
  • Maintaining an immaculate professional image.
  • Embracing risk and failure, etc.

Make sure that you and your team are on the same page about what exactly your chosen values mean and how they can influence decisions in practice on a day-to-day basis.

Even though all your chosen values are important, I suggest that you put them in order of priority.

In a challenging situation, all factors need to be considered and conflicting interests balanced, but with clear priorities, your values will always act as a compass.

Expect to see better alignment on all fronts.

Once you and your team have identified and agreed on your business values, you will find it easier to pinpoint the root of many conflicts and to work out how to address them.

For example, values can often be realigned through conversations focusing on the team’s common ground and shared purpose. (In contrast, differences in beliefs are usually best addressed through education, i.e. sharing knowledge and experience on a subject.)

The fundamental values of your business will need to be agreed to by everyone in your team.

At the same time, you shouldn’t expect your people to have identical individual values and priorities. In fact, in order to be able to provide a holistic service to your clients, you want your team members to represent a range of interests and perspectives.

Some of your team members might be excited by numbers, while others are more interested in the artistic aspects of work. Some might be avid fans of the latest technology, while others are more drawn to the human perspective. Some might prefer to keep things safe while others constantly come up with game-changing innovative ideas.

By understanding your business values, your people will likely have a better sense of their place in the team, and a greater respect for the diverse range of qualities others bring into the mix.

They will more likely see their differences as an opportunity to create something great and complete, rather than an obstacle to collaboration.

Ideas will still collide, but you will see more constructive debates and fewer fruitless arguments.

Perhaps most importantly, your people will make better and more consistent decisions in challenging situations, which will elevate the quality of your service and the experience of your clients.

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  • Bronwyn Reid

    This is a truly awesome post Anetta. Thank you. Conversations about values need to be right up there with conversations about the technical aspects of our work – whatever that is. Unfortunately, we are seeing the after-effects of the absence of real conversations about values in Australia at the moment.

    It is also a challenge to ensure that the company’s values are continually revisited. Times change, economic conditions change, teams change.

    I know that you are working on a new book Anetta, and I sincerely hope that more of this thinking will be included. Love your work!

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