Values and Purpose: how your business connects with others
If you are running a business that you started, and the demands of keeping the business alive and growing usually eat all your time and attention, so it is easy to let defining your values and purposes slide. That is completely understandable, and many founders or leaders already know the values of the business and why they are working.
Even though many leaders have values and purpose inside their own heads and hearts, they don’t have an easy time communicating them, and the practice of making them clear – talking, writing, editing, and revising – is necessary to reveal exactly what they are and make them into a form that others can easily understand.
And you will benefit immensely from others’ understanding why you are doing what you are doing, and what is important to you.
It’s a great (read: profitable) advantage for the values and the purpose of your business to be clearly understood by everyone who comes in contact with it: employees, customers and competition. Because if those people understand, then many of the challenges you face as the leader of the business become much easier to solve.
The ideas on this page will help you make your purposes and values clear, and there are more related articles at the end of this page.
Defining values and purposes enables you to connect
In order for people to become customers or employees, they need to be able to understand and relate to your story, the story of your business, and how it relates to them. We understand the world (and make decisions about it) based on stories, and those stories cannot exist without having values in them or purposes behind them.
(Think of your favorite story – personal, public, fable, myth, movie, play or book – and see that there is a moral, a way that the characters operate, a message, and understood expectations of how it unfolds.)
The idea that the story of a business is so important may sound a bit far-fetched at first, but think of how you decide whether to engage with another company or how you describe the way in which someone chooses a job: there is always some story attached.
You need to be able to tell your story in order to connect with the people you work with and who buy from you. Having a story that other people can relate to depends on figuring out what is important to you, and why you are doing what you are doing.
Those are values and purposes. Think of the brands and businesses that you admire or are successful, and you can quite quickly see what some of their values and purposes are.
Consciously and deliberately figure out yours, and learn how to tell it.
What matters to you?
You probably have some idea or feeling about what is important to you – it could be anything from coding efficiency to access to clean water or information for beginners in fitness. It is important that what matters to you is personal and felt, and in many cases, it may not be immediately clear how it relates to your business at first.
But a simple exercise is to write out these things – these values – and show them to a couple of people who you trust will help you define them and then relate them to your business. Writing and talking is thinking, and remember that the goal of making your values clear is that other people can understand them.
This might take a few revisions, and you get bonus points for putting them in order of priority. Expect to add, delete, re-add and possibly be confused for a bit. It will all be worth it, because being able to communicate your values to the people around you is a vital piece of them supporting your business as an employee or customer.
Why do what you’re doing?
The next thing to look at are your purposes. It helps very much to be specific here, but a purpose is not the same thing as a goal, so it’s important to not confuse the two.
Unspecific: “Make a lot of money.” Specific: “Make enough money to do X, pay for Y.” The corresponding and continuously revisited goal: “Make $X this year/quarter/month.”
There is a growing idea that business purpose should be world-changing and have meaning for all of humanity, or at the very least, “disrupt the market” and create change. While it’s true that many businesses create new versions of old ways, the purposes of many businesses include making that business a good member of it’s community, provide well-paid jobs where people can contribute, learn and grow.
That being said, keep the purpose of your business close to what is meaningful to you, and describe it in a way that resonates with you. Your aim may be to change a part of the world while providing jobs and becoming a solid part of the community.
I often use versions of these questions when working with businesses, not because the questions always get the answers that become a neat list of Values and Purposes, but because figuring out the answers in written form usually reveals what is important to you and why you’re doing it.
- Why does your company exist?
- What problem does your business solve?
- What irritates you and you think can be changed? (This is usually related to your unique idea that starts the business.)
- How do you think you will add to this area of work?
- If you were the hero in your story, what would you do?
- What is the value that you create for a customer?
- What was your biggest mistake and why?
- What would you change about your company, right now, if you could?
The final (for now) lists should have a handful of Values and Purposes each. That’s a vague number, because what fits you may not fit the next person, but in general, the number isn’t as few as one or as many as one hundred of each.
Keep them close
Being familiar with your values and purpose serves many purposes, and it’s a very good idea to figure out the best way for you to keep these close to you.
When you are faced with making a difficult or challenging decision (and let’s face it, when is a founder not faced with that), any time you pause and have to think, intentionally refer to your values and purposes. Not casually, but actually read what you ended up with.
More often than not, reminding yourself what is important to you and why you are doing things makes the decision that’s right for you become clear. It may not make the decision or action you take any easier or more pleasant, but knowing that it’s in alignment with your values and purposes gives you confidence that you’re on the right path.
When you are making the decision to hire or fire, taking the 15 seconds to read your values and purposes again gives you clarity, and prevents rationalization. We all have decisions that we wish we had made differently, and habitually and consciously reminding yourself of what anchors your behavior reduces the chance that what you are deciding now is something that we will regret later.
And obviously, the process of thinking, writing and editing your values and purposes allows you to tell your story clearly, to those whom you work with and others whom you do business with. The clarity of your story and your ability to tell it allows you to do business with those around you.
Browse more articles and videos on Values and Purposes below, or go back to Practical Resources.