Which values benefit your business?
20 February 2020
It seems like an easy question, but the answer is not that simple. What values help a business and the people in it succeed?
First, there is no formula for success to follow and merely “apply values” to any business.1Colorful brochures and posters in the bathroom don’t really work. Businesses, teams and people differ too much from one another so an effective approach for one may not suit another. Although a boilerplate program will not guarantee a successful business, we do share some common values that either help us or hurt us. A Cliff-notes list of those that help:
- Personal responsibility
- Dedication to community
- Equality of Opportunity
Some businesses are strong in some values and then they are very weak in others. For instance, some businesses embody some values better than others, so if leaders put attention on the weaker areas, the business will improve. Sometimes values are completely missing, or the business culture is in direct opposition to a value or a set of values and the leader’s work is more difficult or nuanced.
A way to look at it
Take a look at my mind map the connections between values and how well or poorly we work together in business:
Values link what and how we do things
Values are in the middle between how we work together and what we are actually doing in practice. Simply:
Performance < - > Values < - > Organization (or the “doing” inside a business.)
So values determine how we do what we do in a business. For instance, if we have empathy as a leader, being able to relate to others and create bonds between us creates trust, a better working environment, and more secure employees. The employees work better, and without empathy, the opposite is true.
How does this happen?
We could write a book on each value and how it affects performance2Perhaps a good idea . . . but in brief, here’s how a few of these values affect performance:
- Respect for every person in the organization, including yourself, increases individual security and safety. If people feel secure (i.e., unlikely to be criticized in an unhealthy way), they have the energy to be more creative, more thoughtful, and they are less likely to leave the business.
- Increase in productivity
- Increase in employee retention
- Increase in employee retention
- Humility allows us to recognize that there is much of life (in our case, much of our business) that we do not understand or that we are not fully aware of. It is the true acceptance of our being wrong, mistaken, incorrect, uninformed, off-track or any of the endless variations not being right. However, if we truly are aware and accept that other people may have an answer or contribution, then it allows us to be open to solutions or directions that we would have not considered had we assumed that we knew it all.
- Increase in collaboration
- Decrease in needless conflict
- Increase in project speed
- Personal Responsibility is sadly a waning character trait – in politicians, delivery drivers and in business. We are all familiar with the employee who shirks accountability and simply follows a minimal interpretation of the rules.An opposite wave of advocating personal responsibility seems to be manned by Jocko Willink and Jordan Peterson and it is sorely needed. Briefly: they advocate that if each individual is responsible for virtually everything they do, say or decide, (and those actions are guided by some of the other values here), the end result of the collection of those actions would be measurably better.
- Decrease in blaming others
- Increase in personal ownership increases job satisfaction
- Decrease in challenging behavior towards others
- Increase in engagement
Context is important
A lot of the values that I call out in the mind map are the same for leadership and for the group, however how those values affect what we do differ depending on context.
For example, being vulnerable – allowing others to see the areas in which we are weak – allows for better collaborative solutions. “I don’t really know about this, let’s use your idea as a base for our decision.” In order for someone to say this, a person has to brave criticism (“what do you mean you don’t know, isn’t this your job?”)
But if he or she doesn’t say those words and then follows the well-known indirect obfuscation of business jargon double-talk,3There’s a special place in hell collaboration between the two people stops or at least slows so much that the path forward is obscured. It’s not possible to tell what the other person means, so how can they decide what to do?
In the first context, the speaker might be an employee – after all, leaders usually have a bit more experience and knowledge about a subject, and we operate under the assumption that authority figures have better reason and decisions. Still, the employee would need to be vulnerable to speak those words and admit that their current knowledge has limits and not try to “look good” by tossing some jargon around. Hopefully the employee is wiling to learn and the leader unwilling to punish or criticize the employee for the admission.
However, what if the leader speaks these words? That’s a completely different context and effect. The “boss” doesn’t know what to do – an incredibly common occurrence, by the way – and he or she needs to admit the current limit of their knowledge – despite the assumption that they have more experience and can usually decide on a direction and compel people to work with little more than a wave of their hand. In this case, it’s up to the employee to work with the leader’s admission and honor the vulnerability by working towards a good solution or path, and staying away from any temptation to take advantage of the leader.
In both situations however, being vulnerable and stating the truth allows for better collaboration and most likely a better solution, one that does not come from conflict, position authority or intimidation.
Values work together
Importantly, these values work together. Even in the black and white of our mind map (okay, there’s colors, but still), the definitions of the values and how they interact depend on context. In some ways, the definitions of the values are similar to the old US Supreme Court definition of pornography – you know it when you see it.4“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.“.
In our example about vulnerability above, if each person is also respectful and personally responsible, the statement and resulting discussion is more safe and productive. Both respecting each other and personal responsibility fosters ownership, which enables a group project to succeed.
Leaders are critical
I’ve separated leadership and group values because leadership is critical in any analysis or movement of values in a business. By virtue of a leaders’ authority, they can directly affect the choices and duties of other people in the business, and by example and precedent, leaders indirectly affect how people behave and choose. Conversely, the collective values of a group can affect the way a leader behaves, and this is why diagram’s arrows go both ways.5Perhaps in some situations, the arrow going from the leadership to the group might be bigger than the one coming back because of the leaders’ power in some businesses.
Leadership must embody both the values a business benefits from but any change or implementation of the values it needs. Although individual employees are not completely dependent on a leader’s values – a person can decide to do the right thing even when the boss isn’t – transforming or improving a business is virtually impossible if the leadership is not on board.
This is a dense topic that is connected to virtually every part of a business – when our values are missing, that means that the business is negatively affected in virtually every way. However, if we embrace these values, the exact opposite happens, the business thrives and becomes more resilient.
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