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How Values Make or Break Your Business

Nov 5, 2007
Do you know the number one reason people leave their jobs? It's not because of money or the company dress policy. It's not because they did not get the corner office or because they were passed over for that much-deserved promotion.

Most people who jump ship do so because they just cannot stay one moment longer at their place of work and honor their own deeply held business or career values at the same time.

People might be able to happily get by with less money, but they cannot work for long in a situation that violates a deeply held core value.
What are Values?

The word values is tossed around a lot, but what are values?

Values go beyond beliefs. They are the core philosophies we hold sacred. People often report feeling as though they were born with these values.

Every individual has a core set of personal values he or she brings to work; every business has a core set of business values. The optimum business situation is when these sets of personal and business values overlap, blend and morph into what I call shared values.

Whether you are consciously aware of them or not,your personal values constitute your ideals, and shape your being - indeed they are your being. And whether you are in alignment with them or not-whether you own or work in a business that reflects them or not they affect your every thought, word and action.

I am the best example of how values- or rather a conflict in personal and business value-helped to shape my behavior and decision-making. I sold my thriving business, not because it was a failure- financially speaking, it was wildly successful- but because I was not able to keep that business and honor my own value of personal freedom. The nature of the business demanded too much time and dedication. Once I realized this, no amount of money could make me stay.

Sometimes values are in conflict, but the stronger value always wins out.

I have a friend who was teaching in a toxic (for her) school situation. When she was hired for the job she was thrilled to get any public school teaching job, no matter the school or philosophy. She did not think about whether or not this school was a good "fit" for her value-wise.

She learned the hard way about the importance of shared values.

Without really realizing it at the time, my friend held two values: a strong work ethic that included always delivering her very best, and professional freedom to be innovative in her delivery of her best.

From the get-go my friend was scrutinized frequently and expected to adhere to rigid planning and assessment tools. While other teachers would welcome such structure, my friend found it stifling.

To avoid the pain of poor performance assessments, and to adhere to her value of performance excellence, she tried to conform to the school's expectations and squeeze in some innovative teaching where she could.

Still, she grew increasingly unhappy because in conforming, she was forced to sacrifice her freedom to "plan creative activities in the classroom without getting caught" thus making her feel sneaky violating yet another one of her dearly held values, namely honesty.

The result of all this value-clashing? Her performance and self-esteem plummeted. By year's end, much as she loved teaching, she had no choice but to pack up her books and bulletin boards and hand in her resignation. But, there was an upside to all of this.

When she scheduled new job interviews, my friend was quick to ask about school procedures and policies. No longer willing to sacrifice her value of freedom for any teaching position, she came from a position of strength.

Eventually, my friend landed a new teaching job with lots of freedom built in. She felt a renewed sense of passion for her profession, and learned a valuable lesson on the value of seeking shared values in the workplace.

So, how does this information about values in the workplace impact you?

Well, let's pretend you're scouting for a new job. Like my friend, you'd be wise to come to any interview knowing your own values and then asking questions to see if your prospective employer's values, and those of the business you are considering joining, are in line with yours. For example, if you know you value time with family, you might ask about the company's flextime policy; if you value professional freedom, you might ask about the company's review and evaluation process.

If you take a job whose values are in conflict with yours, you are asking for trouble.

Conversely, if you are the employer interviewing prospective workers, you want to be clear on your own values, your business' values and the expectations that grow out of those. Then as you interview employee candidates, you can ask particular questions crafted to discover whether or not each candidate's values align with yours and those of your company.

Avoid direct (DUH!) questions, such as, "Do you value respect and hard work" Instead, ask your candidate to indirectly reveal his or her values by telling you about three people he or she most admires and why. Since we most often admire in others the positive traits and qualities we hold sacred in ourselves, you will gain some insight into each candidate's core values. You can then attract to your business those people whose values are most in alignment with yours and those of your business.

If you are a business owner, your business values are your company's invisible CEOs. Whether you realize it or not, your values help manage every aspect of your business. They guide your decisions; they help determine if your business is viable and valuable. When you create a business that is in alignment with your values-and when you bring people on board who are in harmony with those values-your business has the best chance of meeting your personal and financial goals.

How closely your business is aligned with your own values, and how closely your employees' values follow suit, determines the degree to which your business will fly or flop on all fronts. A strong sense of shared values allows you to initiate meaningful actions based on mutual agreement instead of spending all your time managing the fallout caused by not honoring them.

One last example . . .

In my company I insisted that every individual-vendors, employees, customers- treat each other with same courtesy and respect with which they would treat a guest in their home.During the hiring process, I always spoke about my company's values. I was always looking for that "respect value". Our motto was "People first!" I honed in on this value before exploring any technical expertise or skill the candidate brought to the table.
Without this shared value, our working relationship would have been doomed from day one. With the respect piece missing, we would not be happy with their performance and attitude, and they would not be happy trying to fit in with us.

The payoff for consistently knowing and acting from this and other shared values was that we enjoyed long term relationships with employees, vendors, clients and customers that stretched 25 years or more. We had corporate contracts that lasted 15 and 20 years, a time period unheard of in the contract dining services industry. Try using this value based approach next time you bring someone on your team.
About the Author
Steve Kennedy is a successful entrepreneur and certified business coach who works with business owners and senior level managers to achieve better results with less effort. For free resources/information go to: http://www.winningthegameofbusiness.com
New Book:http://questforultimatesuccess.com
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