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How to Discover Your Business Values

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Read Time: 8 min
This post is part of a series called Strategic Planning for Your Microbusiness.
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For businesses in today's world, the blind pursuit of profit — at whatever the cost to people and the planet — is no longer a viable option. Most of us now expect businesses to care about their impact on society and the wider world. We've come to a point where people are fed-up of money being the main goal of life. The US might be the richest country in the world, but it's a long way from being the happiest. It's time to find another way.

Business Values - CommunityBusiness Values - CommunityBusiness Values - Community
Giving back to the community, such as having employees volunteer to pick up trash, can be an important part of your business values. (Image source: Envato Elements)

People want to know where their products come from, and that their money makes a difference. That's why we've seen the rise of the Fair Trade movement, organic food, TOMs shoes, interest in the provenance of food, and companies taking their environmental responsibilities seriously.

Your business values matter. They're important to you, your business, the people you work with, and your customers.

Discovering your business values helps you create a business that reflects who you are and the things you care about. Knowing your values provides a guiding light for making business decisions. When you do business putting your values first, you can soundly sleep at night knowing you've lived by what matters to you.

Naming your values is good for your business. It's a good way to give yourself a competitive advantage, because your customers can see what sets you apart from the competition. Values make for sustainable business. Sticking to your values might mean you have to sacrifice opportunities to make a quick buck. But you can stay true to what matters to you and turn a profit.

What Are Business Values?

Together with your elevator pitch and your mission and vision statements, your business values define who you are as a business.

Your values are part of your brand, but discovering your values is more than just a branding exercise. It's not about shiny paint to make your business look nice. It's about the core of who you are and what you do. The point of values is that they must be authentic. Lay claim to values you don't have, and your customers will call you out on it and spend their money elsewhere.

It’s not about shiny paint to make your business look nice. It’s about the core of who you are and what you do.

"Values" sounds like a grand, noble word, but it doesn't have to be so intimidating or grandiose. Having good values doesn't need to be a struggle. Often, your values are the things you do without thinking, such as meeting deadlines.

What's more, values are not just about morals. They're what's important to you in business. For example, "having a good time" isn't exactly a matter of ethics, but it could well be one of your values.

In this tutorial, I'll give you a set of tools to help you discover your business values. Values are partly to do with your responsibility to the wider world. But they're more than that. They influence the way you do business, day-to-day. They impact the way your employees work together, the way you interact with customers. Your values are the oil that keep the cogs of your business moving.

Getting clear about your values is a process of discovery. The values you discover today are not set in stone. Your values will change and grow with your business. To that extent, this tutorial isn't an exhaustive guide to finding your values. I'll just be sharing some tools you can use to dig a little deeper into what matters to you. You may want to take this further and come up with your own methods for discovering your values.

By the end of this process, you will ideally have a list of up to seven values that are important to your business. Any more, and it will be too easy to overlook or forget some of them.

1. Think About Your Values

The first step in discovering your values is to take some time out to think. Though these are ordered steps, you can do them in any order, or pick out the steps that resonate with you.

Step 1: Discover what matters to you most as a person?

As this is your business, the values it embodies are likely to be in close alignment with your personal values.

Set aside some time to think through and jot down answers to the following questions:

  • How do you like to treat other people? How do you like people to treat you?
  • Who are some people you admire? What about businesses you admire? What do you admire about them?
  • What are some things you would never do?
  • What are some of the biggest issues facing the world today?
  • When you spend money, what do you like to know about the product you're buying? What matters to you about the person or business you're buying from?

Step 2: Tell Your Business Story

Do you know what makes a story? Stories happen when what matters to the lead character is in danger. How they respond to that threat creates the story.

Your business has a story, even if you're just at conception stage. Write down what led you to set up your business (or to think about setting up a business). What journey has your business been on so far?

By telling your businesses story, you'll find crucial moments when you had to act to make things happen. Here, you'll find your values.

We'll cover more about telling the story of your business in a future post.

Step 3: Run Through a Checklist

Read through the list of sample values below. If you'd like to find more, do a web search for "business values".

The point isn't that the values you come up with should be taken from a list somewhere. The point is to prompt you to think through potential values you may have missed so far.

You're looking for the values that resonate with you:

  • accountability
  • accuracy
  • adventure
  • beauty
  • calmness
  • community
  • compassion
  • connectedness
  • discipline
  • environment
  • fairness
  • friendship
  • fun
  • gender equality
  • gratitude
  • happiness
  • honesty
  • humor
  • inclusion
  • kindness
  • loyalty
  • optimism
  • originality
  • passion
  • people
  • perseverance
  • playfulness
  • professionalism
  • reliability
  • service
  • simplicity
  • social justice
  • transparency

2. Talk About Your Values

Values don't exist in a vacuum. The whole point of values is that they're about how we interact with other people. That means it's a good idea to get other people involved in the process of discovering your business values.

Step 1: Ask Your Team

Talk to your employees, subcontractors or business partner(s) about what they think is important in your business. Make it clear that they needn't be afraid of blunt honesty.

If you're still in the process of forming your business, ask friends and family for help. You can also ask your mastermind group. We'll look at how to create a mastermind group in a future post.

Step 2: Ask Your Customers

Your values need to chime well with your customers. If there's a mismatch between what you value and what your customers value, you'll end up driving away business rather than drawing it in.

A good way to get customers involved is through an online survey. Of course, you can also ask face-to-face if you know your customers well.

Find out:

  • What matters to them.
  • What attracted them to your business.
  • Why they chose you over your competitors.
  • What they think your values are, based on what they know of your business.

3. Live Your Values

Now you've started to discover your business values, it's time to start integrating them into your business. Your aim is to weave your values through everything you do.

Step 1: Prioritize Your Values

Which of the values you've discovered matter the most to you? Try to pare down your list to a maximum of seven values. These are the values you'll weave through everything you do.

Step 2: Expand on Your Values

For each of your values, write a short sentence explaining what that value means in the context of your business. For example:

  • Integrity. When we say we do something, we do it, no matter what.
  • Playfulness. We want everyone who gets in touch with our business to feel great after talking with us.
  • Loyalty. We put our loyal customers first.

Step 3: Evaluate Your Business (or Business Idea)

This is the step that will take the longest, and it's an ongoing process. Examine everything your business does, and look for ways to better integrate your values into your work. You may have to start by troubleshooting, focusing on areas where you're currently acting contrary to your values.

Step 4: Reinvest Your Values Into the Process of Discovery

This is the most exciting part, and where you get to be creative. Your values should influence everything you do, including the process of how you discover your values. For some businesses, the writing and talking process I've outlined will be the right way forward. For others, you'll need to take the values you've discovered, and reinvest them into the process of discovery. For example:

  • If gender equality is one of your values, then it's important to make sure that you've given women an equal voice in deciding the values of your business.
  • If playfulness matters to you, then why not discover your values in a playful way? Set aside a team away-day when you'll just have fun together in a way that lets you talk about what's important for your business.
  • If simplicity is one of your values, then it's worth making sure your list of values is as concise as you can make it.

Over to You

What values are important to you in business? Do you think the trend towards businesses being open about their values is a good thing, or something to be questioned?

Editorial Note: This content was originally published in November of 2013. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.

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