Identifying Your Business’s Core Values
Embarking on a journey to shape your business’s vision or trying to re-strategize during a challenging time? Discovering and embracing your core values isn’t just a process— it’s your compass. It is an important process that will not only help both workers and stakeholders align themselves with the project but can also grant guidance to define a better trajectory for you, your business, and everybody who is involved. Indeed, on both the consumer and investment side of things, people are more sensitive to backing and supporting shared values and principles than before. And, on the leadership side of things, strong core values can help make bigger and more difficult business decisions easier and clearer to make. However, picking the right core values might not be as easy as it seems. For these to be genuine and useful, your selection will have to depend on your principles, those of your team, and both the industry and trajectory that you aim to take. Understanding just cause, how to work through contradiction, and how to contextualize to your specific situation are great first steps to identifying which core values you should be representing.
Understanding Just Cause
In Simon Sinek’s Infinite Game, the business leadership speaker and the author describe something called a just cause. In short, a just cause is some version of the future based on achievable ideals—something to aspire to, and something to guide your work and your motivation. Identifying a just cause is much like proposing a solution to a larger problem. It involves envisioning an ideal future as an improvement of the world and a goal to strive for. This gives both you and your organization direction and purpose, motivating a reason to be successful, more than just success itself. When your ideals are on the line, work is a lot more than just work.
Bringing this just cause into a tangible, relatable strategy is exactly what core values look like. By studying your ideal outcome, you can pick apart and understand the core properties that make up this outcome, and thus the core values that you’ll want to stick to. Compromising these values is compromising on the future that you want to see, and if you’re comfortable steering away from that future, what’s the point?
Nailing down these concepts, these ideals can be tough to pin down without vocalizing or communicating with other individuals with skin in the game. Whether it’s the current board drawing up a plan for the future or co-founders exploring what this new business will look like, bouncing ideas off one another to understand what a shared ideal looks like. Which properties should come first can be incredibly fruitful and enlightening.
Working Through Contradiction
In both the planning process and the implementation processes, you’re bound to hit not only tensions but contradictions. It is important to see contradictions as useful, though, and not just obstacles. For example, in the planning process, identifying values may lead to some clashing principles. Identifying the nature of these clashes can help you understand exactly what the “problem” is, and whether this is an impasse. Often, contradictions can be artifacts of a larger framework and not a pure contradiction of values. For example, a principle based on company growth might rub against a principle based on establishing a great culture of care for workers. Providing extensive benefits can be pricey, especially as the company grows and adds more players to the roster. However, this is only a contradiction in the larger framework of a profit maximization world. If, instead of just maximizing profits and minimizing costs, you look at growth as reach, influence, and capacity for creating solutions, suddenly making sure your workers are taken care of isn’t a contradiction at all. Investing in your team is strongly correlated with better output.
Contradictions can serve as refinement. While some ideals and values may initially appear incompatible, often you will be able to find either a framing that better outlines how these values will need to look for you, or entirely produce new values and ideals that seamlessly align with your vision, and that are more compatible with the entire team. These are the dialectics of leadership and of planning for the future. As giants have said before, we should embrace contradictions, as they are what create progress and move history forward!
Actual Utility of Core Values
Identifying core values may seem like an abstract planning process or some superficial branding technique, but there are very real and concrete benefits and use cases for a clear and communicated set of core values. We’ve talked already about trajectory, and there’s more about that here, but another important use is worker and stakeholder alignment with the brand.
Especially with the help of an OKR framework, core values can help communicate the importance of different tasks. Without this communication, it can seem that much of the work is pointless, or something like “busywork.” Core values and OKR-style communication, however, help give larger meaning to tasks and help contextualize everyday efforts into the overarching mission and company trajectory. They help everybody understand how all the pieces fit together, and that does a lot of work towards creating not just a productive workplace environment, but also a healthy and positive one.
So, identifying your business’s core values does a lot more than just fill out your About page. And, while identifying these values may not always be quick and easy, the process itself can be quite simple. Speaking broadly, the steps are as follows:
- Pitch and discuss an ideal future—a just cause.
- Identify the defining properties and the corresponding values.
- Consider the contradictions and refine.
- Contextualize these values in your industry and specific framework.
- Never stop evaluating.
Living Pono is dedicated to communicating business management concepts with Hawaiian values. Founded by Kevin May, an established and successful leader and mentor, Living Pono is your destination to learn about how to live your life righteously and how that can have positive effects in your career. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or contact us here. Also, join our mailing list below, so you can be alerted when a new article is released.
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