Hawaiian Values in Business

The Power of Hawaiian Values in Business

Strong foundational values are one of the biggest strengths that any organization can have, in the ever-evolving landscape of business or otherwise. These values are not just guiding principles; they are lodestar, a point of clarity whenever the correct decisions or the appropriate directions can be difficult to figure out. However, finding the appropriate values for your organization isn’t always the most straightforward process.

Fortunately, strong values for any situation can be found in Hawaiian culture, among the several traditional and versatile Hawaiian values. These values are fundamental here at Living Pono and can serve anybody well, as long as you find a few that truly speak to you. Let’s take a look at some of these values and how they play out in the business world.


Some Fundamental Values

When looking through traditional Hawaiian values, you’ll quickly find that there is no shortage of options to choose from. Even more so, many of these values—if not all of them—are tightly intertwined, and so it may be difficult to select “just a few,” or it might be a little pedantic to stress about exactly which ones to choose since many will be pulling heavily from one another.

To get an idea of what these values can look like, though, let’s talk about three fundamental ones that everybody should know. These are the values of Aloha, Ohana, and Kuleana.

Aloha is known by many people as both a greeting and a farewell, and while this is certainly correct, it doesn’t quite capture the full story. Aloha also expressed love and compassion and called for us to treat one another with empathy. It means a spirit of sharing, reminding us to tend to our communities in every capacity. It means humility, which reminds us of our humble position on this Earth.

Ohana might be quickly recognized by many as “family,” which is certainly the most direct translation. This concept of family extends further than just immediate or blood relation, though. It includes anybody who might be considered family, including close friends and other special relationships. It is a reminder of the responsibility that we have towards our families, and of the cultural legacy that we share, receive, and pass on with, from, and to our families.

Kuleana pulls these two values together, as do many Hawaiian values. It is a concept related to the Hawaiian way of life, about the responsibility that we have to our family and community, and to the land that provides for us. It holds us accountable for our actions and empowers us to be committed to cultural preservation.

This commitment to cultural preservation holds a lot of weight, and it is a direct extension of the previous values. Our culture is our family, and our family is our culture. In both of these, we find the love and the compassion described and valued in Aloha. This is even stronger than the Hawaiian tradition as it is reflected in the historical and present resistance to occupation. In the words of Queen Liliuokalani, never cease to act because you fear you may fail. The true secret is to know your worth. It will carry you through many dangers.


Company Culture and Relations

The Hawaiian values extend into every nook and cranny of life and so, naturally, they extend into our professional lives as well. In business, these three foundational Hawaiian values have significant implications.

Put Aloha, Ohana, and Kuleana together in a corporate setting and you get a particularly well-crafted culture of care. From a leadership perspective, these values might show up in Servant Leadership and Mentor Management approaches. In both of these, the fundamental idea is that investing in your team is not only just the correct thing to do, but will foster a larger culture of commitment to the company mission, and will pay off in better work on the clock.

Ohana means family, and caring for our communities. If we include our workplace community, this means taking care of workers as individuals with their own interests. At the end of the day, not everybody is committed to this gig for life. Many have other aspirations that will eventually lead them out of this organization, and that’s perfectly fine! Working against that aspiration can create animosity and friction between great workers and their workplace. Helping these workers chase their aspirations, especially in ways that are aligned with company goals, is part of extending the help and solidarity that we all owe each other anyway. It is part of Aloha and of Ohana.


Real World Examples

Ohana is perhaps the easiest of these values to find explicitly in the practices of successful businesses, especially in the capacity of legacy. Recall that part of Ohana is tending to the cultural legacies that we share. Two notable companies immediately came to find this: Disney and Apple.

Disney, on one hand, has a clear legacy of “magic” and “wonder” leading its trajectory. Not only do consumers know what to expect from the company, but workers understand what they are expected to deliver. There is a commitment to putting this magic on the screen, and to honoring the awe and wonder inspired by previous generations, making sure that each team meets their responsibilities to the best of their abilities. This is a powerful driving force that keeps Disney growing and successful in perpetuity and is perhaps a less-obvious example of what a “family” oriented principle might look like. Of course, as we mentioned, “family” is only a simplified translation of Ohana and its implications.

Apple exemplifies a much different version of this same principle. Legacy is just as important at Apple, but less so in the magic of creation and more so in the status and design of their products. The Apple aesthetic is universally recognizable, and the convenience of the ecosystem keeps Apple users within the network of products. Apple’s commitment to its own styling trends begets its legacy—consumers know exactly what to expect from an Apple product about to launch, and so workers know exactly what standard to uphold. Once again, legacy drives the brand forward, and Apple continues to hold the unmovable market share that it always has.


Modern-Day Alignment Challenges

One of the biggest challenges that can show up when trying to implement traditional Hawaiian values like these into a business or leadership strategy is proper contextualization. Although these values indeed permeate every avenue of our lives, they’re often easier to envision or materialize in more interpersonal settings. As with our real-world examples, Ohana’s legacy looks a bit different than what we might think of the family-oriented value.

Contextualization is the biggest challenge when we want to implement any sort of foundational value. Finding the right values and just causes is a struggle in and of itself, but values by themselves cannot steer the ship. It is understanding our material conditions, the conditions of our organization and our workers, and understanding what form and direction these values have to take that define us as leaders, and ultimately define the trajectories of our organizations.

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.

Finally, consider following the Living Pono Podcast to listen to episodes about living righteously, business management concepts, and interviews with business leaders.

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