How the use of personal values contributes to a healthy business culture and how to incorporate them
Values – those intangible priorities that tell us ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that’ – are a combination of ethical and emotional guideposts for behavior. Following through on them make your parents proud or make you good parents, raising good citizens from children but – how do they belong in your business? Can you ask employees to follow your values when they come with their own? And, if so, where do values apply in business decisions?
Well, obviously, they show up every day in your employment practices, pricing, adherence to contracts and agreements, affiliations, consistency with what you do vs what you say. But, beyond internal company flow, what do company values do in the ‘outside’ world? How can values – whether living them or promoting them – have an impact on company fortunes?
Let’s look at a quick example with how one example of values – let’s say ‘empowerment’ – show up in employment policy and its repercussions.
Empowerment can encourage people to speak up, take risks or initiative. An employee – say a salesperson – with a sense of empowerment can decide, in the moment, how to price a product or extend terms to get the sale. However, if the salesperson does so without context – without knowing available inventory, where cost overtakes profit, other promotions in the works – their empowerment can create an awkward situation, a loss and an unrealistic expectation. So, while ‘empowerment’ can be a strong value encouraged in employees, it needs to come with managed expectations: clear definitions on how empowerment can show up and be applauded. Using our enthusiastic salesperson, they need to know that they have the authority to make deals up to some limit, whether that’s dollar amount, quantity, offers of exclusivity, terms of payment, speed of delivery.
How might empowerment show up with an operations employee rather than someone with line (revenue) responsibility?
• requests for advanced training
• product development suggestions
• questioning established norms
• volunteering competitive insight
All these could come from a workforce that knows it’s been empowered to contribute what will benefit the company as well as lead to benefits for its team members.
And what impact could this have for the business overall? Perhaps:
• a more highly trained workforce, speeding innovation or production
• a business that responds to competitive threats quickly, protecting its market and profit
• finding opportunity and solutions from new and diverse voices.
And, over time, with a list of values that are promoted internally – perhaps on conference room and lunchroom signage – and externally in marketing messaging, your values become part of your reputation, setting you apart from competitors and distinguishing yourself within your marketplace.
Certainly, it all sounds great, yes? But, just remember our eager salesperson who was prepared to give impossible terms for the sake of getting the sale, rather than generating profit. Because values are intangible and defined by the person who holds them, it’s important to provide clarity and a range of how each company value might show up or be displayed. Examples, public acknowledgement of successful values implementation, trainings, inclusion in job descriptions, discussion during candidate interviews – these can all go a long way to encourage enactment of those values you want to exemplify, from accountability, to diversity, work/life integration, ownership and more.