Business values

Values should be at the core of every business. They're what your business stands for, your principles or philosophy, your reason for being. Your business's values will help to steer your business, management and employees in the right direction. This guide explains a simple 3-step process that you can take to develop values for your business.

Business values can be:

  • the principles you stand for personally – for example, integrity, perseverance, determination, innovation, respect, passion and fair-mindedness
  • the beliefs and attitudes you and your staff have in common in the workplace – how people should behave, the way managers should act, how work should be done, how staff should treat each other at work
  • your organisation's standards of behaviour – what is acceptable business practice. From a customer viewpoint, values are the kind of service they can expect to get when they deal with your business.

A clear set of values, agreed and understood by management and employees, are often behind most successful organisations. If your business is yet to establish a set of values, the 3-step process below can help you to identify and develop them.

Developing business values

1.  Map your personal principles, beliefs and values under categories

Some common business processes are listed below. You can add or substitute other categories of your own. It can also be useful to look at other businesses' values, especially organisations that you admire or aspire to. But don't forget that you are creating your own values and spelling out what your business stands for.

Sample business categories

  • Business growth
  • Business associates
  • Work
  • Customer service
  • Decision making
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Business improvement
  • Staff
  • Market identity
  • Financial material
  • Social community
  • Environmental sustainability

For each category, you could answer these questions to help clarify your thinking.

  • What principles and values come to mind when you think of each category?
  • Why is each value you list important to you?
  • What influence does it have on the way you approach or manage a business?

Including your key employees in this process can empower them and create a feeling of worth and ownership. Your employees are more likely to embrace your business values, and embody them in their working life, if they have been a part of the process to create them. They will feel connected to your strategic goals. They might also highlight values you may have not considered.

2.  Reflect on the meaning of each value

Sometimes we lose contact with the words we use to express values – what they really mean for us. When listing your values, try to clarify each one and the meaning behind it. You could use the following questions to help tease out the detail of each value:

  • What is this value about? What do you really mean by it? Do staff understand it? Will your customers understand it?
  • What assumptions are behind this value? What other words, ideas or mental images do you associate with this value?

Your values shouldn't be long, convoluted statements; 1 to 2 words or a short, simple phrase is usually sufficient.

Simple, to-the-point values are more easily recalled by staff and embraced by customers and partners. You may need a brief explanation, but avoid making the values too complicated.

Once you have completed this step, and have a good understanding of each value you have selected for your business, you are ready to turn your values into practical principles and behaviour.

3.  Translate your values into a set of guiding principles and standards of behaviour

This step helps you turn a value into action. Here's an example:

  • Value: Respect
  • Principle: I am open in my dealings with people and expect others to be open with me.
  • Behaviour: If I have a disagreement with someone I'll try to resolve it directly with them, rather than involve colleagues.

Implementing business values

After completing these 3 steps, you are now ready to develop a draft values statement with your staff. When you do, try to keep it relevant and simple:

  • Less is more; 5 core values everyone knows and cares about are better than 25 that don't mean much to anyone.
  • Core values are values that act as behavioural guidelines that shape everyone's actions and influence your strategy, what you do and what you don't do.

To have an impact on your business, you need to make your values a part of everything your business does. Some steps you can take every day to reinforce with staff the importance of living your business values include:

  • Stand up for business values consistently. Be bold – you may decide not to go down a path that brings short-term benefits because it doesn't align with the bigger picture.
  • Regularly talk about your values and test new ideas and suggestions against how well they align to your values.
  • Select and promote staff on their values, not just their job ability. For example, make values a key criterion in recruiting and promoting staff.
  • Train staff in key values. For example, if one of your values is teamwork, provide all staff with training in how to work as a team.
  • Encourage staff to speak out about breaches of values.
  • Challenge people when you see them do and say things that undermine values or praise people when they embrace values.
  • Raise values as part of your meetings and discussions when considering courses of actions or business decisions.
  • Make your values visible to staff and customers. Include them in your staff code of conduct, on your intranet and website, display them in your work and common areas, use them in staff inductions, etc.

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