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Values and Choices

In my previous column I talked about the importance of defining the mission/vision for your company.  Absent that the company is really a collection of companies, with each individual employed there deciding for himself what the mission/vision is for “his” company. As part of a fully developed business plan your company needs to define its values.  What do I mean by values? Values are those guiding principles that do not change over time, even while an individual or business changes. Many of us live spend our lives without really addressing our personal values.  We do what we do because “that is the way I am”. That lack of self-reflection diminishes an individual’s ability to effectively lead those he works with.  And without understanding your own values it is difficult, if not impossible, to codify the values of your company.  The reason this is true is all companies reflect the values of the owner. You haven’t yet formulated your personal values and are stuck trying to do so?  Consider trying these exercises. Stephen Covey suggests in “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” that you imagine you are at your own funeral, listening to what the attendees are saying about you.  What do you think they would say?  What do you want them to say?  Write down what comes to mind and look for the values embedded therein. Carry a piece of paper and a pen with you for a week.  As you are faced with decisions and choices, consider the legacy you are creating.  Who you are is what you do.  What did you reference when you were faced with a tough choice?  What comes to mind is often what you really are about. Ask those who love and care about you what their thoughts are regarding your values.  Who do they think you are?  Just listen, don’t respond.  Note what you hear and then reflect on it. You might be surprised by what you hear.  If you are not hearing what you think about yourself and you don’t like what you are hearing, consider it an opportunity.  We are the choices we make.  Values are why we make the choices that we do.  The clearer you are about yours, the better you feel about the choices you make. Okay, so you have your values clearly defined.  It might look like a list of 4-7 touch points, possibly with some explanation attached.  Words like Integrity, Caring and so on might be in the list. What is next?  Now you are ready to work on the values of your company.  How to get this process started? As I mentioned in my previous column, ask the people who are part of your company. What do they think the values of the company are?  This can be done a couple of ways. One way is you can ask them to write their thoughts down and give them to you.  If you take this route, do arrange to meet with your people individually for the transfer of this information.  As part of each of these meetings, thank the person for taking the time to do what you asked.  Then ask them to talk about what they wrote and why they wrote what they did.  Listen, don’t correct.  Take notes. As part of this process you might interact with your very best clients, trade contractors and suppliers.  They are all part of your company.  Doing so makes them feel even better about your company and gives them a story to tell. Compare what you have heard from everyone.  Distill it down.  These are the company’s values. Once you have the values in hand do present them to your employees.  As you present each value ask your employees for examples of how it is brought to life on a day-to-day basis.  Doing so will help all connect the dots from this session to the everyday business of the business. Another way to approach this process is to engage a facilitator who would work with you and your people, typically over a day away from the business, to do a download from all the attendees.  The facilitator will then work with the group to distill the resulting information into the company’s values. Either way helps to create a wonderful sense of team.  Your company is clearer about its drivers, the non-negotiable principles that make it what it is.  And you are ready to take the next step in building your business plan!

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