In order to operate as a values-based business, business owners have to take the time to stop and determine what our values are. Progressive business conversations define stakeholders as the owners, clients and employees of a business - some even going as far as including the community the business operates in. When you are thinking about what your values are, you need to examine your gut emotions around each of these groups of people.
One thing I’ve found interesting working with small business owners over the past 5 years is that many times what you think your values are are not actually how you are running your business. This is one reason it is really important to stop and make a note of what values you want to be coming across to your stakeholders and compare them to what is actually coming across. For example, if your value is the best service but you are constantly advertising your competitive prices, that value may not be clear to one of your stakeholders (your clients). If your value is work-life balance but your team never feels like they can take a vacation, that value is not being made clear to them.
In my own consulting practice, I help business owners get clear on what values they are implying by looking at their financials. It’s amazing what you can learn about how you run your business when you pay attention to where you spend your money. Are you buying the latest and most ergonomic equipment and furniture? That could show you value the health of your employees and associates. Are you constantly buying lunch for your team or sponsoring happy hour? That could imply that you want them to feel happy and have fun when they work (or think of work) or that you value camaraderie.
Values never work alone though and if you have a team that is always worried about money or complaining that they want a raise, spending money on office perks could imply that you don’t value their work as much as you do their good spirits. For this reason, the financials are only one part of a complex picture.
My go-to exercise for determining your values (personally and professionally) is Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Mapping program. I’ve put a bit of my own spin on it below. For the full version, please check out her book!
Step 1: Decide which stakeholders you want to consider. I’ll use the examples listed above: myself (as the owner), my team (employees and/or collaborators and subcontractors), my clients, and my community. Although my business comes in contact with many other people, these are the four groups of people I’ve decided I want to consider when I make decisions around my business.
Step 2: How do you want each of these people to feel when they think about your business. WHOAH! I know - total woo there, but bare with me. I know that I want to feel the following things in relation to my business: freedom, abundance, connection, and purpose. I know that I want my team to feel respect, inspiration, abundance, and clarity. I know that I want my clients to feel at ease, confident, heard and that they are getting what they pay for. And I want my community to feel inspired, connected and grateful for my business.
To come to these words/feelings (no more than 4 per stakeholder is recommended), I sit down with a pile of index cards and write all the ways I hope that each of these groups of people feels when they think about my business. I write as many feelings or emotions as I can think of. Then I look for patterns and group those words together. From that group, I choose the one word that most clearly represents how I truly want them to feel when they work with or for me.
For example, when it comes to my team, I had written stable, abundant, and secure. I grouped all of these together initially thinking this was all about how much money they are making. Upon further reflection, I realized that it is really more than that - feeling abundant can happen if you have more vacation than you really need as an employee or if you never have to wait on payment as a subcontractor. It can also happen if there is always coffee brewing or I simply have time to stop and talk to you, particularly if you have questions or need advice. So abundant became the word that best represented how I want my employees and/or subcontractors and collaborators to feel when they work with me.
Repeat this step until you have 2-4 words for each group. I always have at least one extra feeling when it comes to myself because one of the reasons I run my own business is so that I can feel the way I want to feel. But you might be uber client-focused and have the most words around how you want your clients to feel when they hire you. There’s no right or wrong answer and there is no judgment on what values you come up with.
Step 3: Think about these values when you make decisions. This goes slightly against the old business coach perspective of increase sales and lower expenses to increase profits. This requires you to look at the success of your business in terms of how your stakeholders feel about your business. You might take on 25% more new clients this year and not hire any more staff. Your bottom line will definitely increase. But will your team feel abundant or will they feel overwhelmed? Will your clients feel like they are getting what they pay for or will they wonder if you have time to actually understand their needs? (Plug in whatever values you come up with here.)
The community one can be tricky. That’s a word that you have to define for yourself. For me, it means both my local community (St. Augustine) and the world as a community. I want my business to inspire people and to help them feel connected in new ways. And I want everyone who comes in contact with my business to be glad we exist. This can govern everything from what networking events I attend to where my business physically operates to how much plastic we use.
Step 4: Analyze your current business practices to see which ones are in line with the values you want to operate with and which ones are not. Make a list of the things you’d like to change. As it becomes feasible, start to gradually change those areas of your business to be more in alignment. Remember, you don’t have to change everything at once! Just start to move towards becoming the best version of your business that you can.
Step 5: When new decisions come up, revisit your values and think about which choice helps you become the business you want to be. This can be tricky when competing values are in play. Every decision we make as business owners will not serve every value we have laid out for our business. I try to follow the philosophy of serving the most stakeholders.
My desire to feel freedom in my business could be in direct conflict with my desire for my team to feel they have clarity in their work or for my clients to feel that they are confident that I’m handling things. In this case, I may decide to limit my freedom enough that my team and clients feel connected to me and are happy with our relationship. This will still serve my goals of freedom long term as I know that training someone new, albeit a team member, client or collaborator, takes way more energy and time then keeping someone I already work with satisfied.
In contrast, my desire to keep my team feeling abundant may conflict with my desire to feel abundant in my own life. If I pay them more than is feasible and that leaves me struggling to cover the overhead of my business or to pay my own bills, I could end up resenting them or even severing the relationship so I can start over with different rates. In this case, my own desire for abundance in my life and business might win over wanting to give that to my team.
As we near the end of September and head into the final quarter of the year, this is a great time to think about setting your business up for success in 2019. Yes, this involves looking at your financials and planning whether and how you will grow. But, I hope, it will also include looking at what values you would like your business to be espousing and what steps you can take to make that a reality.