When you are starting a business most people will tell you that the most important thing to think about is what you want to do. Some will tell you that having a clear vision is critical so you know what you want to achieve. Well my view is that how you want to work, i.e. your values, is the most important thing to know.
By your values, I mean what you believe your business should stand for, how you want to operate.
In the modern world with rapidly changing technology what you do is likely to change and so is your vision for success. Bill Gates started with a vision of wanting the whole world to have computers and now wants to address the major problems of the world like Malaria.
Your Ten Commandments
Think of your values like the ten commandments that set out the framework for how your business will operate for you and then all the staff you will recruit. This means that as you grow how you operate will stay consistent and your customers can feel confident that what they are going to receive will stay at the same high standard.
To be effective your values need to be inspirational and clear. For example , many corporates have Great Customer Service as one of their values but what does that really mean? Bringing it to life is more than a matter of finding the right words, it is about what you actually do because of that value.
Zappos the shoe company has “deliver WOW through service” this begins to give a feel about what service means. To bring it to life you need to outline the behaviours that go with the value, how you will measure the WOW in this example. Making your values real, means identifying stories you can tell about how you implement your values, it means putting in place systems that reinforce what you think is important, it means rewarding and recognising staff that personify your values.
Timpsons, the shoe repairer and key cutter, believes so much in customer service that they give every member of staff who serves customers the authority to spend up to £500 to solve a customer problem. They don’t have to check with the boss, they are empowered to implement their customer service value – the company is showing that they really mean it when they say they want to customer to be happy.
An example of why values need to be ranked
But having values is not enough, you need to know which is most important for the awful times when you can’t apply all your values to a situation.
I was working with the board of a PR agency and wanted them to be clear about what was their top value. For the MD the top priority was never ever letting a document leave with an error in it; for the rest of the directors their top value was never ever missing a deadline.
While in a perfect world you avoid all mistakes and do everything on time, in the real-world errors and delays do happen. So, when the receptionist gets a document with a spelling mistake and the courier is waiting to collect the package to take to a key client who does the receptionist lie to, the MD or the directors?
Without clarity about what is the top value, staff will be unsure, and even when you are working on your own you will also waste time thinking what should I do, how do I choose which of my values to follow? Having clear ranked values allows you to make consistent decisions without having to think every-time.
For your clients it means that they know, in this PR agency’s case, whether they need to check every document or might get things after the deadline.
Part of creating a niche
How you run your business is part of how you niche yourself. Having clear values that you can promote and reinforce in your marketing messages and the way you behave can make you stand out even in a very crowded market.
Ikea has a value “Daring To Be Different” which they explain as “We question old solutions and, if we have a better idea, we are willing to change.” Their business has always been based on a different approach, that is their niche and they have changed the way the furniture business is done.
So, think about your values and how you can bring them to life, can you show you care by something you give to each client? Can you show speed matters by tracking how fast you respond to a customer and sharing the data on your response times?
By knowing your values you set yourself free to be creative and innovative and lay the foundations for future success. But make sure they really reflect how you want the business to run, that you will be happy to follow them when you are under pressure.
If you can’t be true to them then you will just be like a person who is untrustworthy, you never know where you are with them, and is that the type of business you want to run?
Sarah Brown has run inspire2aspire, a highly successful strategic consultancy and business coaching practice for over 25 years, and has worked with countless businesses and charities in over one hundred market sectors. To find out more please visit https://inspire2aspire.co.uk.