I recently started a business — an innovation-and brand-strategy business. As I pondered what I was about to do and how I wanted to go about it, I couldn’t help feeling that my business needed to reflect the advice I would ultimately be giving my clients.
Like all well intentioned wannabe entrepreneurs, I set about my due diligence. I shared the idea with some trusted friends, did the normal market research, wrote a business overview — outlining my business priorities, purpose, and vision — and contemplated core values. In truth, I was dreading going through this part of the process because it’s so often proved to be an arduous task when I’ve done it with former clients.
But surprisingly, it was pretty straightforward — for one reason. Some years earlier my wife and I had articulated a set of core family values. Instead of picking values that were aspirational or based on a sense of moral obligation to do the right thing — which is so often the case with corporations — we drew on the basis of experience, emotion, and the things that really mattered to us; the things that were part of our core family identity; the things we knew deep down we could own and passionately advocate across every facet of the business.
As we pondered the highs and lows, aces, and rabbit-holes of circumstances that had crossed our paths over the years — we recognized that certain motivations had become centers in our gravity time and time again. We acknowledged that the convictions that had so profoundly affected our “yesterdays” quite simply had to feature in measuring our “todays” as well as guiding our “tomorrows.”
Obviously, there are a plethora of values we could have readily selected from such as teamwork, commitment, or integrity. These are great words — indeed one could argue they are a prerequisite for doing business. There’s no doubt our business model lives or dies on transparent collaboration with strategic value partners across the globe, so it goes without saying that all three of these — but especially teamwork — is critical to the business.
But for us, these terms and others — including love, giving, and innovation — felt more implicit. They very much needed to be part of the business, but as an extension rather than the core of our values system. What we were looking for were a set of terms that reflected our life experiences. We wanted terms that together were a belief system that would play a more explicit role in characterizing our brand as well as building sources of inspiration. We like to refer to these type of values as “valuable assets” — assets that are a definitive source of market positioning and competitive advantage.
These are the values we picked:
Each one fuels a personal-level emotion, but mostly importantly, we felt could they be authentically operationalized at every level throughout the business. So, again, while teamwork is a fundamentally important part of the business, it is more specifically and externally manifested through perseverance. Here’s an example.
Recently we were engaged in a very time-sensitive assignment that seemed impossible to achieve for many reasons. We were working with a number of external partners who, for completely valid reasons, couldn’t see how the project would be delivered by the deadline.
Through a series of fairly intense weeks of project reprioritization and negotiation both on the client and strategic-partner and supply-chain side, we were able to redesign the entire project framework and deliver a more effective outcome within the timeframe. On reflection, everyone agreed that working together — but more importantly going the extra mile — made all the difference between complete project failure and success. What’s more, the process provided insights that in turn are being used as key performance indicators for future projects.
When values are deeply imbedded in an organization’s culture, they can profoundly impact a variety of areas: attitudes toward decision-making, the way people build processes, innovation, hiring, conflict resolution, dealing with a competitive takeover of clients. Every touch point of a customer experience is affected. Basically, values affect the heartbeat of a company, its day-to-day modus operandi, as well as the outcomes that allow it to grow and change.
At the same time, a company’s values have the potential to play a powerful role in building differentiation and distinctive capability that is difficult for competitors to authentically replicate — which again is why we believe each value can play a bigger role than just making us feel good about what we’re doing. They can translate into tangible metrics such as increased number of new contracts, more profitable projects, and more effective operating procedures. Values have the potential to be quantified on a balance sheet, again as a valuable asset.
There’s no doubt that values — as with its cousin, brand — find it difficult to establish line-item credibility on a balance sheet. This article isn’t about to argue that cause. But maybe, just maybe the day will come where values are a nonnegotiable on any financial statement — where company mission, purpose ,and best practices are really tied to what they believe.
Next time around, we will look at each value more specifically, discussing how they can be made real in the day to day life of a business.
Paul Graves is a brand and business strategist. He has worked in and around the advertising, brand, and marketing communication industry for more than 20 years, advising for some of the world’s most recognized brands. His company, See Seven, currently helps organizations better understand how to more effectively leverage their internal brand, culture, and business models to deliver more valuable customer experiences.