Incorporating Your Values Into Your Business Strategy

ValuesHow to begin?  Like much that has been successful at Tom’s of Main, we explored our identity and defined a mission that squared with it. 

Winging it is, it seems, our specialty.  But in the process, we learned a lot.  For any business leader who is eager to try to merge a company’s values with strategy, here are some key steps to take.

1.  Identify your personal and professional values.  How?  The simplest way to articulate your values is in “I believe” statements.  For example:

  • “I believe profit is essential to a healthy business.”
  • “I believe that people are worthy of respect.”
  • “I believe our business should benefit this community.

2.  Raise the questions that will provide answers about beliefs and values, force them to the surface.  Don’t be afraid to be too general, or “philosophical.”  (You are questioning the nature of your business, it’s essence, and that, after all is what philosophy is all about.)

3.  Be willing to ask the big questions.  For example:

  • “Is business only quantitative – about the numbers?”
  • “Is it qualitative – about values?”
  • “Should there be some coherence between what we value in business and what we value in our lives outside of the office?”

4.  Remember that this kind of “values audit” needs to be inclusive.  The values articulated by someone earning $100,000 and sitting in a boardroom may be very different from the values of someone making $15,000.  Both need to be heard and taken into account.

megaphone5.  To help people break out of the confines of typical business discussions, bring in someone from outside the company who can speak about values.

Inviting eminent theologian like Richard Niebuhr to address the board of directors at Tom’s of Main had a tremendous impact on everyone.

His presence was so unusual for a business meeting that it gave a refreshing depth and seriousness to our discussions.  Also include some reading material that raises ethical issues.

For example:

  • Leadership and Quest for Integrity, by Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr., and Richard R. Ellsworth
  • Corporate Ethics and Strategic Planning, by R. Edward Freeman and Daniel R. Gilbert, Jr
  • I and Thou, by Martin Buber

6.  The same kind of “intellectual-in-residence” may not work for every business.  Find someone who can speak to the values everyone holds in common, who can address the whole person, not just the analytical business issues on the table.

Tom’s tried a religious thinker who could talk about a philosophical issue – liberty or identity – that might be relevant to business.  Your company might need a social worker, a doctor, or someone else who can speak with passion about a powerful life questions.

th-17.  Work in groups of 4 to 6 to answer the questions, one at a time, “Who are we?” and “What are we about?”

Make sure each group is evenly balanced so that one isn’t packed with all talkers while another comprises only listeners.

8.  Once you think you have answers to these questions, write them down.  Edit them.  Invite companywide comments.  Edit them again.  Send the final draft to the board.

9.  Implement these beliefs – your mission – into your business strategy.  You’ve given thought about it – now give it a try.

10. Remember, nothing is written in stone.  Your first attempt might now work.  You’re making a huge change in the way you do business; it will take some getting used to for everyone.  Being a pioneer is never easy.  Living the mission at Tom’s of Main didn’t happen in a day.

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