Business people often have a tendency to concentrate so much on their day-to-day business that they end up losing sight of some pretty important basic matters, like their values.
Values form the unconscious base of everything we do, and they impact so many of our regular decisions without us even realizing it.
Business consultants love to use “values” as a buzzword that they lump in with “vision” and “mission”, often without a good grasp of the differences between them.
This topic area is potentially very broad, so I will keep this post focussed on values, and I will look specifically at the role they play in family businesses.
What are Values?
Values are “a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life”, according to a definition I just Googled, which is good enough for our purposes here.
A business’s values usually reflect those of the owners, executives and leadership. Some values that people brag about include ones that are so basic that they’re almost meaningless.
Any business that brags about integrity and honesty almost makes me wonder why they felt the need to spell those out as important. I’d hope that they were a given.
When Does This Matter?
Values are always important, but they’re usually running in the background and aren’t really noticed, until there’s a clash somewhere along the line.
I mentioned that a company’s values emanate from its leadership, and so the critical time to examine them is when anticipating a change in leadership (management and/or ownership).
A business built on hard work, collaboration and diversity won’t likely do well if the incoming leadership espouses none of those same core principles.
Why Are Values So Important?
Because values operate largely unnoticed or in an unspoken way, it sort of makes them the “operating system” behind the culture of the organisation.
A small group can run well without giving this much thought, but in a large or growing group of people, having some general agreement about the values that drive the group is essential.
People talk about alignment a lot these days, and rightly so. What they don’t always mention is that the alignment of values is really at the base of much of this work.
Family Values vs. Business Values
Now, you may be inclined to believe that business values should guide the business, while family values should just “stay in the family” and should never have an influence on how the business operates.
I would suggest that this type of thinking is not conducive to long-term success. Eventually, something has got to give.
When a family owns and leads a business, then that family’s values are important for the business. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a 100% overlap in family values and business values, but the more overlap the better, and ideally you want as much overlap as possible.
How Do We Get This Right?
Lots of consultants who work with businesses have tools and exercises that they use with teams in the business, to help them discover and align around key values for the business.
If your business has already done that, that’s great. But, please don’t stop there. And, please resist the temptation to bring the results of that business values work to a session on the family’s values.
The Values Two-Step
Any values exercise needs to have two components:
- Individual values section
- Group values section
These can be run one after another, or, sometimes better, after a break that can range from a couple of days to a couple of months.
Group values work needs to start with the individual values of the group’s members, and it needs to involve only those values of the members of the group.
Purity of Values
In a family values exercise, you may even want to do the exercise with members of only one generation at a time, so that the elders don’t unduly influence the younger participants.
Most importantly, do NOT begin with a list of values that comes from elsewhere, like the business, or the founder. The group values should be generated by the individual values of the participants in the exercise.
If the group values list you derive is to have any “value”, it needs to come “purely” from those in the group.