In today’s hyper-connected world, business values are truly important.
These values – like Apple’s “think differently” – help you position your services or products in a crowded marketplace. They allow customers to see that your business has a heart: you’re not just in it for the money.
Customers will talk about your brand (whether you want them to or not!) on social media, in blog posts, and on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. If you have a set of core values that underpin everything you do, these conversations are much more likely to be positive.
Why Values Come First
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
Your business values aren’t something that you simply tag onto everything else as an afterthought. They need to inform all your decisions, from your returns policy to your social media strategy.
Your values also help you differentiate your business from your competitors. For instance, you might have a strong ethical or green commitment, which attracts customers who share this value.
In a competitive marketplace, your values (and the way you live up to them) may well persuade customers to choose you rather than an alternative. In his slideshare Sine Qua Non: Core Values and Content Strategy, Jonathon Colman quotes Simon Sinek: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
Determining Your Core Business Values
If you don’t currently have a fixed set of business values, or if you think yours may need some work, you may want to begin by looking at other companies’ values – both within your industry and more broadly.
Here are the core values of some well-known companies:
|Think Differently||Don’t be evil||Customer Obsession||Inspire||Storytelling|
|Simplicity||Focus on the user||Frugality||We are on the offense – always||Innovation|
|Sophistication||Do one thing really well||Invent and Simplify||Drive||Quality|
|User experience||Democracy on the web||Earn Trust of Others||Lead||Community|
|Passion||Speed matters||Deliver Results||Coach||Decency|
Do any of those resonate with you?
You might want to create a mindmap with your business’s name in the centre, so you can brainstorm possible values – maybe based on conversations internally, or on feedback from customers. This is a particularly useful technique if you’re coming up with values alongside colleagues.
Don’t skip this process because your values are “implicit” or “emerging” or “fluid”. This might work in the very early stages of a business, but as Tim Cadogan puts it in Creating a Culture through Explicit Values:
"There comes a point in most organizations’ growth where tacit assumptions and shared, founding beliefs need to be made more formal and explicit."
Once you come up with a list of values, don’t simply use them as buzzwords. Ask yourself (and your colleagues) what might need to change based on your values. In the Guardian, Jo Confino writes:
"Values cannot be artificially manufactured and pasted on the office wall; they need to be not only deeply held but embedded deeply within a company's culture and performance measurements."
Building a Business that Matches Up to Your Values
Once you’re clear about your values, you need to shape (or reshape) your business around them.
This is particularly crucial for your marketing and for your customer service – both areas which have been transformed by the online world.
Let’s say one of your values is being responsive. This could mean:
- Your social media team will answer basic questions, rather than saying “you need to email customer services”.
- Your company blog will include posts on recent developments in the industry.
- You’ll take feedback on board quickly, and empower employees to make changes where appropriate – without a long process of approval.
Whatever your values are, they’ll mean nothing if most of your employees ignore them (or don’t even know they exist). You will need to integrate your values with training programmes, with success metrics, and with regular feedback.
And if your business does veer away from your values, you will need to decide how to get things back on track. This could involve creating a new set of values – perhaps it’s clear that the original ones didn’t truly represent the heart of the company.
Whether you run a one-person business or are part of a huge brand, your values matter. If you don't already have a set of values, pick five that are core to your business ... and tell us about them in the comments below.