I took my sons to Ben & Jerry’s for an ice-cream treat at the end of school term. I think it’s a phenomenal business, really standing by what it represents and I’m sure it’s one of the rare corporations actively supporting “Occupy Wall Street.” It’s a company that constantly promotes what it stands for in every way, and you cannot be in a Ben & Jerry’s store without knowing the company’s vision and mission, as well as how it’s interpreted into action. It’s impressive. While waiting in line for our turn, I looked down and saw the company’s corporate values stuck to a table. Nice touch.
It reminded me of something I am regularly asked – are corporate values worth the effort? To which I always reply – definitely. The way I see it – your vision is what you strive for, your mission is how you’re going to get there, and your values are the sort of company/people you’ll be on the journey – so yes, it’s very important. Values are all about what you stand for in the world, and like vision and mission statements, need to be embraced by every employee, and should be on display in whatever way is appropriate for an organisation to keep people focused.
Corporate values should be:
- Personified within the business from the top down – if C-level execs do not personify them, they will be dismissed as irrelevant
- The business drivers that help a company stand out in a competitive market
- Considered more important than making profits – because profit should follow if the values are held true
- The core of your recruitment process – hire and fire based on how a person fits within the corporate values – if they fit, they’re in, if they don’t, they’re out
- The cornerstone of corporate culture – look at any successful business and you’ll see that corporate culture is the key to success. Therefore if it’s stern and serious business, the values should reflect that, if it’s fun and youthful, they should reflect that, or if it’s customer driven, make sure your employees are too
- Reflected in all you do and your employees should willingly embrace them, that’s how you get a corporate culture that delivers success
I could go on, but in essence, values are the core of your corporate culture – small or large – and it’s the qualities, customs, standards, and principles that a company believes, which will ensure it AND its employees succeed. It’s important stuff.
So here’s a question, right now, before looking them up – do you know your corporate values? If you do, do you believe your company lives them? Are they even relevant to your corporate culture? Does your senior management embrace them? Or are they some marketing fluff pushed down your throat and not embraced at all?
The surprising thing is most employees don’t even know what their corporate values are. When I hear this, I find it such a shame, because a lot of effort goes in to creating them and if everyone embraced them, what a difference it could make right across a company. But they need to be relevant and lived from the top down, not just words you think you need to have. The best way to get great corporate values is to ask every employee – and I mean everyone – what they think are the top four or five values the company embraces? It’s an interesting exercise and the synergy should be impressive. Of course, if senior management and junior staff are out of synch, you have a problem.
Getting back to Ben and Jerry’s, here are their corporate values, as stated on their Website:
“Leading with Progressive Values Across our Business
“We have a progressive, nonpartisan social mission that seeks to meet human needs and eliminate injustices in our local, national and international communities by integrating these concerns into our day-to-day business activities. Our focus is on children and families, the environment and sustainable agriculture on family farms.
- “Capitalism and the wealth it produces do not create opportunity for everyone equally. We recognize that the gap between the rich and the poor is wider than at any time since the 1920’s. We strive to create economic opportunities for those who have been denied them and to advance new models of economic justice that are sustainable and replicable.
- “By definition, the manufacturing of products creates waste. We strive to minimize our negative impact on the environment.
- “The growing of food is overly reliant on the use of toxic chemicals and other methods that are unsustainable. We support sustainable and safe methods of food production that reduce environmental degradation, maintain the productivity of the land over time, and support the economic viability of family farms and rural communities.
- “We seek and support nonviolent ways to achieve peace and justice. We believe government resources are more productively used in meeting human needs than in building and maintaining weapons systems.
- “We strive to show a deep respect for human beings inside and outside our company and for the communities in which they live.”
Some other corporate values include:
- A Steve Jobs presentation on Apple’s attitude to its core values
- A company I admire tremendously, Virgin
- This is what I found for Cisco
Corporate values are important for all companies – IF they are done properly – but they are equally important for small companies, and especially for start-ups to set the tone. If you can start building your dream in the right way, you’ll have great direction to keep you focused. The problem is many small businesses don’t believe they have the time to do it, or even worse – think the whole “marketing thing” brings no value at all to the bottom line. Therefore I suggest you think of it another way – it will save you time and money. If you hire according to your values, you’ll cut down on employee mistakes and you’ll focus on winning the business you want rather than taking business because you need the cash. It’s a great focus and will help you build your business faster and smarter than your competition.
At SAJE, we’re a small business, and we have goals for our company. We don’t want to build a behemoth, but we DO want to do great work and work with people we like. In fact, we have walked away from business that we needed from a cash flow perspective, because it clashed with our vision and values – it’s that important to us. We know that if we don’t make these hard decisions we’re not going to be happy, and what’s the point of being entrepreneurs if it doesn’t make us smile every day?
So we defined our values before we did anything else, because it helps us to stay true to ourselves – and that is more important than anything, which is why it’s also our vision.
Here are SAJE’s values
- Truth and honesty
- Trust is really important to us – the giving and the receiving
- Our word really is our bond
- Being the best we can be in everything we do
- We never sell ourselves short
- We’re never “normal” and we’re proud of that
- We are fair
- Being respectful is important to us
- We never make promises we won’t or can’t keep
- We do stuff differently because we’ve seen how it’s done and reckon there’s a better way
- We do not believe in short cuts to success
- We believe that the harder you work the luckier you get
- We don’t follow the crowd and have the conviction behind our beliefs
- Life and laughter is our priority
- People are our passion – humanity
So as the silly season approaches, check out your corporate values. Is that the company you work for? Is it embraced? If it isn’t, have a word with your CEO and suggest that he or she gets feedback from every single employee in your company. All they need to do is ask everyone to provide what they see as the four or five key corporate values for your organisation. The rest will follow, and I can reassure you of one thing – it will definitely be an interesting exercise and one that gets 2012 – the Year of the Dragon – off to a much more focused and positive start.
With that, I’d like to wish you Happy Holidays from the team at SAJE and take this opportunity to thank our customers, partners and friends for the great support we’ve received in 2011. We really appreciate it from the bottom of our hearts.
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