(Telepathy’s not an option.)
Before I set up my own business, I used to think the idea of ‘values’ and ‘mission statements’ was a bit of stuff and nonsense. Empty words that rang hollow. (Blame my BBC scepticism.)
But now that I have immersed myself in the entrepreneurial world, interviewing people who put everything on the line – homes, relationships, sleep – to build their companies, I know better. I apologise.
Yes, people set up companies to make a profit and pay the bills, but in my experience, it’s not just about the money. For many, the way in which they make their living is an expression of how they want to give something back to the world. At this point, commercialism often morphs into altruism: they’re keen to help others to lead easier or better lives; or they want to contribute to the expertise in their sector.
Personal values, professional culture.
This sense of purpose is intrinsic to their personality and approach to life. It’s difficult to spot – until they tell their story.
I would say this, wouldn’t I? Stories are my thing. But I have third party evidence, courtesy of Shirlaws, a global business coaching company that has worked with 3,500+ founder-managed enterprises in 35+ countries.
In a previous post, Roy Lauder, a senior business consultant with the Shirlaws Group, explained how telling your business ‘campfire’ story – how you began, challenges overcome, milestones reached – gives you clarity about what you need to do next.
Your story also reveals what you really care about – and why you’ve put your house / savings / sleep on the line to deliver it. When you start to trace your business journey through the highs and lows, you get a clear sense of what is important to you. Roy:
One thing we’re very eager to uncover reasonably early when we work with clients, is, what is their culture? What are their core values? Most business owners are not conscious of that. They’re not consciously walking around a clear set of values and a clear culture. But it comes out when they tell their story, when they start to explain the type of business that they wanted to set up; their ambition and their vision, back in the early days. Where were they trying to get to and why?
And that often taps into their individual values as to what they want to bring to the world. That’s enormously useful in helping them to assess whether they feel that’s where the company is today. Do they remain aligned to those values? More often than not, we find that actually they’re not aligned and they haven’t been using those values as a tool to help shape and manage the company.
Why values matter.
That’s the tricky thing with values. It’s all too easy to pay lip service to them and leave it at that. Mistake. Roy:
When we talk about individual values, it opens a conversation about some of the problems or difficulties that have occurred over the years. Often these problems are relationship based – staff based or key customer based. So you explore where things have gone wrong and you say, “What’s the story behind that then? And does it have any linkage then to the misalignment of culture or values?”
And quite often that’s what it is. The penny drops: “Gosh yes, absolutely. That’s what’s causing the issue. Loyalty is such a core value for me and yet I’m finding that we’re falling out with people who don’t have any interest in that particular value.” And you say, “Well, that’s what happens”.
Share your story.
Once you’ve clocked what’s important to you, it’s worth sharing those insights with your team. Only then will they understand why, for instance, loyalty is such a deal breaker for you.
But it is a two-way process, which is why Shirlaws coaches not only gather stories from the owner / founder of a company, but from staff at every level:
Getting the individual stories of other staff members who have joined comes at the fact finding stage, usually at the very beginning of the engagement, when we’re interviewing a cross section of the staff and really understanding their story about, “So how long have you been here? What is it that you do? What do you like about here? What don’t you like about here? What are your plans? Where would you like to go?”
“What would make you leave?” is one of the questions that we often ask, because nobody ever asks that question. They usually go, “Huh? Gosh, why?” But they’ll tell you, which is great.
Getting their story of how they find the company usually gives us a very clear idea of where some of the problems lie. Usually there is misalignment around culture; usually misalignment around vision, with no clear understanding of vision.
Get the company story straight.
Once different members of a team are allowed to share their version of events – with a little help from a third party like Roy – they’ll quickly spot where things are off kilter:
That’s where their stories get drawn in about, “This is not working and that’s not working and I feel this about that”.
And while it’s sometimes tempting to brush things under the carpet or assume that your people will get the message eventually, sharing stories openly, as a team, is more productive in the long run. Then at least everyone feels that they’re on the same page and, crucially, they understand your values and what makes the company tick.
Need a Shirlaws sounding board?
Next up: Give vent to your business feelings and watch your company grow.
Title photo by Vervate www.vervate.com.