Friday, 3 May 2013

Define your values and fly

Values are becoming increasingly important in how a business stands out from the competition. 

Values matter enormously when it comes to defining how they distinguish themselves and win more clients. Offering discounts and delivering on your side of the deal is no longer enough as customers have become increasingly savvy about the kind of businesses they want to support. 

Being keen on price and delivering good customer service are the standards these days- the values of your business is where you can deliver the extras customers look for.

I was interviewed yesterday by Anthony Devine, a senior academic from Northumbria University who lectures in business ethics and governance. He's an engaging and frighteningly insightful chap who is preparing his PhD thesis on the thorny topic of family businesses, and how they are holding their own in turbulent times and handling the issue of non-family members having key decision-making roles.

The interview session lasted just under two hours, and seemed to fly. I was invited to meet Anthony as part of my work with Bastows, a third generation family business founded in Yorkshire some 94 years ago and celebrating their 50th anniversary of working in London this year. Bastows are well positioned to speak on this issue, as they currently have three family members on their Board and five non-family Directors- who actually get to make the big strategic decisions (I should know, I'm one of them.) They're also pretty unusual for a construction company in that they love to share a good story- even if it's not about painting and decorating.

After a fairly brief Q&A, Anthony took me through some ethical scenarios (which I won't reveal here but which were facinating and made me really think about my own ethics) as well as an exercise that required me to lay out 32 cards, each showing a value or attribute in a person or group, in order of personal preference. Card 1 was easy to pick.

Fluffy? Simplistic? Not a bit of it. The pursuit of happiness underpins everything we do, the decisions we make, and the way we impact on those around us. It's essential that happiness sits in a pivotal position to any other values you identify. What's the point of anything if it doesn't make you- and others- happy? The other extreme is for us to seek the avoidance of pain- and surely happiness is a far better thing to aim for?

Your business values don't have to be a framed mission statement on the wall that everyone can recite by heart. In fact they shouldn't be. As in Bastows' case, they can be three simple words- Brave, Harmonious and True- that show the World what they stand for and what it's like to work with and for them. They were created after every person in the team had a say and suggested words. When the final three were defined, people felt connected to them because they recognised their own contributions within. These values live and breathe, are recognised by employees and clients as 'real', and truly inform how they work. 

Much better than a dusty frame hanging ever-so-slightly askew on a wall, no?

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