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Don’t forget about what matters most for your business

Karen Natzel

For a business leader, the quick answer to what matters most might be “profit,” for surely the business cannot continue to exist without it. But why else are you in business? Why are you in this business? What motivates you? What inspires you?

I would contend that while it indeed matters how one makes money, doing so in alignment with one’s values can actually build financial longevity for the firm – and professional and personal satisfaction in the process.

We see core values on the walls in companies’ entryways, on websites, on backs of business cards, in proposals and in employee manuals. We see themes in which values are trending – when innovation, sustainability or (insert 2013’s hot topic) is the hip and cool value to tout.

The culture of the business world is more skeptical and more transparent than ever. We don’t trust the message just because people have done an amazing job defining their brand. We want to know if it’s genuine. Is it the real deal? Can we trust it?

Consider this scenario. A long-standing Portland-based general contractor walked through an intensive exercise to define its vision, mission and values. It developed its positioning statement that would be publicized on all jobsites, hardhats, trucks, business cards, etc. This particular CEO was passionate about integrating the developed core values into every facet of the business. He understood that to make it meaningful and valuable, people had to walk the talk. One of the core values was “respect.”

It soon became apparent that a talented and highly effective superintendent (who consistently met all project objectives) was in continual violation of this core value in regard to interactions with subcontractors. The superintendent was not going to embrace this core value.

The CEO had to decide whether to let this core value violation persist by allowing (ignoring) the attitude and behavior, or stop toleration of it. After numerous attempts to train and coach the superintendent of what it meant to demonstrate respect to all project team members, and after several warnings, the CEO fired his star performer. He understood that if he tolerated such noncompliance with a supposed core value, the values he professed were meaningless.

By the way, this firm continues to be highly respected and successful.

The responsibility to generate a company’s vision and direction resides primarily at the top of the organization; as do the points of differentiation from the competition, and the very culture in which a team operates. Carving out some time to understand exactly what matters most to you – what drives you – will help you create alignment and synergy within your organization.

Values are what you believe to be important in the way you live and work. They should determine your priorities, and thus, the allocation of your resources of time, money and energy. Think of values as your internal compass, a critical tool for finding one’s way when things get messy or one gets lost in a tumultuous business climate.

Values also serve businesses as a tool for setting goals. They should set you in the direction of your dreams.

“When we are doing what is right for us, the psyche provides enthusiasm and energy to support our investment in life,” James Hollis writes in “What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life.” On a daily basis, when one is clear and committed to one’s values, they serve as an invaluable guide in decision-making.

Equally important, when an organization truly integrates its values in everyday practice, there’s a byproduct of attracting similarly valued employees, clients and colleagues. When our attitudes, beliefs, choices and actions are congruent, we experience a sense of peace and satisfaction. That level of integrity is no small reward as we navigate the demands and complexities of business.

Alternatively, when our words and actions are out of alignment with our core values, we risk damaging our credibility and reputation. If a company is not providing an experience promoted by marketing, people will trust what they experience and not what they are told.

On an internal level, an organization could suffer from a malfunctioning internal compass. Ailments such as inefficiencies and distrust can seep in, because employees are unsure what should drive their choices and behaviors.

Take the K Communications Challenge: 

1. Define what matters most to you. Look at times when you felt most fulfilled, proud or happiest. What experience where you having? How were you showing up? Explore this on a personal and professional level. (Visit www.values.com for inspiration).

2. Do a values “check-in.” How well are you and your team living them? Where are you excelling and where are you out of alignment? Do you have values that are contradictory – and if so, how do you reconcile them?

3. How/where can you raise the awareness of your team for better integration? How can you lead the way by walking the talk? Ignite the conversation with your team. Help team members embody what truly defines your organization.

Don’t let what matters most be at the mercy of what’s most convenient, popular or pressing. Gain confidence and clarity in your leadership through identification and alignment with your values. You’ll experience the integrity and power of living from the core, and your organization will reap the rewards.

Karen Natzel is a business therapist. Contact her at 503-806-4361 or at karen@natzel.net.

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