02/03/2011

By Brian Chernett, Founder, The Academy for Chief Executives

In challenging times, such as those we are experiencing at present and are likely to be experiencing for a while to come (see: How The CEO Can Keep The Business On Track In Stormy Conditions), it can be harder to retain clarity on beliefs and values. Yet it is vitally important that you do.

Everyone (and every business) has beliefs and values. It is very possible that they don’t know what they are or that they are exhibiting behaviour that exhibits beliefs and values that they wouldn’t want to have. If that is the case for you, then it can be difficult to make decisions that are aligned with them. If you want to do that, then it is important to know what they are and to abide by them.

To begin to truly understand your company beliefs, you need to begin with your own personal beliefs, understanding what are they and how do they affect you. A good clue is in your default behaviour. How you conduct yourself in all circumstances, especially under pressure, will help you to understand them. Personal beliefs are not context specific.

If you treat others with respect, for example, you’ll do so whatever the situation and whatever role you are carrying out. There may, however, be beliefs that relate only to your business life, such as how far you would go to acquire business.

Depending on the culture of your business, the company beliefs and values will be based on your own personal values and maybe those from a number of other people - the board, key staff members or maybe all of your stakeholders- including practical values — like honesty, fair dealing - that make business possible between trading partners. There may be changes over time, but the fundamental beliefs will remain consistent.

Some values are based on what behaviours you want to avoid — ‘away from’ behaviours — whilst others are based on positive behaviours that you would wish to cultivate — ‘towards’ behaviours. Whilst ‘away from’ values are good for keeping you out of areas that you’d rather avoid, ‘towards’ values are aimed at getting into places where you would like to be. For that reason, towards values are usually more potent as motivators.

Another categorisation of values is between absolute and relative values. Absolute values are ‘what must my business always do’ and ‘what must my business never do’ whilst relative values are ‘what we try to do’ and 'what we try not to do’. Failure to adhere to an absolute value diminishes the performance of the business.

Values are not always self-evident and may not be shared instinctively across your workforce. They must be communicated. You need to do so with clarity, communicating them often, including them in handbooks or building them into contracts of employment where necessary. They are best applied with consistency with action taken to enforce and encourage people to work within them, correcting errors, disciplining deliberate or reckless breaches. It may be that your values are important enough to you to list them internally or to share them externally — with shareholders or on your website.

Running your business according to your beliefs and values will not always be easy. There will be times when doing so makes things harder to do or prevents certain activities from happening at all.

Overall, though, having values and making sure they are known and shared, means that decision making within the business can be delegated and the results trusted. It is one of the distinguishing factors that moves a business from a one-man operation with employees to a properly functioning corporate structure. It takes effort up front to put it in place but makes it easier for the top team to run the business subsequently and frees the business from the shackles of a single brain coming up with ideas.

A business that has values and has shared them is capable of growing more quickly and effectively whilst building momentum that will be sustained.

Brian Chernett is the founder of The Academy for Chief Executives and Chairman of Academy Group ACE2. Having stepped down as Chief Executive of the Academy, Brian is now developing his own coaching and mentoring business — Wisdom Forums - for senior executives and building a new charity, The Ella Foundation, to coach and mentor Chief Executives in Charities and not for profit business.

Watch a video of Brian Chernett, Founder of The Academy For Chief Executives, explaining how The Academy For Chief Executives inspires business leaders.

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