When we develop brands for our clients, we build them from a foundation of values. It’s a tricky and loaded word bringing to mind prickly subjects like ethics, morals, religion and beliefs. While there are values issues in all of those things, our experience has been that it is simpler. Here is a working definition:
Values: The unswerving core truth and spiritual foundation of the enterprise.
Core Truth means not just what you may “believe” about your company’s place and role in the world, but what you can demonstrate has been proven over time as “valueable” based on its outcomes. Spirit is defined at least in part like this: “The nonphysical part of a person that is the seat of emotions and character; the soul, those qualities regarded as forming the definitive or typical elements in the character of a person, nation, or group.” So, “Spiritual Foundation” isn’t religious and I’ll go farther and suggest it isn’t really about “belief”. It is about the energizing breath, intention and character of your work.
Why is it important to know this stuff? My answer is based in pragmatism. Running a successful business is difficult. You make thousands of decisions, each one a ticking time bomb of potential success or failure. Those decisions not only affect the leadership of the enterprise, but everyone in its ecosystem- employees who depend on it for their livelihood, customers who count on the product or service to perform and communities from local to global that are in some way connected to that business as vendors, shareholders, partners and even competitors. Just like a jump shot in basketball, making those decisions is much easier if you have your balance. Well-understood values are a way to get that balance and share it across an enterprise.
Here are our values as expressed in our recently revised brand:
- Integrity- Far more than “walking the talk”, integrity is the unswerving practice of honesty, kindness, courage and responsibility.
- Respect- The practice of respect is our commitment to demonstrating that we value every person without exception, in our speech, actions, decisions and products.
- Openness- Openness is our practice of not forming rigid and dogmatic opinions that we are not willing to change given the strength of a new and better idea. It includes the commitment to abandon secrecy and manipulation as means of achieving our goals.
- Compassion- At the root of our work is a commitment to understand the difficulties of others and use our skill and energy to solve their problems.
- Quality- We value and practice diligence in researching, designing, developing, and testing each solution we offer with the intention of getting the best results and creating the greatest value.
- Community- Aware of true conditions in our world, we are committed to being a good corporate world-citizen, collaborating with our clients and with each other for mutual and global benefit.
No, I haven’t memorized all of the fine print. That’s why we write this stuff down. What I have done, and done often, is pulled them out and asked myself “Is what I am thinking, what I am about to say or what I am about to do consistent with both the letter of these values and with a larger sense of what they mean?” That balancing moment changes things. It helps you not react to what your mind is saying as if it were absolute truth and instead gives you permission to step back and ask “What else can I ask about this?”.
Values are how great brands and the organizations that project them handle questions about taking on the client with questionable motives because you need the cash flow, doing a project that supports an outcome that may or may not be harmful because it has a big budget, or doing something that isn’t as good as it should be to squeeze out a couple of margin points. The value platform is a thought partner, an arena for engaging colleagues and the source of healthy and constructive debate in the organizational village.
Take a look under your brand hood and see what’s reflected back that might be a value. Dust it off, make sure it’s not just a “habit” masquerading as a value and if it passes the test, put it where everyone can embrace and live it.