What your values add

Company values inform every decision, from day-to-day to big picture

In business, the focus is often on strategy. The strategic plan. The business plan through which strategy is implemented. The work plan detailing implementation activities in a particular time period. These documents and the discipline required to produce them are important to be sure. They frame and direct efforts. They align teams and ensure that everyone is striving toward shared goals, tracking progress with common metrics.

And yet I would argue that there is an even more important piece of work every business ought to undertake: the formalizing and articulation of a business’s values. If your business’s strategy serves as its map, your values play the role of the North Star, giving you confidence that you’re holding the map in the right direction, helping you to make decisions when you’re off-roading in territory that the map doesn’t cover.

In our organization, we developed a new strategy last year. We rolled it out to the community, shared it through our website and social media channels, explained it in a series of face-to-face informational sessions, talked about it with news outlets. Yet riding alongside that new strategy, quietly, was our refreshed statement of organizational values. In some ways, our values are more instructive to our work than is our strategy.

There are a few reasons for this. First, the exercise of reducing an organization’s values to writing causes us to notice things running in the background that otherwise might go unnoticed. In distilling your core values, your team will have different conversations about subjects that are rarely addressed. You will sharpen your collective consciousness about the beliefs that make your business tick.

Second, by stating your business’s values, and by reminding everyone in your organization of the beliefs that are your reason for being, you harness a compelling power. Once agreed upon and stated, your values will more effectively drive behaviors and decisions. Just as an effective strategy forces a business to choose the things it will (and will not) do, a statement of values forces a business to prioritize its foundational beliefs. This provides direction and a consistent analytical framework that a business can use when it inevitably encounters tough decisions.

Third, the act of clarifying your values helps in all different realms of business — from strategy to budgeting to the resolution of personnel questions. Values are the connective tissue that enables all parts of your business to hang together and make sense.

Lastly, an organization’s values help its people to lift their heads from the day-to-day challenges and focus on the bigger context into which all efforts fit. One of our values at GAR Foundation comes to mind: “At GAR Foundation we seek long-term solutions.” As trends come and go and our attention is pulled in many different directions, this value helps us to remember our unique place as a foundation for perpetuity, focusing primarily on the long game.

What values define your business? You might be surprised at how much you will learn from trying to answer the question.

Christine Amer Mayer is president of GAR Foundation, which awards grants to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in Akron in the areas of education, economic and workforce development, arts and culture, basic needs, and nonprofit sector leadership.