Acquiring the Skill and Enjoying the Benefit of Articulating Values

The effectiveness of the decision-making procedure of a private business is dependent upon the ability of the owners to articulate their values. Many private businesses do not have specified decision-making procedures, and the idea of expressing values is not commonly recognized.

Where values are not defined or articulated, owners will still have a sense of what they are. Decisions (express or implied) that conflict with the owner's values will not seem right and not be satisfying to the owner. Most owners are only vaguely aware of the standards and concerns that compose their personal value systems. Most unthinkingly embrace an array of normative standards to which they assume most people adhere. Few have consciously attempted to resolve the tension that inevitably arises when those standards and concerns conflict with the expressed or unexpressed decisions of the business. That tension can lead to unresolved business disputes.

An effective decision-making process is one that benefits the stakeholders of a private business by stating and accomplishing strategic plans acceptable to each owner of the business. Ineffective plans conflict with an owner's values and cause tension and conflict between owners. If there is no strategic plan or if the plan is not effective, the progress of the business toward its goals will be encumbered to the point that the success of the business may be jeopardized. Acquiring the skill of articulating values increases the quality of decision making, which in turn makes the business more successful. But, before one can articulate values, the values need to be defined.

To define values each owner should think about the core values that are important to the owner. A core value is a normative principle that informs and shapes thoughts, desires, feelings, choices, and behavior. A core value is not a preference, but an enduring and essential attribute of character. The following are words describing commonly-held core values and examples of words describing attributes within a core value: integrity – honesty, sincerity, authenticity, dependability, stewardship, and personal responsibility; security – self-reliance, self-determination, self-actualization, prudence, health, education, comfort, acceptance, power, and prestige; and beneficence – philanthropy, gratitude, respect, tolerance, generosity, compassion, service, and justice. Using these words is a start conceptually but in terms of communicating with another about values, the reference will be too vague. For example, most people will agree that they value honesty and loyalty, but the specific application of those terms will vary with the circumstance.

To bring clarity and order to the owner’s personal value system, the owner must reflect on the circumstances and experiences that have informed and shaped the owner’s perspective of life, including preceding hopes and fears with resolutions. The product of this reflection will be a values statement of specific life examples of core values, memorialized in writing, and should be discussed with others as is appropriate. The writing should be reviewed and altered from time to time to reflect changing circumstances and perspectives. A values statement provides information about conduct based upon core values and the basis of a way to articulate those values.

For the group effort of the owners to make decisions based on values, each owner must be able to articulate that owner’s values. To be clear, the owner is not enabling quality decision-making if the owner announces that the business should be conducted in an ethical manner. While this is a values statement, a values statement more relevant to strategic planning is: “I have made a commitment to my spouse to be out of the business in five years.” This is a complex and important value statement that must be articulated in the decision-making and planning process. If the business plan includes a provision to retain the present ownership for ten years, there will be a conflict for that owner, and there will be resulting tension between owners.

Each owner should define that owner's value system and articulate that value system with values statements in conversations with other owners regarding the conduct and ownership of the business. These conversations will result in an increased understanding of the values and feelings of the other owners. These discussions will indicate whether the owners should be in business together and what the strategic goals might be that are acceptable to all owners' values. The plan emanating from this process will receive the full support of all owners and be effective.

In drafting the strategic plan, the work that is done in forming goals acceptable to all owners is essential to the effectiveness of the plan and success of the business. For each owner to agree with and support a strategic plan (express or implied), the goals of the plan should appear to that owner to enhance the owner’s sense of well-being, including a sense of self-fulfillment. This comes from the axiomatic observation that if one exercises personal choice in the management of resources in harmony with core values, one will likely experience a sense of self-fulfillment and personal well-being. For a plan to accomplish that sense of personal well-being and self-fulfillment for each owner, that owner must perceive that the plan has been formulated in accordance with that owner’s values.

Generally owners spend very little time discussing goals, instead, there are assumptions declared: “we all want to make as much money as we can” or “this is what we have always wanted.” Most owners, even if they develop a strategic plan, are not able to articulate values statements that will communicate what are acceptable goals. The formulation of effective goals comes only after a candid discussion between owners who are articulating their values with clear value statements and through that process accomplish the formulation of strategic goals acceptable to all owners.

The ability to engage in a discussion about values, use of a decision-making process to set strategic goals within an effective plan depends on whether the owners can define their values and then articulate their values to one another.