Values, vision and purpose, three things that you’ll get round to when you have the time, which let’s be honest, as a young practice or business, with everything you already have to do and worry about, will be when?
After all, values, vision, purpose are nice and all, but aren’t they just luxuries, marketing speak?
Vision & values
“A company’s vision and values are its single most important assets; it transcends the organisation’s purpose, its approach to business and its ethos in all situations. Without a vision and a set of values, a company is meaningless and almost certain to fail,” says Paul Jarrett, director and co-founder of finance recruiter Renaix.
“When setting a vision, a company must consider a range of factors. It’s not just about where the company wants to be in one, five or ten years’ time, or profit levels and key metrics; it’s more powerful than that. When twinned with values, the vision adopted by a company gives everything a direction. It guides customer interaction, it steers product or service development, it even informs HR policies and treatment of staff, hence it’s vital that a company’s vision is articulated early and clearly.”
Carry out research around your values and vision, recommends Helen Campbell, a coach working with SMEs. “This could include insights from customers, feedback from employees and other stakeholders, as well as a look at what competitors are doing (or not doing!). Don’t be afraid to have some fun with it – there’s no rule that it has to be dull, but it should be genuine and something you live, not a marketing exercise.
“Once you have your values and vision, it can be valuable to gain some feedback, such as through a focus group, before rolling them out – the focus group might spot something you haven’t.”
Values in action
Vivien Fuhrer, co-founder of online accounting platform EZYcount, has first-hand experience of how useful defining values as a startup can be.
“We made a two-page word document in which we stated our mission and our values. We made two groups of values: firstly, how we want to operate in the market: professional, reliable, accurate. Secondly, the values we want to differentiate us: innovative, personal, happy and easy-going.”
This may sound simple, but having made this a priority early on, the company has a strong identity. “
When we create material – a website, an article, telephone behaviours, onboarding new customers – we have a clear direction for how we act. When we came to employing a company to create our brand, they did it based on our values, it was very easy for them and a lot less expensive than I think it would have been if we’d not had the values in place.
“If someone needs to make a decision, like are we going to give a free six months to someone because X, Y or Z happened, but none of the co-founders are there, they can make a decision based on our values, they’d know how we’d make the decision. And we live those values. To crowdfund our blockchain initiative, we gave participating customers a lifelong license to our software. While our customer reviews in French, English and German consistently feature similar words that represent our values.”
You have to understand that running a business is more about fulfilment, which drives motivation
Purpose should form a central driving force for a company. Where traditionally a purpose was to maximise profits for owners or shareholders, in an era defined by insecurity, threats to the environment, reducing poverty and building fairer more inclusive societies, this is under pressure to modernise, especially form the younger generations.
“The younger generation truly want to work with companies doing good in society (not just those who say they’re doing good), rather than the largest, and they’re choosing to want to purchase from companies with an ethical approach, rather than the cheapest. That dynamic is driving a need to change, and those companies that don’t change will be the dinosaurs in the years to come,” says Mike Jennings, author of Valuable: how a values-enabled culture can inspire you to sustainable profit.
The new approach to business is driven by the desire to want to help people lead a healthier and happier life. “Purpose has to be social in nature,” he says.
Jennings believes accountancy firms have some catching up to do in this area.
“You have to understand that running a business is more about fulfilment, which drives motivation, than it is about numbers and maximising profit. It’s not to say those things aren’t important, it’s just that no one gets excited about building profit for somebody else. When you’re trying to build a team of people who are motivated, profit motivation is not a good method of doing it anymore.”
Having a purpose and a set of values that you stick to may mean making tough decisions, for example, missing out on a short-term profit because it goes against your values, or letting go of a supplier because their values do not align with yours. But this can lead to stronger long-term financial sustainability.
“If you’re true to your purpose, your customers and staff will be more likely to work with you and to buy from you, to be motivated by your purpose,” says Jennings.
“By doing the right thing by the community and the environment, we’re building long-term financial sustainability, as it’s more likely people will want to buy from us and work with us, which means we’ll get the best staff and loyal customers. Ten years ago I was concerned about this approach, but I’m not now; people are catching up to what we’ve been doing for years. Business is changing, the culture is changing.”
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Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.