Defining Your Values

valuesWhile values are often tagged on after mission and vision, as I’ve just said, it’s important that you start your Intentional Purpose exercise by defining your values first. Values are the foundation of your business identity and they should inform all the decisions you make.

We all have values. They may not be stated, we may not even know what they are, but we have them. Sometimes they show up in our businesses, sometimes not. But they always show up in our behaviors. Think of your values as the framework on which your identity is built. We develop our values from our upbringing, our beliefs, our role models, and from our experiences in general. One way to start thinking intentionally about your values is to think of the key experiences in your life that inform who you are and the choices you make.

When I was sixteen, I had one of those key, values shaping experiences. Shortly before returning from a year as an exchange student in Costa Rica, I learned that my father had abandoned our family of seven children. This alone was a terrible shock for a very close Catholic family, but I also learned that we had no money because my dad didn’t leave any. The oldest daughter, I arrived home to find my home very different from when I had left. Suddenly my mom was working and in a fog, we were on welfare, the church was leaving food baskets on our doorstep, and my brothers and sisters were a mess.

One of the hardest losses for me was discovering that, in my absence, my room had been given to another sibling and my few belongings had been passed on to my sisters. I was told I would have a room that used to belong to my younger brother. You can imagine what it looked like. In a big family having something all your own is a rarity. Losing all of what had been mine at once hit hard.

After I had been home about a week, my grandfather came to visit. Looking around my room, he said, “This doesn’t look like you. Would you like to change it?” Of course, I said, yes. So, my grandfather took me to the store where we picked out wallpaper and paint. For the next week, he showed me how to transform my unwanted room into something beautiful. But more important than regaining a sense of space was the quiet wisdom my grandfather imparted to me as we worked. He never said anything more negative about my father than, “I don’t understand how a man can abandon his family.” But he followed that with a key value that has become part of who I am: “It’s important to always do the right thing, no matter the cost.” The room my grandfather helped me make was wonderful, but the real gift was the lasting lesson of honor, integrity, and authenticity he taught me. What moments in your life have had that kind of lasting impact on who you are and how you make choices?

Another way to intentionally consider your values is to think about what Dave Logan refers to as “high five” and “hell no” moments. High fives are any experience that went amazingly well or resulted in great accomplishments. Ask yourself: what made those moments great? Why were they important? If you really analyze those moments, there’s probably a value in there somewhere that made it significant for you. Hell, no moments are those times when you refused to do something, or stood up for something, probably at great cost. Those moments are key because a value was being violated for you. What was it?

Before you move on to defining your mission (why you are here) and vision (where you want to be in X amount of time), give some serious thought to your values. Defining your values first is essential because they’re what keep everything else in true. Most companies will have four to eight core values, and, if they’re being intentional, they’ll know exactly what they mean. Take the time to be really clear here because words can have nuances, and it’s essential that everyone inside and outside of your company know exactly what you mean by your values statements.

Excerpted from my book, “Putting Together the Entrepreneurial Puzzle: The Ten Pieces Every Business Needs to Succeed.” Available here on Amazon.