How to Avoid the Rabbit Hole: A Lesson on Company Values

As the culture of business continues to evolve, phrases like “core values” and “mission statement” have become increasingly popular, yet we still see companies making bad choices that lead to their downfall. So how important are core values? What can they actually do for your business? And how can they help a company avoid unethical catastrophes?

How to define values. 
We talked about this a little bit in a previous post about Jeff Bezo’s take on company culture, but we’ll go into a little more depth here. To define your values look at your company, consider why the company was founded and how big decisions have been made over time. You can likely see a few key values filter out of this introspection. Then think about how you want your company to be seen. Maybe you have made choices from valuing transparency and trust, but have let honesty fall a little by the wayside. Consider if honesty is important to you and to your company and decide whether or not it should be included (but only include it if you are committed!). Make sure you set yourself up for success by staying true to who your company is.

Why do core values matter? 
Core values shape the culture of a business and express what your company stands for. Prospective investors, partners, and employees often refer to core values to get an idea of a company’s vision and big decisions can come down to what a company values. Because of this, a company’s values list can be more influential than many people give it credit for. We look for companies that value trust, compassion, integrity, loyalty, and courage. If we don’t see those values in a company’s mission statement or in their culture, we’ll likely pass on investing. It’s important to us to invest in companies that align with our values.

Values (and follow-through) affect a company’s reputation.
Pick values your company will actually adhere to. Touting honesty and then lying to stockholders is generally irreparably damaging; on the other hand, praising compassion and then donating to charity, builds a corporate brand that is trustworthy and worthwhile. Values CANNOT just be a list of words that sound good on paper. You have to mean them and be them.

Values on an internal level.
Core values are something for companies to refer to when it comes to making a decision. The beliefs of your company will guide you to make a choice of how your company is operated. When a large decision is looming, look back to values. Is this the honest choice? The compassionate choice? The brave choice?

Avoiding the rabbit hole. 
American’s vision of business has been on a decline since the 80’s. Enron, the financial crisis, and daily commentary on the unethical business practices running rampant do not help this vision. Values are an important safeguard against unethical business. The minute one employee is praised because an unethical choice brought in a hefty sum, is the moment when a company starts to degrade. That choice snowballs into another, and suddenly a once great company can be in ruins. Use values to avoid this rabbit hole. Stay on level ground by checking company policies against corporate vales. Make the right choice the first time.

At BigFish Capital we are still in the process of defining our values and making sure we create a culture that supports them. This process can generally be overlooked, or completed flippantly, but we know it’s a task heavy with responsibility, so we are not rushing it. We can’t wait to share them when we’re ready!

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