New Year’s Eve is one of my favorite days of the whole year. Everyone seems actively involved in reflecting on their lives, their progress and the areas where they’d like to grow. I’ve been fortunate to participate in this process with many successful businesses over the years. For an analyst at heart, there’s nothing more satisfying than reflecting on what we learned, what’s changed in the marketplace, and deciding together where to take things next.
Lately I’ve noticed that many businesses, business people, and franchises have been thinking about their basic values. It seems like the notion of values kind of got lost in mainstream business for a while. Way back in the boom days, when the markets were fat, it was easy for companies to establish clear values and base their business activities on them. But over the last couple of years, with all the struggles inherent in a down market, real values seemed to slip away. I’ve watched people do some pretty crazy things to make a buck or save a business from collapse. I watched upper-level managers act in undignified, inhumane ways when financial goals weren’t met. In order to eek another tenth of a percent of profit, CEOs make short-sighted decisions not to act on long-term opportunities that would, over time, improve their business and help their community and employees. But now that there’s no where to go but up, many people are realizing that basic values are really more than just a marketing tool. They are the inherent power of truly successful ventures.
A value is anything that enhances you, that increases your ability to express who you are and do more of what you want to do. Values are ideals that are personally important and meaningful for you and direct your actions. The power of commercial entities that seem to have clearly established values can be pretty impressive. Not just stated values of corporate responsibility (CSR), but real values that form the basis of their corporate actions.
One of my favorites, Seventh Generation markets green household cleaning products that you can buy pretty much everywhere. Their corporate goal is to use the power of business to create a more just, equitable and sustainable world. In their annual CSR report (a surprisingly good read) they list 7 overall areas on which they measure their CSR business success: Product Design; Consumer Support and Engagement; Partners; Sustainable Supply Chain; Palm Oil Responsibility; Carbon Footprint; Ingredients Disclosure. CEO Jeffrey Hollender is a leading voice for true corporate responsibility and is working closely with other corporations, standards boards, and the government to ensure that the notion of CSR doesn’t become a cheap buzzword that companies leverage as a marketing tool. These guys have been around for 20 years and they’ve become a powerful force in the marketplace.
In contrast, the news is full of stories about people and companies who either failed to clearly define their values or espoused values that they didn’t live by. Need I even mention Tiger Woods? Talk about a genuine train wreck. The examples here are seemingly endless. In case you didn’t notice, 2009 seemed to be exposing these entities and making us all think a little more clearly about our values and what’s important. I’m thinking 2010 is the year we all get back to basic values.
In the spirit of authenticity (my top value this year), I’m going to share my values. They’ve changed a bit over the years as I’ve learned more about the world, my role in it, and what makes me feel good. This year, my priority values are authenticity, community, and contribution. Sure, there are many other values that are right there at the top of my list like compassion, family, spirituality, creativity, and more, but the three which are most important to me now, at this point in my life, are these three.
Authenticity (transparency, truth, genuine) is my top value for 2010. I’ve been digging into some of the issues I’ve had in my life (I’m a really, really good actress) and issues I’ve witnessed with other people and have realized that authenticity is crucial for me to be all that I can possibly be. Most of us successful people have learned to be chameleons to some extent. It’s how we fit in and maintain stability. Chameleons use the technique to survive. They don’t want to stand out or be threatened by an enemy. But we’re humans. We’re supposed to be different. It’s our very differences that make us stronger and help us contribute most. Not being who you are is dishonest. I have never experienced or participated in any dishonest act, no matter how simple, that didn’t culminate in some form of tragedy, disappointment, failure or hurt. Uh, now we’re back to Tiger… That little white lie for the sake of peace may make things easier in the short term but never fails to create more complications in the long run. One of my favorite authors and teachers, David Hawkins says in “Power vs. Force” “lying in any form makes you weak.” I want to hear the truth, tell the truth, and live the truth no matter how difficult it might be. If I allow myself to be fully who I am, I will realize my full potential.
Community. As Albert Einstein said, “ “With deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.” I just love history. I love reading about different cultures and the things they did to survive and evolve and live. The Greeks, the Romans, the Britons, the Mayans, all leveraged community to progress humanity. Rarely do you read about individuals in history who lived entirely alone and without a community. I’m recognizing the satisfaction of participating in community and aligning my energy with others to create the beautiful experience of life. This year I’m going to get out more in my own neighborhood and just participate. I’m excited to see what will happen.
Contribution. Try as hard as I might, I just can’t get in to working for money anymore. Sure, I love money. I need money. I want money. But if that money comes from supporting something that doesn’t make a real contribution to humans it just feels empty and I lose interest. So this year, what I do with my time and energy and how I make my living is going to be focused on areas where my personal talents will have a meaningful impact.
Values are an important part of any planning process. Values lead to goals. Goals lead to priorities. Priorities lead to action and then you have a real yardstick to measure success. Start with genuine values and everything else will fall into place.
HERE’S A QUICK LITTLE EXERCISE TO GET STARTED:
Read through the list of values. Highlight the words that are important to you.
Pick your top 5 and define what they mean for you.
Narrow the list to 3 and put them in order of importance. (Narrowing is important. Do not skip this step.)