wwwSuccessful entrepreneurs don’t take their organizational culture for granted. They build the culture they want by clarifying their own values, formalizing them in writing, and remembering to live them as they make decisions in their business.

Align Values and Decisions

Seth Riney started PlanetTran—an environmentally-friendly taxi service in the Boston area—because he thought he could create a better cab company. By using only hybrid vehicles he saves on fuel costs. By making decisions that support an environmental agenda, he keeps the company focused on its mission. By treating people well and emphasizing the important role PlanetTran can play in changing people’s attitudes toward automobiles, Riney has inspired his workers to commit to customer service and company loyalty.

You have identified the core values you want your business to embrace. How will you articulate those values to your team and your customers?

Some people think that communicating values involves telling employees what to do, creating policy manuals, and setting rules. But values are communicated more successfully in day-to-day actions. If you want an organization that listens to customers, you have to be a role model by listening to your team, your vendors, and your customers. If you want a business that is driven to increase revenues, you have to set sales goals, initiate brainstorming sessions on sales-related issues, and reward those who help increase the sales numbers. If you want to develop a company where teamwork is valued, you have to be a team player yourself.

Likewise, your management team must model the values of the organization. You can personally walk-the-talk all you want, but if your top managers act counter to the message your employees will notice the discrepancy and grow skeptical about the importance of those values. You need to hold everyone accountable and bring values into each deliberation. For example, if your top salesperson acts against your business’s core values you should not let that behavior continue, even if you have to risk your sales numbers in the short term. Remember, it’s easy to stick to your values when no pain is involved. It’s a different story when your values are in direct conflict with your self-interest.

Values are one of the most important drivers of entrepreneurial success, but most of us forget to reflect on them. To evaluate where your business is right now in its quest to align itself with its core values, ask yourself how well your business exhibits the values that are important to you. How well do you live these values now? Going forward, how can you better live these values at work? How can you encourage your team to live by these values at work?

© 2006 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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