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Do Your Values Guide Your Business?

- Tuesday, May 01, 2012

 Posted by Brian Jenkins


"Core values. Is it how much something is worth?" asked Melody, a Chicago high school student. "If it doesn't directly impact my bottom line, how are values even relevant?"

This interaction with a student working on her first business plan struck the classroom instructor, which led to my visit.

The business venture that Melody and her team were pursuing was more than just a little "risque." Though the team had conceptualized a provocative business idea, its members faced challenges in moving past the first step of the StartingUp Now guidebook: Core Values. With profitability being the team's primary driver, aspects of the business's impact on its employees and their community--as well as the owners themselves--waned in comparison to their goal in "making money."

I was more than willing to visit the classroom and interact with the student team per the teacher's request, having experienced many of the same challenges that educators face in working with aspiring youth entrepreneurs.

Core Values acts as the first step in the StartingUp Now business guidebook, setting a foundation for the entrepreneur in thinking through their business idea. It's quite interesting to hear the various comments through my interaction with users--especially younger readers--who don't see the direct connection between how our values guide all aspects of our lives...even business operations.

Values are taught--historically at home, reinforced in school, and esconced through our peer groups. Values are not intrinsic--they are a learned behavior. As the traditional value reinforcers (i.e. home, school, religious institutions) are being replaced or expanded via social networks and media, where are students "learning" their values from?

This is why Core Values precedes all the other steps in the StartingUp Now guidebook. We want the future entrepreneur to make the correlation between their values and their business operations. I want people to struggle and force themselves through this section...even coming back to rewrite their values after discovering their own.

Entrepreneurship training is life training. By simply discussing Step 1: Core Values, the students and I were able to discover they actually do have values beyond the goal of generating profit, such as family, safety and stability. They simply were not making the connection between the influence that their values had on their business operations--that, in many ways, their values as a business were very much a reflection of themselves. Values act as a compass in making one's decisions, or as one of the students said, "It's like a GPS for our company, it helps us not to get lost."

Through the process of "facilitating vs. lecturing," the students and I, in an open-ended discussion, navigated various business scenarios that taught them how different types of values were profitable but harmful. They are now discovering their own personal values through their business planning process.

While wrapping up, a student named Hector asked, "Do you think an investor would invest in a business like ours?" He was thinking more like an entrepreneur than he realized. Through the process of engagement, the act of listening, and the encouragement for students to be empowered in their curiosity and choices, adult entrepreneurs can help shape the values of future entrepreneurs worldwide.

What do you think? Do core values guide business operations? How do you determine your core values?

Share your comments here or with the global business community on the Skillcenter message board.

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