The core values of a small business are the characteristics that make it stand out from its competitors. These attributes are essential to uniting your staff and offering a compelling experience to customers.
In fact, companies with a unified sense of purpose outperform competitors by 400%!
Business owners — and the bottom line — both benefit from gathering and refining a business’ values. Doing so refocuses the energy of a team, as they work together guided by the same purpose.
Although this process may seem daunting, there’s a simple way to get started. By revisiting your motivation for starting the business, considering the company’s highs and lows, and incorporating feedback from employees, you can clarify and build on your core values in the new year:
Revisit Your Original Motivation
Most business founders have a persuasive reason for starting a new business. Maybe the owner of a coffee shop wants to bring coffee culture to new heights, building a shop that doubles as a community center. Or the founder of a local antiques center has always had a knack for finding the best-hidden gems — people flock to her business because of her eye for one-of-a-kind pieces.
To really identify a business’ core values, you need to think back to their original motivation for buying or starting the business: What did the business stand for? Why were you willing to put your heart and money behind it?
Taking some time to harken back to the original “aha” moment — and the motivation for opening the business — points to the company’s core values.
For example, through this process, the coffee shop owner may realize, “We contribute to our local community by serving as a central meeting place.” The antique center owner could think “We serve our customers by finding unique, quirky, and unique bargains.” These strengths may seem obvious to you, but they’re not always clear when it’s your business.
Analyze the Highs and Lows of the Business
Just as your motivation can point to a company’s core values, so does the business’ highs and lows. These are not necessarily financial, although they can be. They’re the moments when you felt best and worst about how your business was doing from a holistic standpoint. Here are some examples for a coffee shop to help clarify the nature of these highs and lows:
Potential Business Highs:
- Deciding on a business name and concept.
- The first time you realized you had a “regular” customer who came in every day.
- Meeting your quarterly goals for a year.
- Getting a really great write-up in your local newspaper.
- Receiving positive feedback from customers all the time.
Potential Business Lows
- The times you had to let go of an employee.
- When the recession meant you thought the company might go under — you had to dip into savings to keep it afloat.
- Not taking time off for the first year the business was in operation.
- Reading a really awful but spot-on Yelp review.
Although unrelated, all of these moments offer clues about a business’ values. The highs of the business represent the times when the company aligned with its core values, and the lows represent times when it was unsuccessful at upholding them.
Draft Core Values List
Based on your original motivation for opening the business and your notes on highs and lows, start drafting a list of core values. Don’t limit it to your relationships with customers, either, as these principals can also refer to the role your business’ values as an employer. They all support your mission as a company.
Start with between five and ten examples. Don’t be picky, instead, trusting your instinct. There will be time to refine the list later on. Below is a draft of core values from the earlier example of the community coffee shop:
1. We contribute to our local community by serving as a central meeting place.
2. We sell ethically sourced, high-quality coffee from top suppliers.
3. We delight customers every day with warm, friendly service and affordable options.
4. We develop and train our employees to be the talented baristas.
5. We are, first and foremost, a family — and we treat each other with respect and care.
These core values are just a start, but they already help to clarify the business’ priorities in the lives of employees and customers. By spelling them out, you create something concrete that guides your decisions moving forward.
Collect Input from Employees and Top Customers
If you’re paying attention to your core values list, you probably noticed that your employees and customers are your business’ greatest asset. If you leverage their varying perspectives, they can help clarify and refine the qualities that make your business stand out. Quite simply, send your employees an email asking them to list the four values they see in your business.
Next, ask your top customers the same question. If you’re not comfortable sending your best customers a specific questionnaire, take a more informal approach. During day-to-day chats with regulars, say, “We’re working on something for the business! I would love your opinion. If you have a couple minutes, it would be great to pick your brain.”
From there, you can set aside a few minutes to ask customers about their favorite part of your business. Take quick notes, and compare them to your employees’ perspectives and your own list of potential core values.
Edit and Refine List
With your own reflections on the business — and the input of trusted employees and customers — you can narrow the list down to the most important or “core” values. Rather than undertaking this step at the same time as the information-gathering, read through the list of values and wait a couple of weeks.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, taking some time to let your business’ values simmer in the back of your mind is a good thing. It gives you breathing room to digest all of the new information.
When you’re ready, set aside a couple hours and sift through the lists again. Take out a highlighter and note the commonalities across the three sets of values. If there are any values that are not present — but feel important to you — add them. There should be no more than five to seven total.
Next, simplify the language to make short sentences and type up your list. During the next team meeting, share these values with the group. Post the list in a few key spots: behind the cash register, in your office, and the back room where everyone leaves their stuff. Over time, you can incorporate them into onboarding processes and your employee reviews to ensure that your team works with the same priorities in mind.
By gathering and refining your business’ core values, you focus your energy on building on a solid foundation as a company. This process not only serves you, it unites your team and community around a common purpose, supporting your longevity of a thriving business.