I stumbled across a short story recently which took me way, way back to the reasons for my earliest interest in values-based management. Those reasons, are why Managing with Aloha came to be two decades later.
Let me first send you over to The Story of Telling to read “Loved” by Bernadette Jiwa. It’s short, and I’ll wait here for you to come back…
“I finally fell out of love with my favourite little cafe. 18 months ago I went there almost every day, not just for the coffee but because of how it made me feel to be there in amongst the noise, the life and the friendly faces with the smell of the ocean wafting through the open windows. It was such a great place, everything was made right there on the premises and the owners were in the thick of it… caring, and that showed.
Last week I decided I’m never going back…” — Loved
As a subscriber to this blog, you know me, and can guess which lines seemed to leap off the page in my reading of the story, like this one: “It seems to me that their values shifted along with their metrics. They forgot what made them successful in the first place.…. perhaps they never really knew.”
Yet we need to go a bit deeper than this. Knowing what your values are is the strongest possible beginning, but knowing them isn’t enough.
In the story of my history in business (thus this memory tug), values alignment became the answer I was looking for.
The rub, the problem to be solved, was the integrity of a business model. To have any business without a feasible, and fully functioning business model was irresponsible to me. It was pretty dumb, but mostly, it was simply wrong.
Do you feel good about the business you work in, feeling it is sound?
Prior to studying values, and what they will actually do when we focus on them, I had worked in, and around businesses that struggled painfully or folded because they hadn’t had a sound business model.
I saw those failings hurt a lot of people, people you could not fault for not trying to make it work with every ounce of their being, and it changed me. I went from being a good worker bee, who accepted an awful lot from the people I admired, accepting it on little more than blind faith, to being more of a skeptic, a vocal questioner, and eventually, an analyst. It was something I didn’t particularly want to do at the time, having very little interest in data or in financial models, but I felt I had to learn more if I was going to remain in business at all.
Oddly enough, this was also the reason I stopped pursuing an MBA. The answer I was looking for didn’t seem to be found in academia at the time, and I had to look elsewhere.
I wasn’t rejecting study, just the prevailing subject matter offered. I did return to a lot of what I had identified in college, but with the goal of reframing the business-speak or academic propositioning of those markers (like mission, vision, management and leadership) with a heightened sensibility for learning the responsible modeling that could tie them all together: Values in Healthy Work.
The way I saw it, businesses should take better care of people as all stakeholders pursued their objectives, for weren’t most missions and visions about bettering the future for people in the first place? Something was missing, and it became crystal clear to me, that the ‘something’ missing in sound, PONO business models was value alignment.
Mission and Vision aren’t VIABLE without Value Alignment.
Values are the driving force.
This is not to say that you can’t go from starting small to building a hugely profitable business. I’m not implying that you should not aim to turn a good profit. It’s perfectly okay to have a change in strategy as long as you don’t have a change in values.
— Bernadette Jiwa, Loved
It’s hard, looking forward in a business’s lifetime to imagine how your values survive and adapt when activity changes, whether increasing or decreasing.
It’s hard, but you have to do it if you’re to succeed in business enterprise at all.
Without value alignment, mission and vision are doomed to inevitable failure, no matter how good they may be: The Mission Driven Company.
And you know what? I usually find it’s hard because people aren’t used to actually doing it. (I had to learn to audit models elsewhere because my bosses hadn’t explained, or demonstrated employing ours.) Once we start, willing to unlearn past habits in favor of newer ones, value alignment gets easier and easier with each passing day.
Our definition of Value Alignment is stated in Key 3 of our MWA Model:
Work with integrity by working true to your values, for your values will drive your best, and most desirable behaviors. Focus all efforts on the right mission and the right vision (yours!) for it honors your sense of self and brings compelling pictures of the future within your reach, making them your probable legacy. Whether for a business partnership or specific team, deliberate value-alignment creates a healthy organizational culture for everyone involved: When we want to collaborate and co-create, shared values equip and energize us… The 9 Key Concepts of Managing with Aloha
Once you start, I think that simply knowing you’re doing the right thing (i.e. right for your values in whatever mission-driven situation you are in) is what makes all the difference in the world, becoming a bit part of that ease: You work within the ethos of shared values: Ethos: Be true to your Values.
My coaching for you is this:
If you work in a business, and you can’t explain the model which makes it work, open your eyes, and mind, to more learning. Figure it out, get more deeply engaged with it, or participate in redesigning it. (Become a business partner in attitude!)
Once a model is put together, it should NOT be something the company aspires to one day: It should be an active work in progress, open to tweaking and perfecting, yet completely feasible and value aligned as it currently stands.
A great business model is also an open book: Discard blind faith in business owners, no matter how senior they are to you: Seek to know more, being confident your search will ultimately mean you can support them better. Ask how their business values drive their mission and vision, and look for everyday examples of those values in action. Offer to help them.
A postscript on our Language of Intention
To be clear on my verbiage:
A business MODEL will illustrate the rudimentary way that a + b will = your c. When your formula is viable, it is feasible; capable of working successfully.
In comparison, a business PLAN will add the financial overlay to your model, detailing your pro forma (customer profile, marketing, assets and liabilities etc.)
What I will discover in many of the businesses who approach me for help with culture-building, is that they have a detailed PLAN, but a very sketchy MODEL to assure that plan will work.
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The 9 Key Concepts are the subject of my second book, Business Thinking with Aloha, a book which also differs in intended audience: I wrote it with my two children in mind, both then in college, and ready to enter the working world as young adults with career choices quite different from my own.
From the book’s synopsis: “Become a Business Thinker. Re-imagine work, and gain better control of your life as you do so, even if you never decide to go into business for yourself.”