Operations Team

Unclear values can lead to confusion, lack of accountability, silos

Do you think every one of your employees knows the values of your small business?

They can be so valuable because they can guide all core aspects of your company, including hiring methods, performance management, criteria for promotions, and even firing policies. Even more, core values can form the basis for every decision the company makes; values help define how your company is going to carry out its business strategy.

When it comes to communicating values, not many of the small businesses that Florida SBDC at FIU consultant Kiomara Hidalgo works with have even been able to define them to have a clear picture. She said most small businesses are so much into the day to day that they haven’t made the time to think about their mission, vision and values, much less communicate them throughout the company and use them as a measuring tool. “Some do not understand the value of it,” she said.

They also may not understand the consequences of unclear values.

“Unclear values can lead to considerable confusion and to teams working at cross-purposes. The problems usually is not that people can’t identify good values; it’s that they can’t prioritize them. Company leadership needs to clearly identify and communicate the values that are most important to the company,” said Jacqueline Sousa, Director of Business Operations of FIU’s Executive and Professional Education.

According to Sousa, some signs that the company’s values are not clear include:

An inability to make timely decisions — because no one knows which is the “clear” choice;

Silos — because departments and project teams will start working off their own set of values so they can get things done efficiently and effectively;

General lack of accountability – because no one wants to take responsibility for decisions made based on someone else’s values

“Team role-playing with scenarios that involve conflicting values can help an organization start the conversation of defining the values that are most important to the business,” Sousa said. “For example, the role-playing could include scenarios where producing a quality product or service competes with delivering a product or service quickly; or one where personnel seniority conflicts with personnel performance; or one where innovation conflicts with tradition. Which values will the team deem most important and why?”

For further reading, Sousa recommends the book “The Value of Core Values” by Lisa Huetteman.

Decisions that are made every day by business owners as well as employees need to not only meet the requirements of “Is it legal?” and “Is it ethical?” but also “does it honor our core values?” Huetteman says companies need to commit to and own their values, define them, share them constantly and consistently, and live them because actions speak louder than words.

READ MORE in our series about values and culture:

How to nurture a winning small business culture

Is your company culture by design – or default? Here’s why it matters

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