Most of us do not wear our values on our sleeves. There are many reasons for this – most of them social. Regardless of social norms, in the arena of business ownership, each of the owners of a business should be able to articulate to the other owners their personal values with respect to the business principles by which the business is planned.

The planning process is well recognized. A business principle is determined by an owner from that owner’s personal values. Your personal values will control your business principles. These values with respect to the business, your business principles, are brought to your perceptions of the marketplace. From that examination, strategy planning goals are set. To implement the strategy, the planning goals are used to determine actions to accomplish those goals, initiate those actions, monitor the effect of those actions, and evaluate the results. As the need to revise the strategy and goals becomes apparent through monitoring, the process repeats.

What work needs to be done to define your values and determine business principles?

The strategic planning process begins with personal values. A value is a personal principle that informs and shapes thoughts, desires, feelings, choices, and behavior. A value is not a preference, but an enduring and essential attribute of character. Most owners are only vaguely aware of the standards and concerns that compose their personal value systems. Most unthinkingly embrace an array of normative standards to which they assume most caring and intelligent people adhere. Few have consciously attempted to resolve the tension that inevitably arises when those standards conflict with situations involving business principles and planning.

It is axiomatic that if you exercise personal choice in the development, management, consumption, and disposition of personal and community resources in harmony with your core values, you will likely experience a sense of self-fulfillment and personal well-being.

For each owner to agree with and support a strategic plan, the business principles identified from the owners’ personal values should appear to that owner to enhance the owner’s sense of well-being, including a sense of self fulfillment. Even if values that identify business principles are not articulated, owners will still have a sense of what they are. Plans which conflict with these values will not seem right and not be satisfying to the owner. To avoid this conflict and unease, it is essential for each owner to think about their values with respect to the business when identifying business principles and make these values known to the other owners. The initial and primary task of the owners must be to think about values and define their personal values.

For the corroborative effort of the owners to determine principles and plan based on values, they must engage in serious conversations and in so doing be able to articulate their values such that the principles upon which the strategic plan is based are considering each owner’s articulation of values. Doing this will provide a sense of personal well-being and self-fulfillment for all owners. For this to happen, there are two requisites. The first is that the owners have done the thinking to define their values. The second is that the owners can articulate their values to one another.

If an owner’s value system is to serve effectively as the framework for the formulation of the succession plan, the owner must do the thinking to define the owner’s values – to clarify and prioritize the components of the personal value system. To bring clarity and order to the owner’s personal value system, the owner should reflect on the circumstances and experiences that have informed and shaped the owner’s hopes, fears, and perspectives. The product of this reflection should be memorialized in writing. The writing should be reviewed and altered from time to time to reflect changing circumstances and perspectives.

Once there is a writing describing the personal value system of an owner, that system should be applied to the business and what it represents to that value system to identify the business principles. These business principles are the owner’s values with respect to the business and its specific activities. One owner may want to own the business for their entire working life. Another owner might want a family enterprise. An owner may want to build value and sell within a time frame. There are as many possibilities as there are owners.

Each owner should define that owner’s personal value system and be able to bring an articulation of that value system into conversations regarding the conduct and ownership of the business. Each owner should be aware of the principles of conducting a critical and difficult conversation so that those conversations result in increased understanding about the values and feelings of the other owners. With this competency in place, the initiation of the planning process becomes a source of cohesion among the owners and the basis for corroborative group decision making resulting in sustaining and effective business decisions.