Most businesses are founded on assumptions. Founders with a common purpose initiate the business, and, upon its profitability, assume that all owners share the same goals and interests. What do you know about your co-owner’s plans for the business? Have you simply assumed that all of the other owners have the same interests and desires? What if this assumption is incorrect? When the assumption that all owners want the same thing proves to be wrong, there is inevitable conflict. To prevent this conflict, owners need to communicate about their values with respect to the business and develop strategic plans which honor those values. The understanding between owners should rest on conversations and not assumptions. Those conversations need to be about values with respect to the business.

A value is a normative 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. 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. In addition to not thinking about their personal values, most owners have given little thought as to how the business they own fits with those values. Few owners have consciously attempted to resolve the tension that inevitably arises when their personal values conflict with the conduct of the business.

The owners as a group provide the strategic planning for the business. Each owner should understand his or her value system and be able to bring an articulation of that value system into conversations regarding the conduct and ownership of the business. The discussion about owner values should establish the goals for the business. Owners will not all have the same values, and the goals for the business will have to respect those differences. When that is not the case, the discussion should turn to how can the owners go forward given the differences in values. While this may result in a separation of interests involving a change in the business, it will avoid a conflict or dispute involving a traumatic event and damage to the business interests of the owners.

Where there is no dialogue about values, realistic goals not set, and strategic planning not done, then when initial assumptions are found to be inaccurate, emotional responses will create an environment of conflict between the owners and traumatic disruption for the business.

To begin to have a dialogue with co-owners about value, ask all owners to reflect on the circumstances and experiences that have informed and shaped the owner’s hopes, fears, and perspectives. Create opportunities for the owners to articulate their value to one another. Based on those discussions, focus on the goals for the business such that those goals fit with the values of the owners.