A Firm Foundation – Zig Zag Principle #23

July 22nd, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

Values are the infrastructure or highway system we travel on to reach our goal. 

If my family and I were taking a road trip to Disneyland from our home in Utah, we would have two choices.  We could pull out of our driveway, point our car southwest, and begin to drive through neighbors’ dining rooms and yards, through cow pastures and weeds, across streams, and over mountain ranges until we got to sunny Southern California.  The other choice would be to do an Internet search for the best route to Disneyland, and then print off and follow the directions that are given.  I suppose option one would get us there eventually, if I had access to an amphibious assault vehicle…and if we could avoid arrest.  But I think my family and I would enjoy the trip more if we followed the Interstate—and exited the freeway once in a while for gas, a bite to eat, and a chance to freshen up.   

Just as there are roads my family is willing to take and others we’d rather avoid, there are ways of living life and doing business that I am willing to try and others I steer clear of.  For me, I love to drive on paved streets because I know my wife’s minivan will get stuck in the mud if I head off across uncharted terrain.  And, like a good map, my values keep me on the right roads.

Any organization that is going to be successful—whether it is a family, a sports team, or a business—must have a set of values to work from; otherwise, it will end up wandering into the weeds.  When I say values, I’m not necessarily referring just to moral values.  Values go well beyond what we may typically think of when we hear the word.  They are the infrastructure you are going to use as you build toward your goal.  Values include the behavior you are going to exhibit, the culture you want to create, and the rules you will follow. Values set the tone for what the culture in the company will be.  Following or ignoring values creates the stories that then reinforce the culture we are building.  Different families have different values, just as different businesses have different values.  As an example, let’s suppose you want to start a high-class, restaurant with inventive food and a romantic environment.  In this restaurant, you would value using fresh ingredients and having a meticulously clean kitchen.  Quality, refinement, and culture might be some of the values you would promote among your staff and with your customers (whom you might refer to as patrons).  On the other hand, if you were looking to open a family-friendly, fast-food restaurant, you would value speed, efficiency, variety, and the entertainment of kids.  Ideally, you would value cleanliness as well.  You are not going to use the same high-quality ingredients as your gourmet counterpart, and you might have far more options on the menu, including a kids’ menu.  Identifying your values, based on your purposes and objectives, is essential so you can clearly define where you’re headed with your venture.

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