Guiding Your Company

Since its inception, The Walt Disney Company has been built on a set of core values that continue today to guide every employee and executive.

What is guiding your company?

Seems like a simple question, right? Yet, in my experience, very few small-business, or even midsize-business owners, can give a succinct answer. “It depends,” they’ll say.

With that type of situational approach, important decisions can end up hinging on all sorts of irrelevant factors, such as how well you slept the night before, how much coffee you’ve had that morning or who is posing the question.

Of course, there are a lot of factors you have to take into consideration when making business decisions. But it helps to have some boundaries in place to help guide the process. Those boundaries are your company’s core values — the commandments you live by in the marketplace.

It’s important to understand the distinction between a business’ values and its goals.
Goals are concrete and specific: Our goal is to increase sales 30 percent in the next fiscal year. Values are broader: creativity and individuality. When you have a clear set of core organizational values, you’ll find it easier to set goals and easier to achieve them.

Your business’ core values reflect how you do business, what makes your corporate culture unique, how you select employees, how you evaluate employees’ performance. They’re a measuring stick against which you’ll measure every decision throughout your day.

Let’s look at the core values of some well-known companies to get a better idea. Before each item, imagine the words “we value.” This gives you a better sense of how these statements reflect the way these companies want to do business.

The Walt Disney Company has five core values:
• No cynicism
• Nurturing and promulgation of wholesome American values
• Creativity, dreams and imagination
• Fanatical attention to consistency and creativity
• Preservation and control of the Disney magic

Regardless of whether you’ve ever been to one of its parks or seen one of its movies, chances are you can recognize how these values are reflected in Disney’s business dealings. You can also imagine how these values guide decisions that top Disney leaders are faced with each day.

Retail department store giant Nordstrom has four key values:
• Service to the customer above all else
• Hard work and individual productivity, never being satisfied
• Excellence in reputation
• Being part of something special

If you know anything about Nordstrom, you can see how these values are reflected in the customer experience in their stores. While other department stores have taken a beating, Nordstrom has held on and maintained its reputation for superlative customer service and being a cut above the rest.

That’s another key element of core values: They should be enduring and timeless. Both Disney and Nordstrom have articulated these types of values for more than 80 years. You shouldn’t have to revise your core values as the economy, technology or even your product line changes.

There aren’t any rights and wrongs with core values. What’s most important is that you set them and then live by them.

Jon Goldman is president of Brand Launcher and a board member of Jewish Entrepreneurial Trust (JET). To learn more about JET or to get involved, contact info@jetbaltimore.org.

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