Why are you running your company?

To become insanely rich, of course. Money is the ultimate measure of success, and it’s what will let you retire and be wonderfully happy in your old age.

Or maybe not. Most people I talk with want far more out of their business than just making money. Money is what helps you continue doing what you do, but it’s not the only goal.

What are the important goals?

I find that many people become intrigued by this question. They like delivering value to happy customers. They enjoy the challenge of learning new skills, and the accomplishment of creatively making a new product. They want to provide happiness, challenge and stable income to their employees and families.

Why would I explore this with my clients? Because this is where the energy comes from to draw together a focused, productive and passionate organization. It’s one thing to put in your hours of work to get a paycheck. You’ll reach much higher productivity when you believe that what you do is vital to the community or makes a difference in the world.

This sounds as if I’m talking about charities, but I’m not. Sure, Oxfam or Habitat are making incredible contributions to society. But maybe you’re selling plumbing hardware – something more mundane. Well, let’s explore it a bit.

Why are you located in this town? Certainly you have ties to where you live, and your employees can share that passion.

How are your products different? Do you focus on a particular price point or type of product? Do have anything you could be uniquely proud of?

Why do customers love working with you? Perhaps you’re always friendly and helpful, available at extended hours, or are flexible in your billing.

How is your company different? Even something as simple as the logo or look of the showroom can be a point of identification that employees can rally around.

I could go on and on.

Surely you can come up with answers to these questions for your business, but that doesn’t yet make them core values of the organization. What makes them deeply held is when you refuse to sacrifice them, and they’re inspiring to your employees.

Let’s imagine that your plumbing supplies business has created a reputation for selling the highest quality products, with instant attention to any problems which arise. You’ve decided that you cannot possibly sacrifice these two things, lest all your customers flee to the big box store down the street.

Is this inspiring to your employees? I’ll know when I ask each employee what makes your business different, and they list those two things – and perhaps others – in their own words. I would want to see a sense of pride in their faces as well.

When you reach this state, you now know that you have strong shared values in your company. Because employees are proud of them, they’ll make decisions which tend to be consistent. Because they know you’re paying extra attention to these values, they’ll do the same.

Your values don’t have to be about the products or services you sell. Sure, nobody wants to have their identity tied up with lousy customer value. But there are a lot more things which can motivate workers: the management culture, their workmates, work environment, even location.

The values which are longest lasting, and the most infectious, are those which are connected with making a difference. When you believe that somebody cares about your work, you’ll invest more in doing a good job. Your boss can evaluate the value you deliver, I suppose, but you’ll be more motivated when you know people care not just because they’re trying to get work out of you.

It should be obvious that core values are extraordinarily stable – they’re not going to change every year just because you have a new marketing plan. Values are deep, non-negotiable and shared – so they’re self-reinforcing.

When you lose your core values, you’ve lost the reason why people care to work for your company.

Carl Dierschow is a Small Fish Business Coach based in Fort Collins. His website is www.smallfish.us.