What is truly important

The vision and goals that most business owners have for their business is to make profit. We must realise though that making money is not a goal at all, it is a result. A goal is to make a difference, to make things better than they were yesterday, to make a contribution to society, to provide better services. Setting the right goals and working hard towards achieving them will eventually result in a successful business and making a profit. And so it is important for any business owner to have a clear vision and to have realistic goals. All activities being carried out in the business should contribute to these goals. Organizing, planning, managing, production and budgeting are all done to achieve the goals of the company. If you have no clear vision and goal for your business, chances are that you will not be successful. Developing a vision and goals is not easy though and often they are derived from the values we have. Values represent what we find really important in life and surprisingly enough very few people will find it easy to define exactly what their values are. But most people act according to their values even if they are not very conscious about it. After all, where your treasure is, there your heart will be. If someone finds it very important to have a car (s)he will try and get one. The reader who has built a house, will know how difficult it was to complete the project but it was worth it because it was very important. Other people find it important to be around their family and because of it hesitate to take on a job that will separate them from their family. Other examples of values are to have respect for each other, to be honest, integrity, etc. We can also know what people do not find important as we observe their behaviour. Somebody who finds it important to get rich quick but does not value honesty or hard work for example will find other innovative ways to get the money. In other words, our values guide our behaviour for a great deal. Do you know what your values are? Try to list and write them down and you will discover that it is not so easy to have a deeper look into your inner self. But if you can, it will help you in getting more clarity about your do’s and don’ts. Now, what has all this to do with doing business? Personal goals and values will transpire in the way somebody goes about running a business as well. Somebody who values honesty is likely to run the business in an honest way, avoiding short cuts and kick backs. Personal values can thus become corporate values and it is actually very important and helpful to make corporate values explicit like so many organizations do these days. Examples of corporate values are: “We esteem our customers.”, “We produce high quality.”, “We deliver in time.”, “We keep our promises.”

In trying to achieve the goals it is therefore important that the corporate values are adhered to. Here it becomes now tricky though. Because the corporate values may be clear to the business owner or the board of directors, that does not at all mean that they are understood, let alone internalised by the employees. And where this is not so, performance of workers may be disappointing, not contributing to achieving results and sometimes even be counterproductive. This in its turn will lead to much frustration for the business owner, who just cannot understand the behaviour of the workers and has run out of ideas to motivate them. As a result the company is not effective in achieving its result. For a company to be effective it is important that the goals and values are shared and internalised by all staff and time and energy needs to be invested in this by management. But this is not all that needs to be done. Subscribing to the corporate values helps but is not enough to become effective. To be effective requires being proactive and that is what most people are not, also not in Ethiopia. Most people here are reactive. They react to what is coming their way. They don’t plan ahead and blame others for things gone wrong. They say: “I don’t have time.” They are busy repairing the damage that has been done and they are constantly in the crisis management mode.

Proactive people on the other hand plan ahead and take responsibility. They say: “How can I help?” They prevent problems from happening and set the right priorities. Reactive people allow circumstances to dictate their agenda while proactive people set the agenda. And they do that using their personal values as a point of departure. To take it a step further, for employees to be effective in their work it is important that there is a match between their personal and the corporate values. Where there is no such match, workers will not make significant contributions to corporate effectiveness.

Yes, somebody with an accounting diploma or degree can work in any company or organization. But whether or not (s)he will make significant effective contributions depends on how excited that accountant is about the products that the company makes and in how far (s)he subscribes to the corporate values. If  “high quality” is one of the corporate values then delivering high quality and timely financial reports to management will be expected. If a company says that it esteems its customers, then the sales persons are expected to be polite and give competent advice to the clients.

During this festive season, I suggest the reader to take some time to reflect on values and the potential to be proactive. Do the following exercise:

  • Define your personal values.
  • Do they match the corporate values?
  • What can you do to increase the match between your personal and the corporate values?
  • In which areas of your work can you become more proactive and thus more effective?
  • Write this down and share with management.
  • Agree on a time frame to evaluate progress.