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Posted on Dec 22, 2017

Using Values To Manage Through Uncertainty

Using Values To Manage Through Uncertainty

I was intrigued by a recent Strategy & Business article, Burn Your Rule Book and Unlock the Power of Principles. The focus was on managing a business through turbulent times.

The author of the article, Eric McNulty, suggests the best way for business leaders to manage through uncertainty is with Principles. As McNulty states,

Principles, unlike rules, give people something unshakable to hold onto yet also the freedom to take independent decisions and actions to move toward a shared objective. Principles are directional, whereas rules are directive.”

I agree with this assessment. And what McNulty labels as Principles, I prefer to label as Values because it refers to what a company “values” the most.

But I feel the article missed something important: Differentiating Values.

When differentiating values are clearly defined, they:

  • provide strategic direction; helping everyone understand what is produced or provided, how it gets done, who is involved, where it belongs, and when and why it matters.
  • create competitive advantage; defining a meaningful purpose, and ultimately increase overall brand value.
  • define what makes a company unique in its industry, what is relevant to customers, and is easily sustainable over time.

Differentiating values are exactly what are needed to manage through times of uncertainty.

At this point, McNulty’s approach makes perfect sense.

A 3-Step Approach

McNulty outlines a 3-step approach to leveraging the power of principles (values). They are as follows – with my added thoughts:

  1. Think about your organization at its best. This is a smart approach, as it forces the uncovering of real strengths in the organization. This also aligns perfectly with the Values in Leadership interview I did with Bruce Clark, president and CEO of CAI. As he stated in our interview, “We created [our] values as reflective of us and our best people on our best day.” Brilliant advice!
  2. Be ready to live your principles, even when it gets tough. This is a challenging one for many leaders, because their personal decisions and behaviors are being observed by everyone, all the time. As McNulty states, “Actions will always speak louder than words.” And if leaders don’t live the stated principles (values) all the time, why should anyone else?
  3. Make the principles public. This is the important task of constantly communicating and reinforcing the principles (values) to ensure everyone knows them, considers them, and uses them in all decisions and actions. This reminds me of a post I wrote about Armstrong International that provided a wallet-sized “Culture Card” to every one of their 3,000 employee, listing their 11 values, with the first one being “Faith in God, family and job (in that order)”. This was just one of many ways this company made their values public.

This approach works for any type organization – for-profit, not-for-profit, and even government.

It can even work to benefit marketing campaigns.

Tapping the Power of Differentiating Values

The power of values can be seen in a brilliant ad campaign by Guinness beer that I wrote about a few years ago.

This ad espoused 3 important values: Dedication, Loyalty, and Friendship. These are then summed up in one powerful statement:

“The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character.”

This statement is not only brilliant on its own, it also represents the power of values (principles) in times of uncertainty.

Just imagine if every company had clearly stated values (principles) that evoked this kind of emotion. Our world might look very different – and a little less uncertain.