How values influence decision making for ambitious business owners

Values shape our motivation and the goals that we strive for. As part of her Masters in Psychology, our very own Jane Brett has recently researched the relationship between values and decision making processes of 95 owners and leaders of SMEs. The results of her research are highly interesting and useful.

Her first finding, which confirms popular belief, is that ambitious business owners are more highly motivated by achievement, hedonism and stimulation values than the average population.  This means they are motivated by new experiences, variety, learning and a zest for life. All of which comes with an element of risk. Under normal circumstances their decision making favours outcomes which fulfil these values.

Her second finding was somewhat unexpected.  Although established theory suggests that decision making would remain consistent with values, Jane discovered that when the values of ambitious business owners were subliminally challenged, their decisions became more aligned to security values which maintain the status quo. These are normally in conflict with their espoused values of achievement, hedonism and stimulation. However we should not be surprised that people who have worked hard for success would seek to defend their achievements when necessary.

These discoveries confirm that this group of people are a distinct entity with specific motivations and also suggest reasons for why they are quick to maintain the status quo in certain situations, such as when resource is scarce or when their belief system is challenged by different approaches.  The implication of these findings for this group might go some of the way to explaining why many business owners get stuck at certain levels of business development or struggle to bring talented people into their business to good effect.

What Jane’s findings appear to make a case for is the need for ambitious business owners to understand their values and the benefits these can bring to their organisations. So perhaps, some important questions to consider are:

  • What are your values?
  • How are they influencing your business decisions?
  • What impact do they have on others within your business?
  • How can they be used to stimulate the growth of the business rather than maintain the status quo?

It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are

Roy Disney, son of Walt.

A more detailed summary of Jane’s research will be posted at a later date.

Would you work for you?

When we were researched and wrote up our own learning, and the learning of others,  for what drives long-term success for ambitious business owners there was one theme that dominated the answers to the question – if you had your time again, what would you do differently?

I wish that I had taken on people more talented than me much earlier on

These comments are reflected in an earlier theme entrepreneur as leader and they beg a further question – how does an ambitious and growing SME attract and retain talent?

In our observation, the businesses who struggle say things like:

  • who would want to come and work for a small business in a rural town like Boringville
  • we can’t offer the same attractive salaries or career progression of a large corporate
  • we have to make do with what we have got

In comparison, the businesses who seem to make more progress say things like:

  • people join us because of our culture
  • it is a real challenge focusing the energy and ideas that come with ambitious people – but what a challenge to have
  • I’ve had to find and adapt to a new role, at the same time establishing where I can really add value

We are sure that this is much to do with great leadership AND great management – something that many business owners struggle to achieve balance with. But what does seem clear is the need for a compelling story that engages potential and current employees in the purpose and values of the business; informs them about what they need to focus on to be successful; and inspires them with what might be achieved together.

But these are our thoughts and our experience with our clients … in your opinion what helps ambitious business owners to attract and retain talent? What works? What doesn’t?

The topic will be explored in further depth at our next compass meeting.

Why most team building fails

The business benefits of having a high performing team cannot be understated. There is immense power in a common purpose, shared goals, clear individual roles, mutual accountability and a strong commitment to each other – just ask Tour De France winner Bradley Wiggins and the increasing number of GB teams that are collecting golds at the Olympics. Yet, in business, the high performing team holy grail is hard to find and to make it worse many people waste a lot of time, effort, money and goodwill along the way.

The phrase “we’re doing some team building” is often met with an audible, or silent, groan. Images of getting drunk with the boss, building rafts, climbing through trees, crawling through the forest and being colour-coded through some psychometric test quickly come to mind . Whilst people might have some fun and good photos in the process the business impact of these types of activities is very much in doubt.

The main thing to realise is that teams form around a specific task. The way that teams need constitute themselves and how individuals need to perform and behave within the group is completely driven by the task. Yet despite this obvious fact, most team building activities that business owners or leaders undertake are abstract and lack any reference or involvement of the business tasks required to be successful. Personal lifelines, psychometrics, trust walks, feedback, etc. are only helpful in the context of enabling the right behaviour required for the task.

It is therefore no surprise that we find that many of our clients’ management teams feel much closer and more able to operate as a team when we have helped them (as a team) to develop their strategic plan for the business and to identify their team priorities.

If you want your team to be a high performing one perhaps you need to get them working on some team tasks that grow the business. Therefore, some questions you might want to ask are:

  • To what extent was/is your team involved in the creation of your strategic plan?
  • What are your team’s common purpose, values and vision?
  • Where are the real opportunities in your business to work as a team?
  • How could you get more from the capability and experience that sits within your team?