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A recent Boston Globe Magazine article (1/11/04) entitled "Ballistic to Holistic" written by Elaine McArdle describes a lawyer who initially envisioned herself in "a noble profession that would improve people's lives." While this lawyer wanted to practice a kind of law that sought justice and reasonable resolutions to conflict what she saw was a profession with lawyers intent on destroying their opponents by any means-hardly a way to improve anyone's life and certainly not hers.
In starting a business (a law practice is a business) I always recommend that my clients think about their own values. By values I mean what are the things you hold most dear in your life and your work. What is it that is most important to you?
The quick answer is most often money. But think about it a bit more and be sure. Ask yourself what is it that money gives you? Look for an emotion or a feeling. Some common answers might be security, acknowledgement, freedom, and/or prestige. Those feelings or emotions are your values. Money is just a means to get them.
The lawyer in the article valued justice, reason and helping people. She went to law school believing she could do that by working in the legal profession. In the end though she discovered her profession (or at least the place or way she practiced her profession) did not allow her to honor those values.
When you work for yourself it is easy to structure your business to support your values. You make the decisions about what work to do, who to do it with and how you operate. If you are aware of your values (and this is a big if!) you can create a business that honors those values. In fact that is exactly what a business owner needs to do.
When you work for someone else you will have to accept the values of your employer. Just as it takes some work to determine your own values it will also take work figuring out the values of an employer. Don't assume that the stated values of a company are the actual values. It is the way the company acts with its employees and customers that tells you their values not what they say their values are. (See #3 below in action steps for an article I wrote on this topic.)
Having a conflict of values in your work is very unpleasant. I can attest to that. In my beginning years at AT&T the company was focused on serving customers. We were taught to listen to what the customer wanted and to do our best to satisfy the customer's needs. Having a good relationship with your customers was valued and rewarded.
After divestiture however competition heated up and the company began to focus on gaining market share. It was all about getting new customers with little concern about existing customers. Winning business was the name of the game. Those people who valued winning thrived in this new environment.
To me having a good relationship with a customer is much more important than winning new business. In this new game the sales person went from customer to customer selling without nurturing the relationship. It wasn't a game I enjoyed although I did want to keep my job. The job was not a good match for me and I was miserable. Ultimately I left AT&T.
Values within organizations do change either because the environment changes or the management changes. Employees must continually monitor the values of their company. If people know their own values, they have the ability to assess if they will be comfortable working in the organization after the change.
But what about those who are self employed? The advantage here is that they get to set the tone of their own company. They will need to make a conscious effort to identify their values and find ways to honor them in their work. If business owners make their values the foundation of their business, their work will be more fulfilling and their chance for success will be increased.
A first step in the process of making your values the foundation of your business is to identify those values.
1. Read Chapter 15 'Life Values: Your Personal Compass' in "Awaken The Giant Within" by Anthony Robbins.
2. You will find a values assessment on my website.
3. I wrote an article for "Road to Success" a few years ago entitled Matching Your Values to Your Company's Values. If you would like to read that article click on this link
4. Think about themes in your life. Is there something you are known for in your family or amongst your friends that you are just naturally good at? Is it something you enjoy and gravitate to in every job you have ever had? What is the value underlying this theme? (Example: I love to teach and find myself doing it in every job I have ever had even when it was not explicitly part of the job description.)
Alvah Parker is a Business and Career Coach. She coaches small business owners, solo practioners and people in transition to get excited about their business/job so that they get more meaning from their work and make more money.
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