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Jozef Opdeweegh’s Values Compass For Startups 

By: SmallBizClub


Cultural Myths That Destroy Your Moral Compass

Your values are like a compass: a reliable tool that can help you out when you’re trying to figure out which way to go. By setting our compass early, we can be surer in the direction of the steps we take.

The philosopher Aristotle once wrote, ‘give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man’. It’s a phrase that’s been used throughout history to demonstrate the importance of early development, not so much in skills, as in those attitudes and behaviors that will define us for life. The principle is relevant to business too, and especially so in today’s world of ever-faster entrepreneurial opportunity.

We know, of course, that start-ups need to be agile; that they must inspire passion and creativity; that speed of decision-making and collective team spirit is key to success. These are the types of behaviors that most entrepreneurs seek to foster, giving momentum to their progress in an environment where first-mover advantage can have huge implications for long-term value.

But hold on a minute…  

Every good parent will tell you that the values we teach our children are vital to the citizens they become. This isn’t about being competitive or ambitious – it’s about how we compete and the rules we live by.  And in the long run, because our lives and circumstances are constantly changing it’s this underlying sense of what’s right and wrong that will define us (and our businesses) more than any short-term success or failure. 

The good news is that start-up organizations have a unique opportunity to embed their culture and be clear on the morals and standards they become known for. This is values in action and the outcome is critical to every company’s brand perception. And as any start-up entrepreneur should know, it’s that early reputation—and the relationships it fosters—which most defines and shapes the limits of our potential – just as Aristotle predicted.

A values compass for start-ups

In his experience as CEO of private and public companies, Opdeweegh found that when setting the values of a start-up, there are four cardinal points to consider, which I discuss in my book, Fair Value: Reflections on Good Business.  Entrepreneurs should think of these as compass points, helping them to set a direction as well as ensuring they stay on track — however far and fast they choose to travel.

  • Purpose

What is the difference we make?  And how does what we do improve the lives of our customers and their communities?  Research shows that consumers overwhelmingly want brands to make a positive contribution to society. Even more than good prices, customers want to take pride in their purchases.  Every start-up should have a clear purpose that helps them achieve that goal.

  • Reward

Who benefits matters.  Are we sharing success fairly with employees, customers, and suppliers?  Is there a sustainable balance of risk and reward in our business model? The reward comes in different forms but to be sustainable it must be balanced across stakeholders.  Start-ups are rightly concerned with growth —often pursuing it at great speed — but they should check in regularly to make sure that their partners are not left behind.  

  • Trust

Honesty, authenticity, transparency… these are the touchstones of perhaps the most vital brand virtue of all.  From frontline service to back-end supply chain, being honest about what you can deliver—and what you can’t—is the basis of customer relationships that will endure. The same is true for employees and investors. Being economical with the truth is a sure-fire way to devalue your stock with those whose trust matters most.

  • Learning

How can we get better every day?  Long-term progress is never linear or straightforward. Indeed, history shows that our societies (and economies) evolve in a combination of giant leaps and incremental steps, typically with diversions along the way. What’s important is what we take from our successes and our failures— and how we use this to build a better future. Establishing a culture of continual improvement, encouraging curiosity, and a ‘concern to learn’ is one of the greatest early gifts any organization can be given. 

Knowing what you really care about will allow you to make better decisions, like in the case of aligning your views with the company’s greater goals. Knowing your core values will give you meaning in daily life, help you live with integrity and stay on track with what is most important to you.

Published: May 13, 2022

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