Values Are More Valuable Than Valuables                              May 2023

JD stood at the threshold of his 40-year-old company as he faced the thought of transitioning his successful and nationally recognized business to his four children. He constantly complained they did not understand the “soul” of the business and his original values. The children dreamed of taking the business to a global market. This scared the skeptical and pragmatic JD. “I’m worried my children will bring this business to the ground, and it is my fault he said. I do not see my values, learning, or experience being practiced and leveraged.”[i]

What are values and are they that important? Here are two American Heritage dictionary definitions for value, “(1) Worth in usefulness or importance to the possessor; utility or merit. (2) A principle or standard, as of behavior, that is considered important or desirable.” The first definition is the personal connotation. I would modify it to include, “importance to the beneficiaries of the value you provide to them,” as well as to the possessor. Your value is a factor of the “Worth in usefulness or importance” you offer to the people and causes you serve. But it is the second definition I will discuss in this article. What principles and standards are important and desirable to you? I am not asking whether these are behaviors and character traits you think are nice and you wouldn’t mind embracing; I am asking what personal values would you be willing to give up your life for rather than compromising? I am not trying to be over dramatic, but if you claim a certain value or character trait as important to you, but your lifestyle contradicts that value, is it really one of your values?”[ii]

Neil was a G4 member of a market leader and trusted national construction and building materials company. From the company’s beginning, the matriarch shared stories of past struggles and triumphs and also instilled in her children and grandchildren a strong sense of right and wrong through their family values.

A mid-level clerk at the state’s quality control department enticed Neil with the opportunity to reduce the quality of the concrete mixture to meet the minimum code requirement while certifying the mixture to still be the highest quality. A small “convenience fee” would be paid to the clerk. This would reduce costs and increase profitability. Neil would receive accolades from all the family shareholders for substantially increasing profits and distributions to them.

When Neil walked into his company office the next morning the words behind the receptionist jumped off the wall, “Integrity is keeping your promise, and the promise is of integrity.” One of the family’s and the business’ values was to always produce the highest quality that would EXCEED the state requirement.

Later the clerk was terminated for multiple offensives of the nature he proposed to Neil. In an interview with a reporter the clerk admitted that Neil was the only person to turn the clerk’s offer down. The news report went viral, and the company was flooded with good wishes, good cheer, and good will. Trust and reputation in the community for this family business soared like no marketing campaign could have done.[iii]

There are a number of metaphors I can use for what values are. “Values are intrinsic to our character as people and consciously or unconsciously influence every decision we make. Values are the guidepost that can help us make decisions and envision a future that’s rooted in our philosophy. In family businesses, there is a connection between values and positive outcomes. Strong values and the culture they create are often cited as one of the defining elements that make family businesses unique and more successful in the long term. In a close-knit family setting, a unified culture is formed in an organic way because family members’ values are similar and have been developed over time.”[iv]

Another metaphor is values are the foundation on which a business and a family are built. Imagine a building with a foundation composed of a mix of concrete blocks of varying sizes, lengths, and widths; some bricks of varying sizes, lengths, and widths; some metal beams, and some sandbags. As a family moves into the 2nd and 3rd generations and beyond and the number of family members is now thirty to fifty people with as many varying values as this foundation has blocks, bricks, metal, and sand and the building and family will surely collapse. To some degree, this was the dilemma Neil was facing with his concrete mixture.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock (Values). The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock (Values). But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand (Undefined Values). The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.[v] Wisdom is a value every individual, family, and business should aspire to, but wisdom is very different than knowledge and education. The latter can teach and educate about the options and alternatives to numerous behaviors and life choices, but wisdom helps you know which options and choices are best.

Here are four values a family and business might consider, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.[vi] How valuable would it be for your family to always seek to do the right thing, treat everyone justly and fairly, love each other even when they are not loveable at that moment, and can always be counted on to do what they said they would do?

One more metaphor.  ““Values are like a lighthouse. In moments of darkness and chaos, the lighthouse stands steady, showing us the way,” he said as he shared his family’s quest to ensure their continuity. Their business was in midst of a major succession transition when the cousin team realized that three out four secretly believed that they were the best choice for the CEO role. The unspoken feelings began to create conflict in the workspace as they each began to position themselves for personal aspirations rather than the best approach for the entire system. While they were each adhering to the values they espoused, they all had different interpretations of what those values meant in action.”[vii]

Words can have different meanings for different people. This is often true between generations. Integrity and ethical can have different meanings for an 80-year-old male and a 25-year-old female. But it is also true different understandings of a word can occur in the same generation, so the questions “What is your meaning of that value?” How do you live this value?’ must be asked and then brainstormed on three to five action statements that represent the values and how each would look for someone living those values.

There are potentially three levels at which values should be established. Every individual family member should have their unique values written down, then the family must come together and share those values with each other with the understanding they could vary significantly. That is when the hard work begins because the family now needs to whittle the numbers down to the top five to ten values everyone can agree on and commit to. If there is a family business involved, then this would be the third level and the top five to ten values for the business could vary some from the family’s values, although it is likely they could be the same.

A value is normally one word. Above I mentioned values of righteousness, justice, love, faithfulness, and wisdom. Truth, integrity, trust, compassion, patience, commitment, honesty, forgiveness, and many more values can be explored. It is okay to have more than the top ten, but the number, especially when there are a lot of family members, has to be small enough to be manageable and negotiated. While unanimity is desirable, it may not be feasible, but there must at least be consensus. Any family member that feels there is no way they can abide by the family’s values then, as difficult as it may be, that member cannot be involved in the decision making nor share in the benefits of the family’s resources, but it is they who are making that decision by resisting to accept the family’s values.

“The next step is to write a short action phrase. I will use Trust as an example. The short action phrase could be, “I will always honor my promises and follow through on what I say I will do.” There are two reasons for putting this in writing. First, any time you write something, your brain absorbs it in a much stronger way. You can review it as often as you wish, and it will become part of your behavior. Second, I encourage you to have an accountability partner/mentor with whom you share your values. The point is everyone should be trying to help each other be successful and significant according to their personal Unifying Values.”[viii]

“Following the action phrase is a brief description of the anticipated benefits to you and others if you are steadfast in this value. “When I demonstrate my trustworthiness, I feel good about myself, and other people will be able to rely on me and will trust me with greater and more important responsibilities that will, in turn, help me grow and become a better person.””[ix]

“I have only used one unifying value for this example, but you can combine values in these statements. If Commitment is another of your values, you could modify the above by saying something like, “My spouse and children will trust me because they will know I am committed to their security and betterment, which I will demonstrate by ensuring my actions are consistent with my promises to them.””[x]

“JD knew that his values were vitally important to his success and desperately wanted to ensure that the next generation carried on those values. He engaged in a family-wide process to better define values and ensure the family had strong shared values that could be taken into action. The interactions and the results made the family team stronger and allowed JD the ability to trust that the next generation would not only carry forth the values that mean the most to him, but also do so in a way that carried meaning for them and the future of the business.”[xi]

“Values can be leveraged as a fundamental advantage for family businesses because they provide a deep and stable foundation for all people to become aligned around. Values are enduring, yet they also need to be updated and refreshed for new generations. This process can be a healthy inquiry and often results in an affirmation of tradition combined with the spirit of reinvention. A culture that’s built on shared values can be the foundation of a successful long-term family enterprise. Consider if you are spending enough time thinking about your values and how they are carried into action in your business and family. Shared values can be the guiding lights for family members and employees who choose to be part of your path.”[xii]

Focus first on the family’s values rather than the family’s valuables and the valuables will take care of themselves!

[i] Shared Values, The Secret to Generational Success, Family Business Magazine by Joshua Nacht and Richa Singh, 1/4/23. Shared Values | Family Business Magazine

[ii] You Can Have it All; Wealth, Wisdom, and Purpose, Copyright @2018 by Kip Kolson, Published by Family Wealth Leadership

[iii] Shared Values, The Secret to Generational Success

[iv] Ibid

[v] Matthew 7:24-27, The Bible, New international Version

[vi] Psalms 89:14, ibid

[vii] Shared Values, The Secret to Generational Success

[viii] You Can Have it All; Wealth, Wisdom, and Purpose

[ix] ibid

[x] ibid

[xi] Shared Values

[xii] Ibid

Kip Kolson is the president of Family Wealth Leadership, a multi-family office and family coaching firm, and author of You Can Have It All; Wealth, Wisdom, and Purpose—Strategies for Creating a Lasting Legacy and Strong Family. You can order your copy at Amazon. Click on the FWL website below to learn how we help families create a legacy, or email or call us at 949-468-2000 to arrange a call or meeting to discuss your family’s situation.

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