Along with the family vision statement, shared values are one of the most important things a family can document. Identifying shared values allow a family to focus on what they have in common as it pertains to the family business.
What shared family values are – and what they’re not
Individual family members each bring their own values to the table, but shared family values won’t directly mirror any one person’s values. Everybody lives their lives differently, and has different things that are meaningful to them. The family’s shared values are the values you all hold in common as it pertains to your family business or other shared family assets.
The family’s shared values are also different from corporate values, and they should be distinct. The family’s values are the underpinnings of the family’s support for the business.
Shared values make decision-making much, much easier. When you talk about your shared values, it helps prevent a lot of conflicts, so it can be a very useful tool that a family can use in day-to-day discussions about the business.
How to define your own family’s shared values
The process I recommend for defining shared family values is similar to the way I recommend writing a family vision statement.
As you approach a planned annual meeting or another event where the family will gather in the same room, have all family members do a homework assignment before you get together. You can send values cards to each member of the family. Their homework assignment is to go through the cards and articulate or define six values that the family member holds as it pertains to the business. These are not the values that govern your personal life, but the values that inform the way you want to act as a steward for the business.
Then, when you get together as a group, you spend time talking about the results of this exercise. It may be helpful to break into smaller groups to refine your selections. For example, a family of thirty people can break out into five groups of six. Each person will talk with their small group about the values they’ve identified that pertain to the business. Then, you can identify values that are similar. Perhaps some values can all be defined as stewardship, or perhaps another list of different-sounding values are actually all related to the idea of transparency. You try to whittle down your larger selection into a smaller, more defined collection.
Once the small groups have closed in on some over-arching themes, you can reconvene and talk about them in a larger group. Then it makes sense to appoint a small committee to focus on that group of six lists into one master list.
What a list of shared values looks like
A finished list can take different forms, but I recommend that you articulate each value by a single word, and then craft a definition of that word that encompasses all the ways that value will govern the family’s interactions with the family business.
For example, let’s take the word “transparency,” if that’s something your family has articulated as a value. You can use all the other values and ideas that underlie that one word to create your family’s definition of what transparency means.
The process for finalizing the values
One key point is that you do not want to do group wordsmithing. You won’t want to spend a lot of time as a group going over the document with a fine-toothed comb. It’s very boring and time-consuming. Instead, empower a group to come up with a master definition of the shared family values.
Then you can hold a webinar to present the shared values and the definitions. You should be prepared to have a dialog around the proposed list, and then the committee can refine the list again based on the feedback they’ve received. This process may need to be repeated. Do a draft, hold a webinar, gather feedback, do another draft and gather more feedback. It may be an iterative process until you get everything finalized. But if you gather everyone’s feedback at the beginning, it doesn’t take too long to refine the list.
Focus on the positive
In this process, you family is spending time talking about what you agree on. You may find that you agree on far more than you realize. When you take time to articulate your points of agreement, you’re coming from a place of unity instead of a place of difference. So now when you propose a new policy or agreement in the future, you can talk about how each of your values are represented in whatever you’re working on. You will find that when you start the decision-making process with your values, you will move leaps and bounds ahead of where you were able to get to before.