PROFIT Magazine: “Unconventional Wisdom” Column, June 2010

By evoke
June 4, 2010

As a businessperson, do you need to be told to treat other people with respect? To behave ethically and responsibly? To strive for leadership? To be accountable for everything you do? No — these qualities are merely the price of admission to the business arena, if not civil society.

Yet, these generic, self-evident traits are continually co-opted by companies as “core values” meant to guide employee performance and decision-making. It’s a pointless exercise and a missed opportunity to help your employees foster your unique competitive advantage.

A far more valuable exercise is to identify your core beliefs about your industry, your company, your product/service and your customers. Your core beliefs answer the question: “What are the things we believe that, without them, we couldn’t do what we uniquely do?” But unlike the core values listed above, they must not be general and generic; rather, they must be refined to articulate the rationale behind each one. In a way, they are not merely statements about what you believe, but compact arguments supporting each belief.

Navigator Ltd., a Toronto-based communications firm whose clients are in “must win” situations, lives by 10 core beliefs that keep it true to a successful methodology. One is that a client must “always respond” when under attack, because perspectives harden with time, those opposing you will be emboldened by your passivity and you abdicate control of the situation to hostile parties. Another is “actively define yourself,” because when you don’t, your opposition will define you in ways that are advantageous to them and detrimental to you.

Another example is Apple. Although it hasn’t stated its core beliefs, you could infer that Apple believes its products must be so innovative that they define their segments and force others to follow Apple’s lead.

Each of the above core beliefs guides employees and management to specific actions that produce a differentiating benefit for a company in ways that generic core values can’t. A company’s entire suite of core beliefs drive decision-making and execution, making the company uniquely remarkable in ways that resonate with clients — which is the wellspring of sustainable competitive advantage.

Ian Chamandy and Ken Aber are the co-principles of Toronto-based Blueprint Business Architecture, which helps businesses, from startups to blue-chips, answer the question “Why should I choose you?” in seven words or less.

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