Exploring the Tension between Individual and Corporate Values
Every person has his or her own compass of values. Values are a key element at the beginning of every founding story, whether it is an own company or a grassroots movement in a corporation. Of course, such values are much more than financial values.
At the corporate level, however, values are often reduced to financial value. Many of you might recall a recent episode when you were asked to prove the value of your program in Euros.
The Economy of Common Good takes a more holistic view of corporate value dimensions. To explore the tension between individual and corporate values we interviewed three change makers:
- Dr. Susan Rößner – Founder Monomeer
- Uwe Treiber – Founder Sonnendruck
- Patricia Springer – Co-initiator of a grassroots movement at SAP
We would like to thank them for their openness and for sharing their insights.
The questions spanned the role that values play for change in people and in corporations. We mixed the content of the conversations into a fictional dialogue between the two founders and the co-initiator of the grassroots movement.
Values indicate which principles are important for a person. Every human has their unique set of values and might or might not live them in everyday life. Gaining clarity about one’s values is an important part of coaching. Values support us in making decisions in life, answering for example the following question: “To what extent do I respect my values when I make this decision?”.
Therefore, values are a key element when founding a company because they determine our actions. Values drive us, even if we are not always aware of them. Those who live in harmony with their values are authentic and clear which we were able to sense in the interviews.
WHICH VALUES ARE IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Founder Sonnendruck: I live the core values that have driven me since I was a teenager: justice, gratitude and respect. I am hurt by what is happening in the world: poverty, environmental issues, and the extinction of species.
Founder Monomeer: I’m very much an idealist and I have a positive view on life. My business idea was born out of activism. I overcame the fear of risk.
Insight #1 – Individual values are at the beginning of a founding story
SAP Grassroots Movement: I feel pain when I think of the wars being waged in the world and the destruction of ecological systems. I would like to contribute with my behavior so that life in all its beautiful and diverse forms can not only continue to exist, but also thrive – however small my influence may be comparatively.
In my value system, what matters most is integrity in thoughts, feelings and actions. When I live in accordance with my values, I feel authentic. Authenticity is good for me and for others. They then know where they stand with me. Mutual trust can develop on the basis of integrity and authenticity. Trust is indispensable for successful cooperation.
The central values that guide me are fairness, freedom, a sense of responsibility and joy in life, coupled with a pinch of humor. Not taking yourself so seriously helps you to cope better with life’s adversities and people’s shortcomings (including your own!). It is good that we are not perfect.
Insight #2 – Those who live in harmony with their values are authentic and clear
Founder Sonnendruck: Everyone should do what fulfills them. Fulfillment is when searching stops. I want to make a difference with like-minded people and support other founders.
Founder Monomeer: I am free from obligations. Besides my company, my own time is important to me. I want to do things that are good for me in these hours, because my health plays a big role for me.
SAP Grassroots Movement: I would like to add that being guided by my values helps me to stay healthy and to face life’s challenges with resilience.
For me, fairness includes “living and letting live,” keeping “give and take” in a healthy balance as far as possible, and last but not least, dealing fairly with myself in the sense of self-care and consideration of my own limits. Only if I make sure that I stay healthy I can also make valuable contributions to the greater whole.
Freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. I can only be truly free if I take full responsibility for my actions. For me, my personal freedom ends where it harms others. Instead of lecturing others on how best to live their lives, I practice living by the motto “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”. Depending on the situation in life or the mood of the day, I sometimes succeed more and sometimes less well.
I don’t want to make an ideology out of my understanding of values or even fall into a perfectionism or self-optimization trap. Errare humanum est. Life is a continuous learning process. It presents us with challenges from which we can grow and mature inwardly – but only if we accept the challenge and engage in the learning process.
“Calculating the value of a company” is something that many consultants deal with. The value of a company is determined by the capitalized earnings value, the net asset value or the market value. Can the value of a company really be calculated in euros?
“Our current economic system is upside down. Money has become a means for itself instead of being a means for what really counts: a good life for all,” is how Christian Felber, co-initiator of the Economy of the Common Good movement, formulates the dilemma of today’s system. The following video provides an overview on the Economy of Common Good in a nutshell.
The Economy of the Common Good expands the existing economic model to include the value dimensions of:
- human dignity
- solidarity and justice
- ecological sustainability
- transparency and co-decision
It claims that these values are conducive to a good life and are decisive for the success of relationships with suppliers, owners, employees, customers and society.
WHAT WOULD YOUR COMPANY SAY ABOUT YOU?
Founder Sonnendruck: I am glad that I saw the world with a new name and an Economy of the Common Good balance. I’ve experienced ups and downs.
SAP Grassroots Movement: SAP could describe me as someone building bridges who brings new ideas into the company, who addresses critical issues or also questions apparent certainties. Uncovering blind spots, thinking outside the box on an interdisciplinary basis, thinking as holistically as possible, always asking about the bigger picture, the interdependencies and interactions in complex systems.
Founder Monomeer: I feel very comfortable overall. The one or the other time I was scolding my founder as I would have liked to be praised more often.
Founder Sonnendruck: It certainly isn’t about profit maximization. It’s about the other values first, then about profit. I want to offer resource-conserving but affordable services.
Insight #3 – What really counts: Values that make a good life true for all
Founder Monomeer: I am also ready to sacrifice profit in favor of the cause. I look for the most ecological product variant and offer it. I only sell products that I am convinced of.
Founder Sonnendruck: Corona has led to great difficulties. We have moved together as a company. I want to hand the company over to my successors in a healthy state – on a common basis of values. A business coach is helping us along the way. The view from the outside is valuable.
Founder Monomeer: Competition in the online retail sector has increased sharply. There are new providers who are less strict about sustainability criteria. The major market platforms offer a basic range of plastic-free products.
Values and the Attraction for Employees
Every person has his or her own compass of values. The values of the individual employee are not the same as the values of the founder. Employees can be attracted to the values.
WHAT ROLE DO VALUES PLAY FOR YOU AS AN EMPLOYEE AND WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE?
SAP Grassroots Movement: For me, it is very important that I carry out a meaningful role that is in line with my values. When working with others, it can happen that values are prioritized differently, resulting in conflicts of values.
Especially when world views clash, we need a constructive dialogue in which the dignity of the other person is respected. In such situations, it is important to learn from each other and as best as possible and to show understanding for the other person’s position.
It must be taken into account that many people do not always find it easy to express their values. Often, communication fails simply because we are mentally in different reference systems. Misunderstandings arise due to the use of terms with different connotations, even though the same or similar things are actually meant. In the worst case, unresolved value conflicts can lead to a situation where there is no longer any basis for mutual trust and successful cooperation.
If, on the other hand, it is possible to resolve a conflict of values, everyone involved has learned something. The working relationship is enriched by a dimension that is valuable in the truest sense of the word. Last but not least, working relationships become more sustainable when those involved know from each other what values drive them and perhaps even manage to come to a common denominator despite initially diametrically opposed values.
Founder Sonnendruck: As a company, we live our values. Anyone who works for us feels this too. Young applicants are attracted by our value proposition. We have almost zero fluctuation.
Insight #4 – Employees are attracted to companies with living values
Founder Monomeer: I do not currently have any employees. However, I make sure that the companies in my supply chain treat their employees with human dignity. Setting an example is definitely better than dictating.
Insight #5 – Exemplifying values is definitely better than prescribing them
Founder Sonnendruck: We communicate at eye level and resolve conflicts with good communication. We have no hierarchy in the company. We make decisions together. It is important to me that my employees feel good. I can offer them a feel-good factor and participation, not a quick buck.
SAP Grassroots Movement: A lack of openness, tolerance and mutual accommodation always harbors the potential for conflict. When conflicts occur, it is important to learn from them. If a conflict pattern remains unaddressed, it may be repeated in other constellations. It usually only resolves itself when those involved in the conflict learn their lessons and move forward in some way.
If I don’t feel comfortable in a work environment, I take time for self-reflection or try to find out in a coaching which of my values has been violated. Often the value violation is accompanied by an unmet need. When values and needs are addressed openly, conflicts can be clarified and relationships can be improved in the long term.
At Eye Level with Customers
Just like employees, customers can also be bound by shared values. There is great value in customer relationships.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CUSTOMERS?
Founder Monomeer: I want customers to buy less. Therefore, I do not offer discount promotions and incentives to buy. I want to be transparent and honest with customers.
Founder Sonnendruck: We want to attract customers who support our values. I observe that many customers are moving in the direction of sustainability.
Founder Monomeer: A customer relationship at eye level is important to me. My regular customers are very friendly and appreciate my tolerance for returns, for example. I get great feedback from customers, especially that my store does not engage in greenwashing.
Insight #6 – Appreciation builds relationships on eye-level and self-acceptance
SAP Grassroots Movement: In my view, the path to socio-ecologically sustainable forms of economic activity can only lead through successful relationships with as many business partners as possible. If we treat each other and ourselves well, respect our dignity and show appreciation for each other, we will enjoy life more and want to prevent the destruction of our livelihoods.
If we realize that we are part of nature, we will want to contribute with our purchasing decisions and business activities to the care of nature’s resources, so that ecosystems can regenerate and flourish.
Trust and integrity between words and lived experience are the basis of a value-based corporate culture. Only in trusting dealings with one another can we succeed not only in talking about values, but also in living them.
WHAT’S YOUR TAKE-AWAY FROM THIS INTERVIEW?
Founder Sonnendruck: I am very happy to be on this path, even if it is sometimes a bit difficult and rocky. Perhaps we are also pioneers for the next generation. One thing is certain, it makes sense!
SAP Grassroots Movement: In a highly performance-oriented, competitive corporate culture, trust-building and appreciation often come up short. Part of building trust is the ability not to permanently put oneself in the center of attention, but to let each other shine. I see great potential in this for experiencing more self-efficacy and job satisfaction.
Founder Monomeer: A value-based economy only works with people who represent values. Perhaps this is exactly what is wrong with our economic system – a great arbitrariness, an “anything goes” mentality, which however destroys the environment, our livelihoods and interpersonal relationships. The Economy of the Common Good provides a framework and a suggestion as to how things can be done differently.
Insight #7 – Value-based business breaks the vicious circle of business as usual
Many thanks to Dr. Susan Rößner, Uwe Treiber and Patricia Springer for the interviews and their benevolent support of the fictional dialogue.
We found it exciting that something new was co-created with ease that would never have come about on its own.
We wrote this duet blog post inspired by Otto Scharmer’s Theory U approach. We settled on the theme of the “Economy of the Common Good and values”. Then, we conducted interviews with two entrepreneurs and a member of a grassroots movement at SAP to gather real-life experiences and perspectives. We summarized the content in the form of a fictional dialogue. This step helped us to gain the most important insights.
The writing process took several weeks, as we were both only able to work on the content sporadically at a time. A joint final edit helped to build a meaningful and round picture with rough edges out of the “loose Lego bricks”. Maybe it also takes something like “squaring the circle” to break the vicious circle of “business as usual” towards a truly socio-ecological form of doing business? What do you think?
Authors: Tanja Schättler & Felix Harling (Flow Discovery