Name Your Game

In the game of business, define your values for a winning team.
by : 

Jacki Smith

June 4, 2014
Name Your Game

The schoolyard games you played as a kid were organized with an agreed-upon set of rules. These rules developed without much formal thought, let alone a rule book. Over generations, the 6th graders taught the 3rd graders, who taught the kindergarteners, and so it went. This was the recess culture, and every kid played by the rules passed down through the unspoken social agreements of the schoolyard.

The same thing happens in business: an unspoken set of rules based on a culture you may have created unconsciously. These unspoken rules are formed from the values you exemplify as you manage your business day to day. How you make decisions, meet challenges, and deal with disruptions create unspoken rules—rules you may be unaware are operating in your store. These unspoken rules reflect hidden core values of your business, and unrealized, they can undermine your company’s culture and your best efforts to create a joyful and successful business.

In the playground that is your business, whatever you value, consciously or unconsciously, will soon be reflected in the values of your company, for better or worse.

Determine the unspoken rules of your game

If you are a boss so topped out with stress that you flip your lid at any sign of trouble, the unspoken rule you have created tells your staff not to bring up any potential problems they may see.

If you’re a boss who breezes in and out all day or stays in your office most of the time, paying little attention to the day-to-day activities in your store, the unspoken rule is your employees are on their own and shouldn’t look to you for support. If you often grumble about customers, the unspoken rule may be customers are a bother and customer service is unimportant.

Unspoken rules can be positive, too. If you are obsessive about the cleanliness of your business, the unspoken rule tells employees they had better pick up any mess they see and never leave crumbs behind. The unspoken value of your attention to cleanliness could be “quality and care in all you do.” When communicated well, that value can have a positive impact on your company culture—and your bottom line.

It’s time to uncover the unspoken rules of your business so you can rewrite the ones you don’t like and support the ones you value. To get started, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. When your employees come to work, what do you want them to be thinking about? What emotion do you want them to experience?
  2. How do you want your employees to treat each other, your customers, and your suppliers? What emotion do you want them to experience?
  3. What do you want your employees to say about your company? What emotion do you want them to experience?
  4. What do you want outsiders to say about your company? What emotion do you want them to experience?
  5. When facing a difficult decision, what is your primary consideration? What emotion are you experiencing?
  6. When your employees leave work, how do you want them to feel, and what emotion do you want them to experience?

Now ask these questions of your staff (with a little rewording to make the questions about them). Allow them to answer anonymously. When you compare your answers to their answers, you will be able to see the true company culture you are working in. You also will be able to identify which rules and values need some TLC and which need reworking.

Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and many other books on management and business, gave a TED talk on this subject. In the end, he says, it’s not about the money; it’s about the fulfillment you gain in the workplace. When employees know what is expected of them and are given the freedom to meet those expectations, their productivity increases. For an excellent animated video of Pink’s talk, visit:

When you run your business with clear values, your staff will strive to up their game to meet them. When the values running your business are hidden, rather than living, active things, you can expect behavior to fall to the lowest common denominator. That is not the game you wanted to play when you started your retail adventure.

A little self-observation and soul-searching can help you find and embrace not only what you want your game to be, but the rules you want to play by. Look back at your answers to the questions posed earlier. In those answers you will find five or six core values you would like your company to demonstrate and live by every day. Make these single words the rules for your playground, and they will become the DNA your business grows from. From them, you can create a living vision statement for your company.

The company Quicken Loans has identified powerful values which together form a great example of a living vision statement:

  • Always raising our level of awareness.
  • The inches we need are everywhere around us.J
  • Responding with a sense of urgency is the ante to play.
  • Every client. Every time. No exceptions. No excuses.

Once you have the values and vision of your business, test them with your staff. Use their answers to the same questions you answered to open up the conversation in a staff meeting. Warning: It’s easy as an entrepreneur to take your staff’s answers personally and turn the meeting into a punitive or oppressive ordeal, so ask one of the team (or a trusted business colleague) to facilitate the meeting. Make sure the person running the meeting knows your goal is to hear all input and build a positive company culture.

Before you share your vision and values, listen to what your staff feels the vision and values of your business are, or should be. Ask open-ended questions: Why do you like the values you came up with? Why do you like to work in this business? What do you think the message and mission of our business is? What do you think blocks the success of our company? What do you think we owe our success to?

Write all the ideas that are generated on a white board for everyone to see. Eventually, repeating patterns will show up, and you can group similar ideas and synonyms of certain concepts for better understanding.

At the pinnacle of this exercise, share your values and vision to see how close your staff’s come to yours. As a group you then can establish your core values, vision, and mission for your business. Bringing your staff into this process will help illuminate your blind spots and give you a new perspective.

The values you identify are now your rules of the game, and you can use them everywhere in your business to make sure they are firmly incorporated in your day-to-day work. When we did this at my company, Coventry Creations, we were all very close in our stated values, but the staff clarified things by adding a few important words, such as “passion” and “excellence.” Make a statement after each core value of eight or fewer memorable words.

Zappos’ Core values are some of the best known. They are not only fun, but attainable:

  • Deliver “Wow!” through service.
  • Embrace and drive change.
  • Create fun and a little weirdness.
  • Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded.
  • Pursue growth and learning.
  • Build open and honest relationships with communication.
  • Build a positive team and family spirit.
  • Do more with less.
  • Be passionate and determined.
  • Be humble.

If you can form your core values into an anagram, all the better. The U.S. Army’s core values combine to represent “LDRSHIP”: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. Hard to forget!

How these values influence the daily game

You corporate culture influences every area of your business. It is first noticed in human resources and how your staff interacts with each other, then in your customer service, sales strategy, marketing efforts, and productivity, and finally in your bottom line. Your values influence everything!

For instance, at Coventry we made excellence a value, which helped us make decisions on products that were not selling well but that we were emotionally tied to. Because passion is also a value of ours, we have turned down a few opportunities we were not totally passionate about. We rate new potential employees based on our values, too, knowing they will ultimately be the ones to maintain our vision.

Infusing these values into your entire business culture is crucial to making them the living rules of your playground. Getting everyone to play the same game is core, effective human resources management—beyond payroll, benefits, and disciplinary actions. Even if you are a culture of one, you eventually will hire staff, contract a job, and solve business problems. Your values will drive all your decisions, which is why you want them to be clear and consciously chosen.

Everyday Management. Bring your values into your business problem solving. Whether it’s an issue with an employee, a customer, a product you sell, or a vendor you work with, reference your values as you work toward resolution. If you have a core value of integrity and a customer wants to return a large purchase because he changed his mind, how do you reflect integrity when resolving his needs? At Coventry, we have the value of “open,” meaning we are open to listening, open to resolutions, and open about our limitations. If every employee knows what values need to be represented when helping customers, your customers will get the same excellent service every time.

Hiring and Training Employees. Living the values of your business helps you weed out job applicants who are not a good fit for your company. For instance, if being positive is a core value and in the interview the candidate focuses on why their last job was terrible, you know they’re not a good fit. Your core values also help in the training process because you immediately start communicating the culture you want to foster. As training progresses, you can find ways to demonstrate your values. Having a bad day? Keep your attitude positive even on a tough day, and you’ll show your staff that positivity is a real value in your store.

Marketing and Sales. Your core values are a big part of the image you want the world to see. How you talk to customers, what products or services you offer, where you advertise, the décor of your store—all are driven by the culture of your business. For instance, when you have a core value of empowerment, you will stock your store with products that empower, and you will empower your customers by helping them find the perfect item. Some companies use sarcasm in their marketing, but if you value empowerment, you will avoid that and focus on positive messages.

One of Zappo’s core values is “Create fun and a little weirdness,” a value that comes through in their quirky videos demonstrating and reviewing their products. The fact that they even make videos represents another of their values, expressed as “Wow!”

Your values also get your customers playing your game with your rules. When you exemplify your core values, your customers will reflect those values back to you. Google’s first core value is “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” This value alone changed the face of the Internet experience. TOMS Shoes has been at the forefront of conscious consuming from its beginning. Their values of sustainability and responsibility have people buying their shoes regardless of style—TOMS has had the same shoe designs since 2006!

Even a small business can change the habits of its customers. At Chazzano Coffee in my hometown, “fresh” is a core value. The owner has changed the coffee habits of an entire town, giving customers the experience of knowing what fresh, quality coffee tastes like. People drive out of their way to get his fresh-roasted beans—they will sit through presentations on how to make the best cup of coffee in their own homes!

She who makes the rules, wins the game

It’s your playground, your rules, your game—all designed to make your playground the most popular one in town. Winning your game means enjoying the journey, sharing your vision with the world, and inspiring others to carry your message further. You began your business because you were inspired to positively influence your corner of the world, so get clear on how you want to do that, own your values, live your vision, and share them with others. That’s what winners do!

Jacki Smith is Founder and Enchantress of Coventry Creations and designer of the Blessed Herbal Candles. Jacki has a passion for small business (she owns three), has two books under her belt, and is a regular contributor to Retailing Insight. Contact her at