When the stock market crashed in 1929, there were a lot of people who lost everything they had. You would think that the result of that event would be complete and utter despair. And, in fact, there were those who reacted that way. There were numerous cases of people who committed suicide because they lost their life savings on that fateful day. They simply went into a depression and just couldn't bring themselves to go on with life.

But there was another group of people who reacted differently. These, too, lost everything and there is no doubt that they were just as devastated at their loss as were the others. It is just that they seemed to have better coping mechanisms. These folks were, somehow, able to take it in stride. Many of those went on to create another fortune.

What was the difference? Both lost everything. Why did they react so differently? The answer is that they placed their values in different places. As a result, the path they chose was also entirely different. The ones who committed suicide saw money as an end in itself. When it was gone there was nothing left to live for so they ended their lives. Those who started over placed their values more in the process of living life. They valued relationships and personal growth over money. They realized that money comes and goes, but life goes on. They chose to value things that give life meaning whether there is money or not.

This is but one example of the many ways this plays out in our lives. We all constantly deal with trials and disappointments. Whether it is with finances, business opportunities, relationships, sports competition, academics or whatever, we all face those times when we don't have the outcome we want.

The choices we make at those moments do not just happen. While we may, sometimes, feel limited in our possibilities, the fact is quite different. At any moment we have way more possibilities than we imagine. One of the major choices we make is our value system, and the decisions we make in life are based on those values.

While all too many people simply fall into their value system without due consideration, it should not, and need not, be that way. In the “era of Enron” and "MCI" with its focus on the bottom line above all else, it is time to refocus on where true value lies in the enterprise of business.

Let’s face it, money is everywhere. It is in good places and in bad places. It is used for good things and for bad things. The question is not, “Will we have money at our disposal?” It is, “What will we do with what we earn?” We have to assume that our business will be making money – no profit no business. Money, in and of itself, is a neutral commodity. Rather, it is the values we establish about the business and its resources that define the outcome.

We are not born with values – either as individuals or as a business entity. We absorb them from our environment (family, teachers, colleagues, etc.) and we craft them from our life experiences (what we read, who we listen to, desires and dreams).

But values have to be based on something. American culture emerged out of a way of thinking that was based on an objective value system which emphasized personal responsibility. The thinking was, "If something was bad or wrong with my business, it was my responsibility to make it right." It included a very strong objective sense of what was right and wrong. The result of that value system is the powerful economic engine that the United States has become in the world today.

In recent years, though, there has been a significant shift in thinking. Rather than a system which emphasizes personal responsibility, it is now very much one which places responsibility on everything else but self, with right and wrong being a matter of personal preference. This system cannot help but develop an Enron mentality.

There are a lot of different ways that we can get at right and wrong in business dealings. Every business has to structure its efforts according to its own line of business, the personalities of its people and the corporate culture. But there are three basic principals that must be the underlying foundation for all of them if that business wishes to progress to higher and higher levels of value.

The Three Foundational Principles of Business Values

1. There is an objective right and wrong

There are two possible ways of looking at ethics. One is that there is a set of values which are right and the right values must be followed no matter the short term consequences. The second possibility is that particular values shift according to the situation.

The reason an objective set of values is so important is that it creates stability for the organization. Sure there must be flexibility to change with the times, but the flexibility needs to be in procedures, not in underlying values. If a company does not have a solid set of principles it is founded on and guided by, then every time a new leader comes along, the whole focus of the company might change. In the long run, this will end up creating a disaster in company morale, stability and in the integrity of the organization.

2. The business maintains personal responsibility for its actions.

Responsibility for ultimate outcomes has to reside somewhere. Ultimately it resides with the person who is in charge. But for there to be a smooth and efficient operation of the organization, pieces of it have to reside with the individuals who carry out the various actions. To the degree everyone involved accepts responsibility for their piece of the operation, the company will move forward with great strength. The moment anyone begins trying to shift responsibility away from themselves, productivity and efficiency begin to go down.

3. Personal integrity is the rule. There is a commitment to do what is right.

We live in an era where many people look at integrity as an option, rather than a bedrock foundation stone. This means that you treat your customers and make business deals according to what seems useful at the moment.

This, though, creates two huge problems. The first is that you won't have any consistency across the various parts of your business and over time. The second problem is that your customers and clients will not be sure how to deal with your organization. Both of these together will ultimately wreak havoc on your organization.

You Will Sink or Swim by Your Foundation

You do have a set of values that your organization operates by. The question is not, "do they exist." Rather, it relates to "what kind of control do you have over them?" If you do not consciously know what your organizations guiding principles are, you cannot use them to build a strong identity, and your business relationships will flounder.

If you do not consciously know what they are, everyone will be creating their own and there will be massive inconsistencies and confusion. It is worth whatever time and effort it takes to get a grip on the underlying principles that guide your organization's operation, and to begin to create a conscious one that you can communicate to everyone. At that point, you will gain control of your operation in ways that allow you to move forward with power.

Dr. Freddy Davis is the owner of TSM Enterprises and conducts conferences, seminars and organizational training for executives, managers and sales professionals to help develop greater effectiveness and productivity. He is the author of the book Supercharged – Live on the Edge Nothing Back – No Fear – No Regrets as well as Decision Making in a Nutshell and Influence in a Nutshell. You can visit the TSM website at www.tsmenterprises.com, or you can contact Freddy directly at 888-883-0656 or davis@iname.com.

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