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The Business Side: Building a Values-Based Business

Couzelis, Paul M. Ph.D., FAWHP

ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: May-June 2005 - Volume 9 - Issue 3 - p 32-33

Building a values-based business can help determine how a health/fitness business is perceived by customers and employees. This article provides advice on how to apply your personal values to your business.

Paul M. Couzelis, Ph.D., FAWHP, is a founding partner and senior vice president of MediFit Corporate Services, Inc., which is a diversified management and consulting company with nationwide interests in worksite health promotion, physical fitness, health screening, and worksite physical therapy. Dr. Couzelis was the 1996 International President of the Association for Worksite Health Promotion (AWHP) and served as Chairperson of its Professional Standards Task Force. He also served as the 2001 president of the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity (NCPPA). Currently, he is a member of the Editorial Board of ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal® and is part of the writing team that is revising the ACSM Health/Fitness Facility Standards and Guidelines. He received his B.S. and M.S. from Springfield College and his Ph.D. in exercise physiology from Kent State University.

Whether you are a business of one or a growing company, one of the most important activities you should engage in is defining early on who you are and what you want to be as a business. Along these lines, you should examine carefully your personal values and decide how you will apply them to your business. Whether you are a personal trainer, someone who is building a chain of commercial clubs, or a massage therapist creating a worksite chair massage business, defining how you will apply your values to your business will drive your decisions and personal interactions, and determine the manner in which you are perceived by your customers and employees (if any).

It makes good sense to create a list of values, but your initial list may be quite long and, by its very nature, incomplete. In addition, the categories are somewhat arbitrary because several of the values could be listed under multiple headings. The important consideration is that you are realistic about who you are, what you believe, and how you will treat those around you.



One way to approach the task of defining the values that apply to your business is to select those about which you have the strongest feelings. Write a sentence or two that describes how you feel about a given value and how you intend to apply those beliefs to your business. As you engage in this process, additional values might occur to you; if so, add them to the list if you feel strongly enough that statements regarding them will reflect how you intend to behave. If you plan to have employees, the statements take on added importance, because they define the expected behaviors and actions of your staff.

How important are these values in the successful operation of business? Jack Welch, Ph.D., the former CEO of GE, discussed the need to differentiate employees according to passion and performance in his book, Jack, Straight From the Gut. This differentiation sometimes leads to very difficult but necessary management decisions, some of which are crucial to the health and success of the organization. Using the schema below, employees can be placed into categories according to their performance and belief in the organization's values:

  1. High-performing employees who share the organization values-these are the ones who are very likely to succeed in the organization.
  2. Low-performing employees who do not share the organization values-these employees should be helped to leave the organization and move on with their lives.
  3. Low-performing employees who share the organization values-the success of these employees depends upon their ability to improve their performance to meet the standards of the organization.
  4. High-performing employees who do not share the organization values-this is by far the most difficult group because they are successful, but must be asked to leave the organization. Let us discuss this group in more detail.

It may seem a bit harsh to think that you might ask a good, perhaps excellent, employee (in terms of productivity) to leave the organization. However, employees who do not share an organization's values will ultimately become a cancer within the culture and undermine the very fabric of what it is that distinguishes the business. If a core organizational value is honest, straightforward communications, and a salesperson has a habit of being less than forthright and open with prospective customers just to make the sale, the integrity of the organization can be undermined. If teamwork is a hallmark of your organization and a highly successful employee doesn't work well in teams, others are likely to feel that their teamwork is undervalued and bypassed if the individual consistently goes it alone. The point is that whether you are a single individual serving clients or a growing organization, you will be far more likely to succeed if you can visualize the culture you are attempting to build and the image you desire to portray-and you must walk the talk.

At some level business is ultimately about making money. However, the position and importance of money in the decision-making process is driven by the values that are applied within the business. Certainly, in this day and age there is no shortage of examples of companies that have lost their ethical compass:

  • Enron: illegally boosted profits and hid debts of over $1 billion, bribed foreign governments, manipulated the California energy market
  • Adelphia Communications: illegal loans to founding family, hiding debt
  • Arthur Anderson: shredded documents related to the audit of Enron
  • WorldCom: overstated cash flow by $3.8 billion, gave CEO $400 million in off-the-books loans.

You might think that your personal training business or fitness center is far removed from these examples, but in truth, each of them began with one person who felt that it was acceptable to make the wrong ethical or moral decision regarding what their business was going to do next. In the end, this decision gave "permission" for others to follow suit. Nobody corrected the course.

Within our own company, MediFit Corporate Services, we stated our values 10 years ago and have not altered them. They are as follows:

  • Integrity: We are committed to the highest level of professional conduct. Our management will be competent, just, and ethical. We will practice equal employment, encourage diversity, and be socially and environmentally responsible.
  • Customers: Our primary business focus is to satisfy our customers.
  • Employees: We will treat our employees with fairness, dignity, and respect. We will encourage them to voice their concerns and influence change, empower them to take risks, strive for excellence, compensate them fairly, recognize their accomplishments, and be mindful of their need to balance work and personal life.
  • Quality: We will set the highest quality standards for our services and employees, establish sound and ambitious goals, measure our success against our peers, and communicate regularly with our customers.
  • Innovation: We will encourage change, creativity, and diversity. We will stay close to our customers' needs and industry trends and constantly look for new and better ways to serve our customers and remain competitive.
  • Profitability: We will deliver a sound profit to our investors and maintain financial reserves for future growth.
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Vision and Mission Statements

Although this discussion has focused primarily upon values, every business also should prepare clear vision and mission statements. These statements will provide clarity of direction and a path to the future. Typically the vision is stated in broad terms, which describe what you hope to be at some future time. In our case it reads as follows:

"MediFit will be the leading provider of comprehensive services that produce healthy working environments in business and industry."

Your mission statement will be a bit more specific; it will describe what you will achieve and how you hope to achieve it:

MediFit will achieve leadership in the worksite health industry through commitment to:

  • Creating value for customers
  • Providing exceptional customer service
  • Maintaining the highest quality and safety standards
  • Ongoing product and service innovation.

Whether you are a business of one or have the desire to eventually build a multinational corporation, it is important to take the time to think through and state your values clearly and concisely. Once you have done that, make them available to everyone who relates to your business either as customer or employee. If you have a Web site, make them prominent on it. Use the statements in your brochures, be proud of who you are, and it will help to drive your success.

© 2005 American College of Sports Medicine