The Bottom Line: 4 Types of Value in Business (and Life)
“People who add value to others do so intentionally. I say that because to add value, [people] must give of themselves, and that rarely occurs by accident.” — John C. Maxwell
Before I get on to the topic at hand, I’d like to call out something that’s become apparent to me. My current writing projects have a business/work focus. That’s because the topics I’m exploring are directly tied to my work and profession. I’m using my writing to dig deeper into the various aspects of my experience design model to learn, get feedback, and continuously improve the model. I’m finding so much more on this journey, though! It turns out that all the topics I have explored, and plan to explore apply to life, as well as business. The best part of this is, the value I can add for my readers and myself is exponentially greater if the content can be applied to the professional and the personal. In honor of this finding of added value, let’s dig in.
In business and personal ventures, we often see the bottom line as the cost, or more holistically, as the return on investment (ROI) — benefit minus cost. When measured only in terms of money, though, we lose sight of other important forms of value that should have a place in the bottom line.
ROI is how we determine if something is in our interest to pursue. Yes, both in business and in life, even if we don’t refer to it as ROI. But what do we really need to pay attention to in terms of ROI?
Below are the four most important forms of value that should be considered when evaluating whether you or your organization should pursue a project, venture, activity… just about anything!
I know, I just said when you only measure in terms of money, you lose sight of other value. However, what I did not say is, money isn’t important. If we’re being completely honest with ourselves, money is extremely important. Its origins and purpose (a discussion for another time, maybe) speak to its significance, and the impact it has on humans’ ability to function in our world. So, yeah. It tops my list at number one.
What is financial value?
Financial value is the increase in revenue — money coming in, and/or the reduction in cost — money going out. For organizations, this is top-of-mind all the time. There are shareholders to please, technologies to buy, customers to satisfy… hopefully not in that order. The only way to do any of these things is have enough money to fund them. So, it’s no wonder why the balance sheets and other financial reports endure so much scrutiny.
Any work worth doing is work that will generate more revenue and/or reduce costs. You may think that’s not quite right, after all shouldn’t people and their experiences dictate what work is worth doing? Yes! But, watch closely, because I did not just contradict myself.
As a self-proclaimed experience designer (I’ve never actually held this title, but I’ve been living the life for a while), I absolutely believe that the most important thing an organization can do, is to focus on customer experience — for both internal and external customers. So, how does that jive with using financial value as a key decision point for doing work, you ask? It takes money.
In the world we live in, it takes money to run a business that serves people. It takes money to hire great employees that care about customer experience. It takes money to design and deliver the kind of experiences we want and our customers want. Without money, there isn’t much of an experience. This is true for individuals too!
Sure, we can experience amazing sunsets for free, but we forget the role money has played in making that a possibility for us, whether it was our money or someone else’s. We are alive because we have food, water, and shelter. Money. We can walk outside without being arrested for indecent exposure because we have clothes. Money. We can enjoy the view of a sunset without worrying about having food, water, shelter, and clothes because, we have money. Anyone who has to worry about having these things are focused on money. Anyone worrying about others having these things are focused on money. Money isn’t good or evil. It just is. And it is essential for experiences to be had.
Note: As you read about the other three value types, keep in mind that while each provide value themselves, they all can (and do) lead to financial value, as well.
Technical value is found in the design and improvement of processes and systems. Boring? No. I promise it gets better; just stick with me.
What is the value in processes and systems?
A process is a series of actions taken in a particular order to achieve some result. Organizations have them, and so do individuals. Sometimes they’re documented, sometimes they’re not. Sometimes we’re conscious of them, and sometimes we’re not. Regardless of the state in which they exist, they are extremely important to how we function and get things done.
Organizational processes allow employees and teams to accomplish their work. If a new job is created a process will need to be designed to go along with it, so the job can get done. If a job is being done, but it’s taking too long, or causing problems in other processes, it needs to be improved.
At the personal level, we have processes too. I suspect they’re not formally documented and housed in a knowledge management system — if they are, I’m seriously impressed… and concerned — but nevertheless, they exist. We need processes to pay our bills, pack a suitcase, drive to work, brush our teeth, and do hundreds of thousands of other things in our lives. Our brain does most of the process design for us, and then commits it to memory. However, we, like organizations design in and over time, develop inefficiencies, unnecessary loops, and other types of waste in our processes.
Technical value is realized anytime we efficiently design a new process to achieve a new end, or improve an existing process to make the achievement of a result easier, faster, etc. Here’s a great example of a personal process improvement.
I started a workout routine — 6:45 A.M. HIIT classes, three days a week. (I’m not a morning person, by the way.) The new routine required me to design a process to achieve getting out of the house in time for the class, but with everything I needed to shower and get ready for work — we’ll call it the getting-ready-for-the-workout process. Initially this process wasn’t great. I’d wake up at 5:45 A.M., throw everything I thought I needed into a gym bag that was way too big, and run out the door, giant gym bag banging into walls and doors all the way. (For those, like myself, that thoroughly enjoy a good process map, this description is painful. But we’re keeping it simple here.) The problems with my process included, but were not limited to: missing underwear; missing make-up, missing towel; and missing shoes. Sometimes it was just one thing, other times I missed so much that I had to put part of my sweaty workout outfit back on after a shower, just to come home and get ready. Ick!
So, what did I do? I added value for myself by improving my process. First, I made a list of everything I would need each day. Then, I got a proper-sized gym bag to hold those things. Finally, I started packing it the night before. These improvements reduced my stress level, made me feel like 6:45 A.M. classes were doable for the long-term, and gave me a few extra minutes in the morning to hydrate before the workout, so I felt better. A year later, I’m still in the workout routine, I have visible muscles, and I’m 12 pounds lighter. Had I not made these process changes, I may have decided it was too much hassle, and given up. Talk about value!
Now that we’ve gone over processes, systems will be easier to explain. A system is a group of processes working together in an interconnected way.
In an organization, systems can be found everywhere — in customer relationship management, business intelligence, knowledge management, change management, etc. All these functions can be considered systems, as they are made up of a group of processes or jobs to be done. Improve a process within a system, improve the system. Improving a system usually has other benefits, as well. Let’s take my personal process example a little further to illustrate system-level value.
My broader workout plan could be considered a system. It’s made up of multiple processes from scheduling the workouts, getting ready for the workouts, doing the workouts, and recovering from the workouts. By improving the “getting-ready-for-the-workout” process, I improved the entire system making it easier to sustain, which led to additional benefits — strength gain and weight loss.
If knowledge is power, then this value type is a huge asset. We cannot achieve the other types of value without some level of information that enables it. So, we don’t want to forget about this one.
What is informational value?
Informational value provides data and understanding. Don’t get sleepy on me here. “Data” is a short way of expressing any piece of information that can be used to learn something or figure something out. Understanding, on the other hand, is a bit deeper. This is where the data are used to do the learning and figuring-out. Because of the difference in data and understanding, I level these subsets of informational value.
Level I — Data
Data don’t really give us anything, except an opportunity. However, the acquisition of data is essential for getting to the next level — understanding. Therefore, to acquire data is to add value.
Level II — Understanding
I also refer to understanding in terms of developing insights. Insights are what we know to be true based on the information (data) we have available. Insights are what make information actionable. Therefore, value realized at this level has great potential.
It’s more apparent how this value type applies at both the organizational and individual levels. For an organization, informational value can translate to amazing to new products and services — experiences. For the individual, it could mean getting the job you’ve always wanted, or finally getting rid the partner you knew you shouldn’t have been with in the first place. We’ve all been there!
Information allows us to make sense of the world around us, which, in turn gives us options for making our organizations and lives better. That is valuable.
This value type is all about the individual. It benefits the person, as well as the organization they support, but it is individually focused.
What is personal value?
Personal value is development and growth within and for yourself. Professionally, it could be a degree or certification. Personally, it could be improved emotional intelligence or better health. Anything you achieve by way of personal development and growth will likely have a positive impact on your life and career.
Organizations that invest in adding personal value for their employees see significant financial and other benefits. Here are some stats from Shiftelearning.com on the value organizations realize by providing substantial development opportunities.
24% higher profit margins
10% increase in employee productivity
218% higher income per employee
They also tend to have less turnover, which leads to knowledge retention and succession planning opportunities, among other benefits.
Personal development is in the best interest of the individual too. We don’t need facts and figures to know this. If you’ve ever felt better about yourself after learning something new, gotten a salary increase because of a professional certification, or gotten a renewed sense of optimism after dumping a toxic friend, then you know the value of personal development and growth. You also know that it spills over into other areas of your life. I can attest to this. My new workout routine has changed, not only how I view my body, but also the attitude I take toward what I can accomplish, my sense of self-worth, and how I engage with those around me. The value in that is priceless.
The Bottom Line
Value is about more than money, but you’ll likely see more of it when you pay attention to all four value types.
Value-based decision-making isn’t just for organizations, individuals need to use it too.
Sticking to a workout routine is possible and valuable. (Okay, that one is just for me, but hopefully it was a little inspiring!)