Much has been written about the notion of value creation in recent times. The phrase is used in commerce, especially by directors, managers, consultants, researchers and facilitators, amongst others. If you listen into board meetings, discussions between managers, sales meetings, product development workshops and planning sessions, questions like "Does XYZ add value?', "How is value created?" and "What is our value proposition?" are likely to be asked. These pop up often, which suggests that value creation is recognised as being something important to be striven for. However (and alarmingly), different people have rather different ideas of what value creation is or might be. Worse still, their ideas are often based on incorrect assumptions!
We talk about value creation as we would an old friend, yet in many cases we lack a common understanding of what 'it' is! Here's one suggestion, from the Reference for Business:
Value creation is the primary aim of any business entity. Creating value for customers helps sell products and services, while creating value for shareholders, in the form of increases in stock price, insures the future availability of investment capital to fund operations. From a financial perspective, value is said to be created when a business earns revenue (or a return on capital) that exceeds expenses (or the cost of capital). But some analysts insist on a broader definition of "value creation" that can be considered separate from traditional financial measures. "Traditional methods of assessing organizational performance are no longer adequate in today's economy," according to ValueBasedManagement.net. "Stock price is less and less determined by earnings or asset base. Value creation in today's companies is increasingly represented in the intangible drivers like innovation, people, ideas, and brand."
This paragraph exposes the nub of the problem. We assume we know what it is. Several simple but incredibly powerful questions need to be asked and answered before business leaders can hope to allocate people and resources effectively in pursuit of business goals:
Rather than make assumptions (think how often have you heard sales people use "unique value proposition"), boards and managers need to seek clear answers to these questions from the beneficiaries of the value that is to be created (because value is determined by the recipient not the creator). Expect to hear several answers to these questions, because 'value' means different things to different people.
Starting at the 'top' of a company, boards should sit with shareholders and ask (or propose, if the shareholder is unclear) what 'value' looks like to them. Responses might include increased share price, a long-term market position or business model, increased market share or something completely different. This is the 'core purpose' question. Similarly, managers and staff need to sit with customers (or prospective customers) and ask the same question. Staff also need to be asked: their motivations are likely to be different from those of shareholders and customers. 'Great solutions' that 'add value' to customers / staff / shareholders are highly unlikely to do either if customers / staff / shareholders do not recognise, or are not interested in, the value that is supposedly being offered. As with strategy, boards need to take the high ground, by ensuring that value created for one recipient does not erode value elsewhere. Boards need to become crystal clear about value in a holistic sense: what it is, who the recipient is, and how it is created.
Once the value matrix (what and to whom) is understood and agreed, the answers need to be communicated in a clear and concise manner, so that effort and expectations can be aligned accordingly. Finally, the board has an ongoing role: to ask probing questions at board meetings, to ensure the required alignment (between purpose, strategy, strategy implementation and value) is actually in place and that the expected value is actually being created and delivered to the intended recipients.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and the craft of board work; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.