A few weeks ago, a client asked  me why I am so passionate about values. Why so much of what I discuss with my clients; the tools I suggest and the actions I take; why does it  always come back to values?  I thought it was a great  question, and one worth discussing.

In thinking about his question, my response and my overall feeling about values, I discovered that I am not only passionate about values, but I believe they may very well be one of the most important factors in terms of determining your personal and professional success. If you could choose only one area to begin your journey to make 2012 your year, then I would advise you to begin with determining your values. Building a solid business and a successful life begins with a strong foundation, one that is rooted in your values.

So what are values and why are they so important? There are plenty of formal definitions, but I define values as those core issues that are most important to you. My friend Melissa Stanz calls them your non-negotiables. Those terms that tell your customers, your peers and the world who you are and what you stand for.

While that has always been important in any economy, it is even more so in a shifting economy, the type we are living in now. When competition increases, and spending gets tight, knowing and living your values is what will set you apart from the competition. In tough economies, authenticity and transparency are key to growing your business long-term.  Identifying and living your values helps ensure that you retain the best employees, and  gives consumers a reason to choose you.

Beyond that, values are important because they help you gain insight and clarity into yourself. When we understand what is most important to us, it is easier to make decisions and take actions that move us toward the goals we want to achieve and the life we want to create. Values give you an ability to focus, a guide to help you determine what it is you  want and what it is you don’t want. They help you surround yourself with the people who will help you achieve those goals, and avoid those who won’t.

Building a business based on values and one that adheres to those values is, in my opinion, the strongest way to set yourself up for success in a shifting economy. In a shifting economy, time and money are both precious resources: ones you do not have the luxury to waste. Knowing, living and taking action according to your values ensures that you don’t.

So how do you build a foundation rooted in values?

First, Define – Sit down and determine what is most important you, what you stand for and what are your non-negotiables. What will people gain from knowing you? What will your customers achieve by working with  you? At your very core, what is it that sets you apart?

Second, Live – Once determined, your values have to become a part of everything you do, every action you take. Your values become your guiding principles to how you make decisions about who to work for, who to work with, and how to run, grow and expand your business.

Third, Own – Once defined, you must own your values. Hold yourself accountable to measure every action according to your values. Insisting that your values be used to make all major decisions (customers you work with, employees you promote, organizations you join, etc.). Owning your values will not only increase your productivity, it will decrease your stress and motivate both you and your team to reach an entirely new level of success.

Defining, living and owning your values is a process that brings continual return on investment. Yes, you will see monetary gain, but more importantly, your values bring you peace of mind, enhanced relationships and a life rich with satisfaction.