News from the Top

Making Our Values Real


I’m sure many of you are on the path to determining your organizational values, and I applaud you. Our teams need to know they align with the place they work. Our boards need to believe in the core set of values for the organization they are supporting. Finally, our communities need to see that we are examples of those core values. It isn’t easy to get to the place of putting the stake in the ground, but there is comfort and stability once you get there.

Or is there? It sounds easy enough: determine your core values, and all is right with the world. But what do you do with them? You can put them on your website. You can add them to email signatures. You can make a pretty sign and put it in a prominent place in the office. Those things are all great, but they are the beginning at best.  

We recently took the steps to define our values. We used all the tools, tested the results, refined with more feedback, and ultimately landed on COLLABORATION, COMMUNITY, INTEGRITY and TRUST. Now what?

We then had two retreats, spent time on each value, and painted a picture of what an organization would look like if it valued each of these things. On the flip side, what would we expect behaviorally from an entity that didn’t value these principles? We produced pages and pages of raw notes with specific actions we hoped to integrate and, again, behaviors that we needed to correct. We had to be willing to take a hard look at how we have been showing up and admit our deficiencies.

I didn’t realize it going in, but it turned out to be a version of therapy. People could grieve moments in the past when they hadn’t trusted the organization. They were able to talk through times when they didn’t find collaboration but rather grew accustomed to silos. We talked about how we define community and walked through moments when we had to admit that our integrity wasn’t shining through. It was a messy process. I learned that some reparations had to be made, and we gained clarity around how we should act moving forward. In the end, we had lists of behaviors for each value – ways we will approach each other, our partners, our board, our donors, our community, our programs – moving forward. Then, we wrote up each value, how we define it and how we will demonstrate it, and shared those in four separate newsletters to our stakeholders. It’s now out there, which holds us accountable.  

I will close with this. The work is never completed. We will never check a box and claim we are successfully living our values. We will be moving forward, doing our best and apologizing for messiness and mishaps along the way.