How people are treated and how customers and clients ‘feel’ about the changes a leader or team implements has a ripple effect on the brand and the organization’s mission. Without a guiding set of values to anchor the ‘heart’ of an organization, one tends to drift aimlessly from project to event to meeting without a sense of conviction. Values and principles are essential starting points for organizations seeking to create change. Most donor activists want to be part of an organization that has a sense of sincerity and passion.
A friend was walking on a college campus in Virginia and texted me the statement she read that was engraved in stone across the entrance to the student union; “hearts on fire” - compassionate, confident, change makers. What that statement implies about the schools’ values excites me. Hillary Clinton’s campaign t-shirt that reiterated her June 7, 2008 speech line “For everyone who’s ever been counted out but refused to be knocked out and for everyone who works hard and never gives up, this one is for you!” spoke volumes about her values as a public servant in one sentence.
Before I digress with too many examples, I want to make sure that we understand the intersection between productivity and values. People often think that what they ‘do’ and what services they ‘offer’ are their values. A mission or vision statement is not an organization’s values.
The principles and values of an organization are how you expect the organization to act toward its consumers, how you expect people to work with each other and the feeling’ that you want to leave with your clients and community about how every staff member related to them. Ideally everyone affiliated with the organization should be able to recite the values from their heart.
Whenever I am asked to be part of a strategic planning or visioning exercise with a group, I first ask to see what values have been established. Often they may not be there or they have not been dusted off for ten years, so we go through a series of steps to help shape these. Feel free to notice the connection between imagination and creating values (a not so subtle link to the reason behind the name of Imagine Philanthropy).
1. First, imagine how you would like a constituent to view your organization. Are you approachable and transparent? Are you innovative? Do you engender respect or courage?
2. Second, imagine a cocktail party where one of your clients, community members or donors is describing your organization to someone. What words are they using? Maybe they are saying energetic, smart, collaborative, warm, and effective.
3. Third, determine the rhythm you would like to have in your office or headquarters. If a visitor comes into the building, what do they take away? Similarly, today, we need to think as well about a web site as the place where people feel the rhythm of your organization. Contemplative space, cluttered desks, open doors, fluid movement, laughter, playful spaces, color, imagery – all of these say a lot about the culture and values of working for your organization.
4. Fourth, think about the mindset and behaviors of the people who work and serve the organization. Are they inclusive and do they embrace diversity? Are they risk takers? Do they express themselves freely and with humor? Do they exude energy?
5. Fifth, and this is where the vision and values really intersect, imagine where your organization is five years from now. What do people see in the world that would not be there without you? What difference did you make and how did you make it? What made you think you could do this? What values enabled you to get here?
The more people involved in this conversation – staff to Board leadership- the better. Set a stage to allow full expression and conversation. Once crafted, see what changes in your synergy, productivity and interaction with your constituents. And, most of all – enjoy flexing your imagination muscles!