Clarifying Organizational Values



Date of Publication
September, 2017

Recently, WCSAP worked with a facilitator on clarifying our organizational values. It occurred to us that, as an organization, we may have been working under similarly understood implicit values of a Movement but had not, in recent years, explicitly stated our organizational values. Like us, you too, may wish to enrich your agency by identifying, revisiting, and discussing values with your board and staff.

Why identify organizational values?

Organizational values communicate to your staff, board members, constituency, and community about what is important to your organization.

Identifying values can help inform policy, practice, program development, service delivery decisions, and offerings of the organization. The value set can also assist in aligning yourself to other movements or organizations who may share similar values. Additionally, having defined values can help your organization decide when and how to speak out about particular issues and inspire action. 

Organizations can add value statements to job postings and volunteer recruitment materials. This can help perspective employees, board members, and volunteers self-determine if they feel the organization will be a good fit for them given the organization’s stated values and mission in relation to their own personal values or needs.

Organizational values can help unify and deepen connections to the organization’s work and with each other across every level of the organization. Values work can also be useful for smaller teams within an organization (management, shelter, etc.) and in creating cohesive Multi-Disciplinary Teams.
Organizational values influence organizational culture and can promote a shared understanding of guiding principles and approaches taken toward achieving the organization’s mission.

How do we approach clarifying our values?

Vu Le, Executive Director of Rainier Valley Corps, suggests: “Do not rush to define your values. You risk having a great set of words that no one will buy into and thus implement. If you are not experienced in guiding values discussions, hire outside help. It will take time, possibly a retreat and a few work sessions, before your organization has a strong values statement. Do not rush; the process in setting values is just as critical as the values themselves.”

What do values for organizations look like?

When choosing organizational values, think about how they connect and guide your work. For example, a common value held by organizations in our field is Confidentiality. We can easily show how this value is manifested from policies on releases of information, to procedures on secure passwords for work computers.

The Management Center’s “Sample Statement of Core Values” uses a logic model to help organization’s work through the connection of a word or phrase to the collective definition and then to how it looks in practice.

The goal is to have values distilled into observable behavior. Some words can have a variety of meaning to the many staff of your agency. Chose clarity over long, over-styled sentences.

What do we do with our values once we have decided on them?

Use them! Make sure your values are visible. Some organizations have them posted in their office for all staff and clients to see. You can also include the values in handouts at board and staff meetings. Vu Le says, at their regular staff meetings “we save a few minutes on the agenda to discuss how we’ve seen our values being expressed in the past week and to share appreciation of one another based on the values we see in action.”

Incorporate your values into your hiring process in interviews and job postings. You can also use them in Board or volunteer recruitment. In employee performance evaluations discuss those values and how the past year’s work connects to them. When you enter into MOUs, partnerships, and contracts reflect your values in your expectations of one another.

While your identified organizational values might not change, the work often does. You may need to adapt descriptions of how your values manifest as the work shifts into relationships with new systems, priority areas for the agency, or infrastructure changes. If you are using your values in all that you do, you’ll see when there is a need to revisit them.