What’s the value of organizational values?

What gets you out of bed on Monday morning? Is it the thought of that paycheck? Maybe, but for most of us (especially those of us who work for a ministry or nonprofit) it’s probably a lot more than that. Salary alone is rarely going to drive someone to be the best they can be.

We want a job that makes work feel like more than, well, just work. And a smart leader will always seek to make sure those they lead have ample motivation to leap out of bed in the morning. So, as a leader, how do you instill that feeling in those you lead?

In a word? Values.

Your company values are essentially the operating philosophies or principles that guide your organization's conduct. It’s basically the personality of your church, nonprofit or organization. And studies show that job satisfaction is almost always tied to values. With so much at stake, have you taken the time to clearly define the values of your organization?

Here are three reasons why defining your culture is so important.

1. If you don’t define it, it will get hijacked.

Whether you realize it or not, your organization has a set of values that it embodies. The question is, have you intentionally defined them?

I discovered this the hard way. I pastored a church for 14 years and it all began with a small group of amazing people. But we didn’t define our values for almost 10 years. When we finally defined those, the values were things that the founding leaders (for the most part) did quite naturally without even thinking about it. We just made an assumption that the people we were hiring along the way valued those same things. And that was a very false assumption.

You have to remember that culture is not necessarily intuitive or natural to everyone. That’s why you must define it and make it clear if you expect people in your organization to actually live it out. And work cultures that have not clearly been defined often lead to a lot of activity with very little progress.

2. It leads to healthier hires for your organization.

I believe well-defined values are your most important recruitment and retention tool. You want to define a healthy culture that attracts healthy people.

While leading a fast-growing nonprofit, I realized that our turnover rate seemed a bit higher than I was comfortable with. I started to dig in a little to see what, if any, issues might be contributing to this, other than having to hire so many people in a short amount of time. What I discovered as I started talking with people that were leaving was that, for the most part, the people we were having turnover with were competent, and had character (2 out of 3 of our C’s). Our issues were almost always surrounding culture.

It’s unfair for me to judge your performance on a set of values that you’re not even aware of.

When you have staff that are making hires to their teams, you don’t want them sitting in an interview wondering if this person might be a good fit. Define it for them. I think what you’ll find is that culture is just as much a determining factor of their success at your organization as competency is. Rarely does someone leave or get fired for not hitting certain numerical marks, or heresy, or some moral sin. When you boil it down, it’s almost always for ignoring culture. So if you haven’t defined it, define it. If you’re at a place where it’s been defined, you might want to start paying more attention to it.  

3. You can create a value to strengthen a weakness.

This is really important, senior leaders. I hope most of you are self-aware enough to know that you have some dysfunctional leadership habits. You have some patterns in your leadership that aren’t really healthy- we all do. And you need to know those sin patterns, bad habits or whatever you want to call them, will impact your entire culture. Your dysfunction leaks all the way to the very bottom.

Here’s mine: I’m a people pleaser to the core. So at times, I hold back on saying tough things to people. Over the years, the organization started to mirror this dysfunction that I had. It led to a lot of confusion at times and left a lot of things on the table that really should have been discussed. So one of the values we added was called The Last 10%.

The Last 10% was defined as:

“We are intentional about extending grace and truth while protecting our relationships. We choose to not engage in the “meeting after the meeting” but rather say what needs to be said when given the chance. We will share complaints up and positives all around.”

When we first set this value, it was what you’d call an “aspirational value”.  An aspirational value is a value we wish we embodied, but we don’t yet. And the beauty of defining your values is that you can create a value to actually combat a dysfunction. Use some of your values as goals and watch the shift move from aspirational to characteristic over time. 

So yes, creating a contagious culture for your church, nonprofit or organization will help make the environment you work in a great one. But it will also help you improve health as a team, strengthen your work and ultimately lead to helping you have a greater impact.

Because we are so passionate about this at The A Group, we put together a free resource that we think will be extremely helpful to helping you implement values and culture in your organization: The Guide to Creating Contagious Culture. It’s a seven-step guide that will help you start from scratch or even refresh what culture you may already have in place. Check it out! 

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