How Organizational Values Enable Success

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What are organizational values? Why are organizational values important?

Organizational values are the beliefs that guide the conduct and decision-making process of the members of an institution. Defining the values of an organization makes it easy to understand the rationale behind the actions of an organization and to evaluate the behaviors of its members.

Read on to learn more about the importance of organizational values.

The Importance of Organizational Values 

Organizational values are important for three reasons: clear values establish trust and understanding, they guide the actions and behaviors of team members, and they open up vital conversations about privilege

Firstly, awareness of organizational values gives you a great deal of insight into their motivations and the reasoning behind their decisions. Having this insight establishes stronger connections and trust between team members. For example, if a team member regularly pushes back on your trendy new ideas, it’s easy to assume they don’t trust your judgment. In a conversation about values, they reveal that one of their core values is authenticity—this reveals that they aren’t distrustful, but that they’re focused on ensuring that ideas are brand authentic, not just bandwagoning.

Secondly, organizational values can be translated into behaviors and skills which can be modeled, evaluated, and improved. Without the tangible aspect of behaviors, organization values risk being too nebulous to be actionable—they become meaningless feel-good words. 

  • Unclear values: At X Corp, we care about quality, collaboration, sustainability, knowledge, balance, and community—these are all worthy values, but they have no driving focus. When it comes to tough decisions, there’s no evident “right thing to do.”
  • Clear values: X Corp’s values are “balance” and “knowledge.” To practice balance, we have a “no work emails on the weekend” policy. To practice knowledge, we require that everyone comes to the weekly marketing meeting with a question, or a tool or skill to share. 

Translating values into value-supporting behaviors provides clear guidelines of how you expect your team members to work together, make decisions, and show up to their work. Furthermore, they show you who’s on track, who needs help, and who deserves recognition for their integrity. When thinking of behaviors to model your organization’s values, ask yourself: 

  • What are value-supporting behaviors I expect from my team members?
  • What behaviors are not aligned with our organization’s values?
  • Which team members deserve recognition for their continuous value-supporting behaviors?

The third reason for clarifying organizational values is that strong values can support innovative organizations in the discussion around privilege. This discussion is usually swept under the rug because people fear saying the wrong thing, but it’s vitally important to understanding the ways in which your organization supports or excludes diverse perspectives. Brave leaders, knowing that their role is to build an organization that supports diverse perspectives, lean into this conversation, depending on their values to push them through the fear and discomfort of saying or doing something wrong. 

Clear Values Improve Feedback

Teaching and practicing strong organizational values is especially important for the process of giving or receiving feedback. Often, feedback can be hard to hear and drives you to shut down or act defensively. When you bring your values to the table, however, you can rely on them to direct your emotions and reactions in the more productive direction of gaining insight and figuring out the way forward.

When giving feedback, think about how you want to bring yourself and your values into the conversation. For example, if one of your values is courage, you can enter the conversation with the commitment to be honest and respectful, instead of defaulting to the comfort of polite half-truths. If your second value is teamwork, you might offer to come up with an improvement plan for your team member, rather than leaving them to figure it out alone.

When receiving feedback, it’s helpful to adopt a value-supporting mantra or behavior, such as “I have the courage to at least sit here and listen” (courage), “Paying attention will make me a better teammate” (teamwork), or “I’ll ask questions and fully understand” (curiosity). 

These mantras and behaviors ensure that you show up to the conversation in such a way that you can find value in any feedback you receive. This is important because feedback usually doesn’t happen under perfect circumstances. Instead, you’ll usually find yourself in one of three situations: 1) receiving feedback from someone who doesn’t know how to give it, 2) receiving feedback from someone skilled, but whose intentions aren’t clear, or 3) receiving feedback that catches you off-guard. 

  • When receiving feedback from someone who doesn’t know how to give it, remember that there is something valuable in what they are saying. Showing up to the conversation led by your values lets you find those valuable parts, and leave the rest behind.
  • When getting feedback from someone with unknown intentions, remember that people giving honest and constructive feedback usually have your best interests in mind. While the feedback might be hard to hear, your values push you to come to the conversation ready to learn and make improvements.

When getting feedback that catches you off-guard, remember that it’s okay to take a break to consider the feedback, and come back later with your thoughts. Instead of letting you shut down and escape the conversation, your values push you to stay open to the feedback, and show up to the conversation again once you’ve collected your thoughts.

Defining Your Organizational Values: Clarity Is Key

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Joseph Adebisi

Joseph has had a lifelong obsession with reading and acquiring new knowledge. He reads and writes for a living, and reads some more when he is supposedly taking a break from work. The first literature he read as a kid were Shakespeare's plays. Not surprisingly, he barely understood any of it. His favorite fiction authors are Tom Clancy, Ted Bell, and John Grisham. His preferred non-fiction genres are history, philosophy, business & economics, and instructional guides.

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