Live your values

An important part of strategic planning is defining your organization’s values. If you look, the values of many companies are external-facing – how they treat customers, how they provide products, how they deliver services. Their values demonstrate the quality of their offering and their approach to offering it. (In other words, their values communicate part of their value to customers.)

But an organization’s values are not just for marketing. While values certainly lay the foundation for how an organization delivers to its customers, those values should also dictate how they operate internally. After all, what you provide customers is a reflection of how you operate.

Values are the things you care about as an institution – your core beliefs and what you stand for. They lay the foundation for your organization’s culture and social norms – not just how you treat customers, but how you treat one another on a daily basis. They should guide your decisions for strategy and programs, as well as your day-to-day operations. They should set the tone for how your leaders and your employees behave. And they should help establish your organization’s personality and identity.

Your values determine your choices, and your choices reflect who you are. As Professor Dumbledore said in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Who we are determines our choices, and what we value determines who we are.

When developing your organization’s values, consider how they would affect how your employees behave on a daily basis. Are you treating your customers differently than one another? Or do you truly apply your values to all aspects of your work? If you want to be your best for your customers, you should start by living your values within your organization.


Take care of yourself first

There’s a concept in Judaism called tikkun olam that describes acts of kindness to perfect or repair the world. Though it has religious underpinnings, the idea is often more broadly applied to social policy and social justice issues. Tikkun olam is about healing the world, but the process begins with the individual: you must heal yourself first before you can heal your family, your community, your state, and eventually the world. The first step to fixing societal problems is to look inward and make sure you have the strength, well-being, and capacity to help others.

This concept is helpful for individuals (particularly those who push themselves to their limits and forget about their own self-care) but it is also useful for organizations.

When organizations look at their goals, they tend to be focused on the external ones – what sort of impact the organization wants to have on the world and the strategies needed to achieve that impact. Organizations like to think big and work hard to make a real difference and have a lasting impact.

But in order to achieve those big goals, it’s important to also look inward and think about what the organization needs in order to be successful. What capacity does the organization need to have to implement its plans and what capacity will it need to create? What are the resources – human, financial, technological, and institutional – that must be in place if the organization is to succeed and remain resilient? Are you growing the organization to meet the coming challenges or are you pushing its limits and reducing its effectiveness?

As you strategize for external change, think about strategies for organizational growth and development to achieve those goals. This is done at the strategic plan level, but also at the level of annual planning, team planning, and individual objectives. How are resources being acquired and allocated? How are teams structured and managed for greater productivity? How are individuals developing their own competencies to achieve their objectives?

The first step to helping others is to take care of yourself. Make sure your organization has the strength, resources, and resilience it needs to achieve great things.

How to unify your organization

If an organization is to be successful, all of its individual parts must be aligned towards the same goals. Yet in many organizations, especially larger ones, it can be difficult for an individual employee to see or know how his or her work contributes to the organization’s success. And oftentimes individual contributors in different teams or departments do not know how their coworkers add value to the organization. This creates a disconnect among the different parts of the machine.

When employees understand how their work connects to both the organization’s achievements and the work of other teams, it can create a sense of unity, purpose, and meaning that drives engagement and performance. When employees lack clarity about their contributions to the organization’s success, it can lead to employees feeling unsatisfied, disengaged, and less committed to the organization.

So how do we ensure that members of the organization feel connected to the organization and one another? How do you get everyone moving forward together to realize the organization’s success?

  1. Articulate an exciting vision. As any good leader will do to gather followers, the organization must present a clear and compelling vision for the company to all employees. They should all understand the goals, values, and vision of success for the organization, and they should be on board with pursuing that vision. This is the endgame that everyone is working towards, the common goal that unites everyone in the organization.
  2. Use performance management. It is important that individual employees and teams feel that the work they do is contributing to the organization’s mission. If the metrics for evaluating an individual contributor’s performance are based solely on that individual’s workflow, it can be difficult for the individual to understand why his or her work matters to the company. However, if an individual’s objectives and performance indicators are derived from the organization’s strategic plan, the ties between the employee and the organization become clearer and more definitive. Organizations should look at their strategic and programmatic goals, and use those to determine the work of each team and then the work of each individual, so that they all add up to the organization’s goals.
  3. Foster collaboration. If you want people to be unified, they need to understand each other. Encouraging individuals and teams to work together on projects, either by creating interdependent objectives or establishing inter-department committees, helps individuals better understand their peers’ roles and responsibilities. (Alternatively, some organizations have tried using rotations as a way for people to better understand the roles of different departments.) Equally important is informal communication, which builds trusting relationships and facilitates more voluntary knowledge sharing between employees.

Oftentimes the leader of the organization and the senior management are aligned, but the rest of the organization has difficulty getting on board, especially those employees who are furthest from the leadership team on the organizational chart. It is vital that the leadership communicates a clear vision, establishes supportive systems, and fosters a collaborative culture to make sure that everyone is working together in unison.

It isn’t easy to be the captain of a ship, where you are responsible for setting the ship’s course, navigating the waters, looking ahead to what’s next, and overseeing the sailors. You may not be in control of the weather or the seas, but if you can ensure that everyone is rowing together and performing their duties in harmony, you’re more likely to weather the storms and experience more smooth sailing towards your destination.