Monday, July 8, 2013

Accepting the Value of Values Statements

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It was more than a year ago that I wrote about values statements and how much I hated them. They're phony, I said. They're never about the values that an organization actually holds, they're about the values the leaders of that organization wished it held. And those leaders stretch the values so far into the unrealistic ideal, that there's no way for the people in the organization to take them seriously.

Well, guess what? Shortly after I wrote that post, I started working towards a values statement for my own association. Despite my misgivings, I saw the value in identifying and clearly stating the values most strongly associated with success in our environment. If nothing else, they would provide a reflection point for everyone in the organization to check their own thinking, behaviors and actions. At best, they would become a rallying cry for us to embrace and move towards.

But I couldn't impose them. That would contradict everything I wrote in my earlier post (and which I still believe). If the exercise of developing our values statement was going to be successful, and if the document which resulted was going to get productive use in shaping our culture, everyone would have to contribute and be on the same page with regard to what we were trying to achieve and how we planned to get there.

So here's how I initially positioned it with my staff, referring to an upcoming off-site session we were planning.

In terms of our agenda, I’ve been thinking more and more about the values we respect (as an organization) and the competencies we possess (as a group of individuals) and the necessary role that they play in helping the association achieve its mission and strategic priorities. Although our values and competencies are not always clearly articulated, undoubtedly:

A. Some of them help the association, and should be better articulated, further developed, and supported.

B. Some of them hinder the association, and should be identified and changed.

C. There are some that would help the association that we don’t currently possess, and they should be identified, developed and supported.

I already have some ideas about A, B and C, and suspect that you do, too. I would like to create a process by which we can all share these ideas, further our understanding of A, B and C, and begin moving our organizational culture in an appropriate direction.

A simple declaration of the facts of the situation. Like every human organization, ours wasn't (and still isn't) perfect. There were some things we did really well, and there were some things that got in the way of our good performance, or which kept us from being as good as we were capable of being. If we were going to agree on a set of values which, if fully embodied, would optimally support our performance, I knew we were first going to need an honest conversation about A, B and C.

Want to know how things turned out? Stay tuned. I plan to tell the story and share some of the lessons learned in future blog posts.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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