Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Core Values are Not Just a Sign on the Wall

I went to a hotel a while back and saw a sign listing the Core Values for the organization next to the registration counter. It was a slow time of day for the hotel and the four employees behind the counter were all available to help. So I walked up to the counter, took a piece of paper and placed it over the Core Values sign and asked if any of them could name just one of the Core Values. They laughed sheepishly and admitted that none of them could.

I find this same level of awareness among the staff of many public charities, up to and including the CEO. The Core Values of an organization are meant to capture the essence of the culture and what is most important in how they conduct their work. If there is indifference to their very existence, I think it tells you a lot about how they operate.

I submit to you that the only way to make an agency's Core Values real, is to have ongoing discussions about them and whether or not they are being followed in the day to day operations. If they are not being adhered to, the leadership of the agency needs to take measures to correct the problem(s).

Given the nature of most organizations, it all starts from the top. If your CEO does not live the agency Core Values, they are not worth a hill of beans. In the coming weeks I will provide some suggestions for rules that public charities, their employees and CEOs should follow, but for now let's stick with the values.

After many years of being in the trenches and providing human and health care services to people in need, as well as observing the good, the bad and the ugly of public charity operations, I have boiled it all down to three basic Core Values that I find most important. I list a sample Statement of Core Values that encompasses the three below, for your consideration.

For our organization to maintain its high standards of excellence and integrity, it is important that all employees recognize and share similar Core Values. Core Values are defined here as the ideals by which an organization functions. They are the work ethic and philosophy of its employees. The three Core Values of our organization – A Team Model, Client Centered Approach, and Continuous Improvement Process – are the guiding principles of our organization, and what we aspire to.

#1 A Team Model
We believe that each employee must take ownership of their areas of responsibility, as well as care for the agency as a whole. To accomplish this, we must work together as a team. The following concepts are central to a successful team approach:
a) Everyone deserves and should be treated with respect, regardless of title or position. This includes having one’s ideas and suggestions heard. Everyone has a unique perspective and sometimes the best ideas come from people who bring a fresh point of view. Respect also means speaking to co-workers and subordinates courteously and professionally.
b) Creativity is the most precious jewel of an organization, and should be encouraged. Everyone is responsible for making the organization a “safe space” where employees at every level are comfortable voicing their ideas and opinions.
c) Communication is vital to the team approach. We should foster teamwork by holding interdepartmental meetings regularly to discuss issues, and to share ideas and brainstorm solutions.

#2 A Client Centered Approach
The clients we serve must be of central concern at all times. Various departments and/or positions within the organization may serve different clients such as donors, funders, other employees, and governmental regulators to name only a few. We need to know who our clients are and be consistently focused on providing the highest quality service. We should also think and work proactively, always keeping quality client services in mind. When making a decision we should always ask, “How will this affect our clients?”

#3 A Continuous Improvement Process
A continuous improvement process is used to ensure that there is constant review and enhancement of the work environment and client services. Each of us should question workplace issues that we are concerned about. Our policies, procedures and directives were created to establish a standard of excellence within our organization. It is only through continuous review that these standards can be maintained and improved upon. Genuine suggestions and questions are to be respected, encouraged and evaluated objectively. Never take the attitude that “it’s always been done that way.”

In summary, each employee shall agree to the following Core Values:
1. I will incorporate the Team Approach into my work. I will strive to keep open the lines of communication between myself and other people and departments to generate new thoughts, ideas, and to resolve issues.
2. I will focus on maintaining our organization as a Client Centered organization, where concern for the client is at the heart of all ideas and decisions.
3. I will make a commitment to Continuous Improvement of client services and
organizational standards.

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