11 Ways to Focus on Vision and Values

If the problems at the Red Cross teach average, run-of-the-mill organizations anything, it is that a failure to put vision and values into action can cause all sorts of seemingly unrelated headaches.

So how can an organization stay focused on what matters most? How can they align their day-to-day work behind their vision and values?

(If you missed it, the first part of this post is here – The Red Cross’s Real Problem: It’s Not What You Think )

1 – Articulate What Matters: To put vision and values into action, we have to know our vision and values! So first up, clearly state your vision for the change you want to create. And clearly state the morals that will guide that work.

2 – Fill in the Blank (Vision): Your organization’s vision is not for itself, but for the community you serve. So fill in this blank:

Our vision is a community that __________________.

3 – Fill in the Blank (Values): If you are going to walk your talk, what is the talk you want to walk? What are the lines your organization will never cross?

Fill in this blank:

When we have tough decisions to make, we will always err on the side of _______________.

4 – Values-Based Credo: Combine #2 & #3 to create a Values-Based Credo that says “This is what we stand for, this is who we are.”

Our vision is ____________. We can only accomplish that vision if we do our work in a way that is ___________, __________, and ____________.

Bonus tip: Post that statement everywhere – in every newsletter, on your website, in your employee handbook. I even helped an organization insert their credo into their bylaws, as the definitive guide for doing their work.

5 – Plan for Your Vision: Create a Community Impact Plan to ensure you are working to make that vision a reality. Vision is only a pipe dream if we do nothing to achieve it.

6 – Plan for Your Values: Create values-based policies beforehand, to address common issues before they become problems. Ask questions such as these:

“Given our stated values, if we have a budget shortfall, what is the appropriate action to take?”

“If we are offered a large donation from a group that seems to go counter to our mission, is it ok to accept the gift?”  (For example, if yours is a recovery organization, and the gift is from the local beer distributor.)

Discuss as many of these “hot button” possibilities before they happen – before all those internal fears and external forces are weighing down for real.

7 – Keep Your Values in Sight: I mean literally in sight. Make sure you have copies of your Values Statement on the table at every board meeting, at every committee meeting. Make it easy to adhere to them by making them ever-present.

8 – Staff Evaluation and Values: Staff evaluations usually focus on what an employee did, often noting that it is more difficult to focus on “How they did it.” Unfortunately, “How they did it” is usually where the problem is! So tell employees up front that their evaluation will include adhering to your Values Statement / Credo as they do their work. And then measure against that.

9 – Keep Your Eye on the Prize: The difference your board is there to make will become the context of all their decisions if they ask the following question for each and every decision:

“If we were focused 100% on our vision for the future of the community – the difference we are here to make – what decision would be the right one? Would it be different from the answer we are considering?”

This can be the job of the board chair, in facilitating the meeting. Or it can be the job of the board secretary to monitor, prior to each vote. “Excuse me, before we vote – we forgot to relate this decision to the difference we want to make for our community.”

Try this at just one meeting, and see the difference it makes – and how quickly it makes that difference!

10 – Pay Your Community First: “Get rich” books always advise the best way to save is to “pay yourself first” – that as soon as you get your paycheck, you take a percentage off the top and put it into savings / investments. The advice is that you take care of what is most important FIRST, before life’s distractions get in the way.

At every board meeting, have board members remind themselves of WHY they are meeting – the difference they are there to make – by spending the first 5 minutes discussing just that. Just 5 minutes can set the tone for the entire meeting, giving the board something to touch back on during tough decisions.

11 – Board Self-Evaluation via Vision and Values: Your vision statement and your values statement can create a simple yet powerful board self-assessment. Every few months (or if you are ambitious, at the end of every meeting), answer the following questions:

Vision: Have we focused our discussions and decisions on the future those decisions will create for our community? Or have we focused entirely on the internal day-to-day? How might we change our board’s work to aim at our vision for the community?

Values: Have we done our work in a way that models the behaviors we want to see in others? And if not, how might we change our board’s work to ensure we are indeed walking our talk?

And finally,

12 – Bonus Tip: What has been your experience with Vision and Values in the organizations where you work? Are they the focus of everything, or just words on a page? And what will you do this week to make sure they are, in fact, what matters most?

Have you read our white paper? Simple Things Your Organization Can Learn from the Red Cross’s Mistakes.

Photo credit – Dimitri Petropolis 2007

3 Responses to 11 Ways to Focus on Vision and Values

  1. I found this artical very informative. And i am going to follow it through, in order to improve our organisation.
    Thank you for your help, keep up the good work.
    And remember Miracles happen to those who believe.

  2. Wow, Jane-anne. It looks like the work you are doing is truly wonderful. Thanks for your note and your encouragement! Hildy