by Floyd Rumohr
A core value is “a principle that guides an organization’s internal conduct as well as its relationship with the external world” according to Businessdictionary.com.
Core values are sometimes referred to as beliefs, enduring tenets, or other guiding principles and are an important part of strategy because they govern relationships with others in and outside of the company, help define what the organization is, and determine the kind of practices it will engage in. If an organization’s core values focus on the well-being of children, for example, its human resource policies might reflect this through employee vacation time, family leave, flex/comp time, and other benefits that “walk the walk” of a deeply held conviction about children. In this case, the core value is time with family.
You’ll know that something is core if it causes staff, board members, or volunteers to separate if compromised. If “respect” is a core value, for example, then it shouldn’t surprise anyone when staff members quit when the organization’s practices toward staff or constituents are harsh or harmful. For the organization that values the well being of children, abuse or neglect would never be tolerated and employees could separate if the organization is unable to make a change for the better.
Groups that have not explicitly identified core values could be said to have a weak spine. If core values constantly change or are implicit only to one one person such as the executive director, then the organization’s spine can fracture causing confusion over what it stands for. Organizations can and should be adaptive, but generally speaking that change should come in all strategic dimensions other than what is core unless that is what needs to change. Because the organization’s people and practices are likely to change if core values do, it is important to be ready for that when thinking through and discussing this important dimension.
Sacred cows, which are old ideas beyond criticism, will often moo most loudly when core values are discussed. They could take the form of programs, people, and practices that have become immune to analysis. Have courage to discuss them. You could discover a stronger core forged in the courage of that leadership.
Next up: goals and objectives.