How Values & Guiding Behaviors Help Organizations Live Up to Their Missions

A guide to developing and embodying organizational values that support your commitments to equity, diversity, and inclusion with examples from our values.

Siena Beacham, Storytelling & Content CatalystJul 13, 2023 9:59 PM

Do you know what your organization's core values are? Can you name them off the top of your head? More importantly, do you know how those values translate into behaviors and actions that your organization takes on a day-to-day basis?

If the answer to any of those questions is "no," then it's time to take a closer look at the role that values and guiding behaviors play in helping organizations live up to their missions.

The Importance of Values

At their core, organizational values are the beliefs and principles that guide decision-making and actions within an organization. They serve as a roadmap for how the organization interacts with its stakeholders, including employees, customers, and the broader community.

Values are especially important in today's world, where consumers are increasingly interested in doing business with organizations that align with their own values. In fact, a study by Cone Communications found that 87% of consumers said they would purchase a product because an organization advocated for an issue they cared about.

But values aren't just important for external stakeholders. They also play a critical role in shaping an organization's internal culture and guiding employee behavior. When employees understand and embrace the organization's values, they are more likely to feel a sense of purpose and direction in their work.

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Aligning Personal and Organizational Values

One important question to ask is whether there is alignment between an individual's personal values and those of the organization they work for. If there is a disconnect between the two, it can lead to employee disengagement and turnover.

For this reason, it's important for organizations to be transparent about their values and to ensure that they are hiring individuals who share those values. It's also important for employees to have opportunities to provide feedback on the organization's values and to feel that their input is appreciated.

The Importance of Embodying Values

Oftentimes values end up being just words that sound great on paper, with no real understanding of what they look like in practice. Values are only meaningful if they are put into action. That's where guiding behaviors come in. They are the specific actions, systems, or processes that an organization implements to embody its values.

For example, if one of an organization's core values is transparency, its guiding behaviors might include regular town hall meetings, open-door policies, and a commitment to sharing information with stakeholders in a timely and transparent manner.

By embodying values through guiding behaviors, organizations can demonstrate to the individuals, communities they serve, and to their stakeholders that they are committed to living up to their missions.

Living Our Values

AtOF/BY/FOR ALL, we strive to embody our values in everything we do. Below you will see a list of organizational values implemented in 2022 through the leadership of our CEO Courtney Harge.

Our values are nouns: things we hold with respect and regard. Our behaviors are verbs: how we enact and embody the holding of our values. Our major values are emboldened; the minor values are greyed out. Think of the major values as umbrellas and the minor values as objects under that umbrella’s care.

As an organization, we value, in alphabetical order:

To honor these values, we demonstrate these core behaviors:

  • We work collaboratively, iteratively, and kindly
  • We prioritize people over institutions
  • We are responsible for ourselves and accountable to each other
  • We strive for healthy boundaries, conflict, and relationships
  • We know that success includes ease and rest
  • We apply an equity lens

Our core values and behaviors are interconnected. They inform our decisions and processes. Every choice we make is an opportunity to choose our values: “what we practice is what we are.” (Brown, 2021)

We understand that it's not enough to simply list these values on our website or in our employee handbook. We also need to demonstrate to our fellow colleagues and the outside world how we are putting these values into action.

For example, our commitment to collaboration means that we regularly seek out feedback from our employees and other stakeholders. Our commitment to creativity means that we encourage experimentation and exploration in our work. And our commitment to transparency means that we are open and honest about our decision-making processes.

For our organization, gaining clarity about our values and how to embody them has been a journey, and there are have been a lot of mistakes and stumbles along the way. While far from perfect, it is a place we landed after countless challenging conversations, relational conflicts, and individual and collective healing work. But one important starting point was to be curious and inquisitive about our values, to look at them critically, and to be honest about whether or not we individually and collectively were embodying the change we hoped to make through our organization’s mission. And, all organizations should be willing to take this critical look at their values and behaviors on a regular basis to assess alignment and efficacy. 

When was the last time your organization had an honest and critical conversations about your values and core behaviors?

Supporting Liberation

It's imperative for organizations to create values and guiding behaviors that support liberation. One lesson we learned through our healing justice work with Erika Totten of Harriet’s Apothecary, is that as a society, we are already well-practiced in values and behaviors that support oppression, whether we realize it or not, and despite our best intentions. Organizations and individuals have a responsibility to actively work to be aware of counteract these harmful practices when they inevitably show up in our work, our thoughts/ beliefs, and in our relational interactions with one another.

This means creating values and guiding behaviors that prioritize things like equity, inclusion, and social justice. It means acknowledging and addressing the ways in which systems of oppression have historically been embedded in organizational practices and have caused real harm.

At OF/BY/FOR ALL, we strive to actively reject, disrupt, or interrupt the following values and behaviors when they show up. We are humans who are products of and participants in an unjust world: we will inevitably engage with these values throughout the course of our work together. However, we will do our best to course-correct toward the core values listed above.

We compassionately release the following behaviors and values:

Items in gray are excerpted from The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture by Tema Okun

Call to Action

Values and guiding behaviors are not just nice-to-haves for organizations. They are critical components that help organizations live up to their missions and make a positive impact in the world. As individuals, we also have a role to play in supporting these values and behaviors. So let's challenge ourselves to actively embody them in our daily lives.

Tag us on social media and share a liberatory value that you practice or hope to practice within your organization!

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