3 Steps to Finding Your Org’s Core Values

Ready to revisit or create your core values? Bravo! While this is a big deal organizationally, it doesn’t have to be a big deal financially, thanks to these tips from Amy Nichols, Vice President of Outreach, Training and Engagement at The Humane Society of the United States. Read on for a high-level how-to, and listen to the complete recording (just 22 minutes!) that Nichols did for The Association’s Innovation Bank.

Core values. When you are clear on them as an organization, says Nichols, “Decisions become easier, and strategies and tactics become more obvious.” Consider this 3-meeting core values exercise to get you off to a great start:

Meeting #1

Goal: Find out what attendees share in common

A retreat setting or offsite space is ideal, and you can involve an entire organization, department, or team. Says Nichols, “If you have 12-15 attendees, split them into groups, preferably of people who don’t normally work together.”

  • Take 5 minutes for folks to select their personal 5 top values (note, this is what they value personally, not the org’s values). As each person shares, their list is recorded on large Post-It paper, or on a large dry-erase or chalkboard. 
  • Next, each person chooses one value as a proposed org/dept. value. List each person’s value on a combined list. 
  • How do you define these values? Are there any redundancies and repeats? Use these questions to create a new list of 10-12 values.

Meeting #2

Goal: Refine values & assign them to your org’s activities/programs

  • A week before the meeting, send out the shared values list and ask participants to think about what they might change, add or remove. 
  • To prep the meeting space, print out lists for each participant, cut them into strips (one value per strip), plus 2 blank strips per person. Also print out or write a one-sheet for each main activity or program the department/org is engaged in. Post the shared values list and the program/activities on the walls. Have a catch-all category and a recycle bin for values that are important but don’t fit a program.
  • During the meeting, ask for and discuss proposed changes; this is where you can use the blank strips if you need to add a value.
  •  Ask participants to tape each of their values under the program/activity that best exemplifies that value. “You do not have to have a value for every program,” stresses Nichols, but values can go in the catch-all or recycle bin.
  • Review the values, with a goal of narrowing the list to less than 8. “There may be one or two that seem to fit all or many programs,” says Nichols. “That’s a good sign it’s one of your core values!”

Meeting #3

Goal: Determine final core values with rough definitions

  • Optional prep: meet with smaller group of team leads to begin to define each value. “Often what’s in the recycle bin can be helpful with definitions,” says Nichols.
  • Create teams of 3+ people to “workshop” the list; assign each group one value & definition.
  • Each team reports on their findings and discusses as you continue to narrow the list and refine the definitions. 

Listen to the complete recording for next steps and ideas for how to finalize, share and implement your core values. “You’ll want to give people time to sit with them,” says Nichols. “You don’t want to rush this process.”

Photo: #wocintech


The Association

The Association is the only international society of leaders actively leading and managing community animal shelters/animal control agencies.


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