Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Living organizational values: An example from a favorite private sector company

Do organizational values really make a difference? Don't they just take up place on the office wall - or board handbook - gathering literal or metaphorical dust? Is it actually possible to live our organizational values?

I'm a rabid fan - and regular customer - of the Virginia-based Goulet Pen Company, so anything from the company catches my attention. This little jewel, which popped up in my Google+ feed this afternoon, was no exception.

Customer Me enjoyed seeing faces of the people who leave handwritten messages (and baby Tootsie Pops!) in my orders. Nonprofit Consultant Me gravitated toward something else: the way in which the Goulet values are not only clearly articulated but a driving force for the people who work there.

Watch the Goulet video. Take note of the organization's seven core values. Listen to the employees' vivid descriptions of how those values drive customer service, their commitment to the company and their jobs, and their commitment to their teammates. Contemplate the underlying message of what they share and what it must be like to be members of the Goulet team.

Now imagine that same kind of living, breathing translation of values in a nonprofit setting. Imagine board members describing your organization's impact in similarly vivid ways. Imagine them explaining how those values inform every decision they make. Imagine them expressing their individual commitments - to you and to their work - in similarly passionate ways.

If we turned on a video camera and asked your board members to describe the role of organizational values in their work with you, what would they say? Would they be able to make the same kinds of explicit connections to their governance responsibilities? Could they couple their individual service motivations and leadership accomplishments with these foundational principles?

What can you do - today - to make your nonprofit's values as real and relevant to your governing body as possible?


Brian Goulet said...

Wow, thank you so much, Debra! We'd tried many attempts to define our values and purpose, it was so, so tough to get to the real root of it and avoid the platitudes. It took us about 14 months and a lot of soul-searching to get where we did with these. I facilitated about 40 different meetings ranging from one-on-ones to company-wide meetings (we have 23 people on our team) to actually get to the point where everyone was unified an speaking the same language. I knew that if we only presented some finalized values once and never talked about them again they'd be useless. They had to come from genuine conversation about our company's purpose after many conversations about the reason for even defining our values. We weren't just looking to set goals and have everyone point to them when things were awry, but rather we wanted to articulate the great culture that we have already built. In that way, it was easy because we just had to be honest with ourselves about who we were and where we wanted to be.

I'm so thrilled to hear that you were inspired enough by what we did to write this blog post! It warms my soul to think that the work we've done in our company can inspire you and thus inspire others. This completely exemplifies my company's purpose, to prove that business can be personal. This goes for non-profits and for-profits alike.

Debra Beck, EdD said...

Goodness, Brian, thank you! I was so impressed by the specific ways in which every member of the staff connected your values to the work they do every day. Such a powerful example - one that many in the nonprofit sector will take to heart. Ours is a value-driven sector.

Thank you for providing such strong inspiration for all - and such a special resource for those of us who love fine writing instruments. :)