We Need to STOP Undervaluing Our Values:

A Call to Board Action on Values and Culture Integrity

Quick question (really a series of questions because you all know by now that, I never stop at one…)

  • How regularly does your board evaluate the financial position of the organization?
  • How regularly does your board evaluate the community outcomes and impact of the organization?
  • How regularly does your board assess the organization’s progress against a strategic plan?
  • How regularly does the board assess organizational culture and behavioral alignment with values?

Notice anything about the answers…

In my experience, the answers to the first question are usually in line with ‘every time the board meets’ and then the frequency progressively decreases as you step down through each question — often landing on ‘not regularly’ or ‘never’ as the honest answer to the last question.

This tells us something about what we are led to believe we are supposed to do as board members and what it is that we actually value. If we are not regularly assessing something, that generally correlates with holding it less important (actions are stronger than words in this context)

Another set of questions.

  • what does this say about what we are led to value …
  • which of these systems has a greater influence on daily decisions and actions of staff…

(And yes, the fact that one of these is legally mandated and the other is not DOES reveal something about what is valued at large)

Previously, I’ve written posts about the distance between values rhetoric and actual values integration in an organization. I want to acknowledge that most people believe that values and culture are foundational to organizational success and will express beliefs that alignment with values should be expected across all aspects of an organization. But we seem to be struggling with ways to actually build integrity and accountability to values into or organizational practices.

In the past, I’ve been reticent to prescribe particular responsibilities to board members of organizations beyond an essential fiduciary obligation — to ensure the assets of the organization are used effectively and efficiently to advance the organization’s community benefit goals — partly because I believe that the board should be engaged in its own level of inquiry around how best it can serve as an asset to the organization.

However, I have adjusted my thinking recently as I contemplate many of the factors that have been affecting organizations so dramatically over the past two years. We have been looking at the response to a global pandemic and global warming that is fundamentally changing our assumptions about the world, how it works, and how we relate to each other, our economy, and our environment. We’ve also seen a tremendous global wave of momentum around issues of justice and equity. These pressures have forced us, both individually and organizationally, to reassess our values, beliefs, assumptions, and identities.

From an organizational design and behavior perspective, it’s important to understand that the fundamental decisions that people make about the organization, both on a daily basis, as well as on a larger strategic and structural basis, are really the manifestation of a whole series of assumptions, beliefs, and things that we value. At Orgforward, this is referred to as the Design Capacity of an organization — the core foundational pillar upon which the entirety of the organization is built.

Design Capacity is a recognition that the manifestation of the things that we value — our assumptions, perceptions, and beliefs about each other and the workings of the world — is what actually leads to the outcomes and the impact that an organization has in the community. This ties Design Capacity — our thinking about what to value and how things work — to culture — the actual experiences people are having on a regular basis across our organization.

In short, the culture needs to demonstrate alignment with our design. What people are experiencing and how people are behaving across the organization MUST align with the rhetorical expectations of our vision, values, and assumptions (aka Design Capacity).

So where does that lead me in terms of my adjusted thinking about board roles and responsibilities, it’s pretty simple…

The paramount responsibility of the board of directors is to ensure values-culture integrity.

As board members, we need to be able to feel confident that the people affected by our organization (staff, volunteers, clients, partners, board members etc.) are experiencing our stated values in their lived experience, and those whom we have organizational influence/authority over (staff, volunteers, board members, and contractors/vendors) are behaving in alignment with what we value. FULL STOP!

(well not full stop since I want to say more…)

Stay tuned for the next post where we explore what ensuring values-culture integrity could look like for a board of directors.

Related Posts
Beyond the Sound Bite: Being Your Visions, Outcomes, and Values
Values Don’t Matter — But What We Value Does!
Start Asking How Your Board Can Be an Asset

Additional Context: As a member of the Creating the Future board, I and other members re-envisioned the role of a board and landed on the conclusion that boards are best position to be the holders of Values Integrity. You can see more on that process here ( https://creatingthefuture.org/integrity-in-action-discussion/)

Originally published at https://orgforwardopine.blogspot.com on September 22, 2021.



Justin Pollock is principal and founder of Orgforward. Working with organization leadership to develop strategies that encourage meaningful community benefit

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