Know what you stand for, and make it accessible

What does your organization or department stand for? What do you stand for?

Clearly defining our core values is one of the most difficult and most important things we can do. We’re going to make decisions daily. We can either make them with pre-established guidelines that reflect what we truly value, or we can make them in the moment, trusting that our emotions and the sway of what’s urgent and reacting to what gets placed before us.

So defining our values is proactive. Responding based on the moment is reactive.

National Community Church in Washington D.C. has a unique set of core values. Very “un-church-like.” They’re sticky. They represent a set of beliefs, but they’re phrased in a way that helps people remember and understand them.

When someone hits a situation in their day-to-day life to which one of the values relates, there’s a good chance they’ll remember it. When the church (which meets in movie theaters across D.C. and runs a coffee shop as one of their venues) comes across a new opportunity that means change in how they’re doing things, values like “Playing it safe is risky” and “Irrelevance is irreverence” help them filter the decision through values that speak to the importance of change and relevance. When a person in the church finds personal change and growth hard, a value like “It’s never too late to be who you might have been” inspires them to take steps toward growth.

When we worked to build our developmental model for Residence Life, we realized there are a lot of great, well-researched models out there. But most are in researcher-talk. For something to stick – to influence behavior – it has to be written in a way that connects to the people it’s meant to impact. RAs must “get it” enough to share it or program with it. So we boiled it down to seven core values and tried to name them in ways that would stick. We’re always working to improve things, but so far, they seem to have worked better than anything else we’ve tried.

Core values can be prescriptive and descriptive. They both help simplify decisions by making clear where you stand and what you’re about. But they also show others who you are from the outset.

What about you? Do you have some clear values that drive where you work? Do you have clear personal values that help you filter decisions and actions?

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