"It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are"
Core values can best be described as operating philosophies or principles that guide an organisation’s internal conduct as well as its relationship with the external world.
So, if mission statements tell you what your institution currently exists to achieve and vision statements articulate where you aspire to be, the purpose of stating your core values is to help define the type of organisation you strive to be. As such they describe something of your culture, your ethos and your priorities. They represent the how alongside the what and the where of your mission and vision statements. Of course it is quite possible to combine your values within your mission statement to achieve the same effect, but we feel that separating the two helps each to retain their specific purpose and makes it easier for others within the institution to appreciate the contribution they are designed to make.
As with all these high level strategic statements, their value only really emerges if and when they make the leap from words to deeds. Your values should both reflect and inform the culture within your organisation but will only do so if effort is made to ‘make them breathe’. This may include publicising your values around the institution, including them within recruitment information, your prospectus and other promotional material and running informal sessions on them for staff designed to encourage reflection on what adhering to these values may mean to them on an individual level. Highlighting, and perhaps even rewarding, particular teams or individuals who have made a positive contribution to the life of the institution through acting in tune with a particular value can also be a powerful means of emphasising that values are not just well meaning words, but an integral part of the life of the institution.
Core values can help remind the organisation what is important to it and to make sure that these qualities do not get lost, either in the middle of daily operations, or in pursuit of your vision. But in order to be of such practical use it is vital that the values you define for your institution are specific and meaningful to your institution. Agreeing sincere, yet bland and generic ‘motherhood and apple pie’ style values which no one could argue with but which could equally apply to every institution is relatively easy.
What is more difficult to achieve is to identify and agree values which are original, inspiring and specific to your institution.
It must be said that all too often the values listed by further and higher education institutions do tend to fall into the ‘motherhood and apple pie’ camp, full of well-worn phrases such as ‘Valuing diversity, equality, inclusion and opportunity’, ‘Excellence in service delivery’ and ‘Respect for learners and staff’.
Contrast these with the following examples from the private sector which not only say something specific and immediately recognisable about the organisation in question, but are also clearly reflected in the way they conduct business.
Example organisational values
"Everything we do is underpinned by our core values of transparency, fairness and security. These are the foundations which enable us to maintain our financial strength and deliver long-term good value"
Nationwide Building Society
"Focus on the user and all else will follow
It’s best to do one thing really, really well
Fast is better than slow
Democracy on the web works
You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer
You can make money without doing evil
There’s always more information out there
The need for information crosses all borders
You can be serious without a suit
Great just isn’t good enough"
"our co-operative values
Self-help – we help people to help themselves
Self-responsibility – we take responsibility for, and answer to our actions
Democracy – we give our members a say in the way we run our businesses
Equality – no matter how much money a member invests in their share account, they still have one vote
Equity – we carry our business in a way that is fair and unbiased
Solidarity – we share interests and common purposes with our members and other co-operatives.
our ethical values
Openness – nobody’s perfect, and we won’t hide it when we’re not
Honesty – we are honest about what we do and the way we do it
Social responsibility – we encourage people to take responsibility for their own community, and work together to improve it
Caring for others – we regularly fund charities and local community groups from the profits of our businesses."
What all of these have in common is their relevance to the organisation in question and the sector in which they operate. As a result they are unambiguous, non-transferable and immediately recognisable as part of the ethos behind the brand.
Can the same be said to be true for your values? Are they specific to your institution (or even your sector?) or could they be applied with equal accuracy and relevance to another institution, or even another type of organisation altogether?