Organizational values are easy to ignore. Often unknown and unused, they commonly find themselves locked in a binder next to the federal whistleblower policy. And it is easy to see why; most organizations are incredibly busy and complex. Slowing down in that environment to create or communicate organizational values seems counterproductive.

But nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, creating and communicating organizational values is not only one of the easiest ways leaders can boost productivity, it’s one of the most important tasks of an effective leader.

Defining organizational values

According to Patrick Lencioni, “organizational values are the deeply ingrained principles and cultural cornerstones that guide all of a company’s actions”. These values inform a broad range of organizational realities including cultural expectations, team dynamics, and even strategic priorities. When properly practiced, values provide operational clarity. They limit an organization’s strategic and operational freedom and constrain the behavior of its people.

My team at Midwestern has a set of values that touches on all three of these areas. For example, one of our values that reflects a cultural expectation is “humility”. We look for this in new hires and expect this of all of our staff, especially our leaders. But our values also include “innovation”, a strategic priority to develop creative solutions.

Ultimately, values articulate who you are as an organization and what will be expecting of those operating within its walls.

Why your organization needs them

Values help develop and protect culture: One of the most important benefits of organizational values are their ability to help develop and protect a healthy organizational culture. For organizations without formalized values, creating them will help establish a culture within your team. Over time your new team will evolve and if properly used, those same values will protect the culture you worked so hard to create. For example, I use these values to determine if a potential hire is a good culture fit but also to evaluate our current staff.

Values help inform and protect strategy: In a similar way, organizational values also help develop and protect your team’s strategy. For example, Desiring God–a Christian organization that develops and distributes biblical resources- lists “radical generosity” as one of their organizational values. When the opportunity came to charge for their online content, they declined the offer citing their commitment to radical generosity. Desiring God’s values not only informed this strategy on the front end, they will also protect itself as the organization grows and faces similar decisions.

Values provide the framework for effective delegation and sustainable growth: At it’s core, delegation is an act of trust. Trust that the individual is capable to deliver on the request, but also trust that the individual has the tools necessary to act on your behalf. For the delegation of simple tasks, those “tools” are fairly common and do not require a sophisticated understanding of the organization’s mission, vision, and values.

However, as a leader grows in his responsibility and oversight, so will the responsibilities of his direct reports. Where you were once delegating tasks, you are now be expected to delegate entire projects and initiatives. The “tools” needed to succeed in this environment are far more advanced.

Your team will now need a working understanding of the organization’s vision, mission, and values to develop an effective strategy.

If your vision, mission, and values are unclear, this advanced level of delegation is impossible.

Secondly, if this level of delegation is impossible, so is sustainable growth. Growth expands the workload beyond the capacity of current leadership, forcing them to delegate decisions that were formerly made only by the most senior leadership to other individuals within the organization. For this to be effective, the vision, mission, and values must be universally understood; otherwise, the wheels are guaranteed to come off.

Values help the organization outlast you: Not only do values help an organization grow beyond your individual capacity as a leader, they also help ensure the organization outlasts your tenure.

Good leaders lead because they are convicted that what their particular organization does is worth doing with or without them.

But even the best leaders often fail to establish organizational values and thereby limit the organization’s identity to themselves. Be a good steward of your leadership by establishing and communicating organizational values that will outlast you.

On the ground at Midwestern

As the leader, only you can define your organizational values and see to it that those are implemented throughout your team; however, here is a glimpse of my team’s values at Midwestern.

Humility: Great leaders are marked, among other things, by genuine humility. They count others greater than themselves, remembering that their spiritual gifts were given to serve others. They keenly understand their own weaknesses and depend on others to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

Collaboration: In the words of John Maxwell, “working together precedes winning together”. Our team members will strive to multiply their efforts by working together as a team. We will think of others first, communicate early and often, and work as a team.

Creativity: Often overlooked, creativity is one of the most important characteristics for leaders. Our team members work with each other to find creative, outside-the-box solutions to problems.

Grit: Risk, difficulty, and fatigue are all guaranteed aspects of anything worth doing. Because of this, team members must be absolutely committed to finishing strong and doing what it takes to get the job done.

Passion: Ferdinand Foch famously said “The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” Passion is at the very heart of leadership and is at the heart of this team. Our team is driven by a contagious vision to see Midwestern train ministers for the church. When our team members talk, others are inspired, energized and compelled to act.

Competence:  Great leaders are also marked by their desire to do their job with excellence. They pride themselves on understanding their particular discipline and consistently look for opportunities to improve. They assume that there is almost always a better way to do something and know the different between working hard and working smart.

Get your organization’s values out of the binder and back to the heart of your organization where they belong. It won’t be easy, but they will help protect your organizations most important assets and ensure that your leadership leaves a lasting legacy.