Strategic Planning 101--Identifying Your Organizational Values

"Honesty and Integrity, Excellent Customer Service, High Performance, Openness and Teamwork, Respect for Diversity, and Forward Thinking."

These are the core values of the City of Yuma, Arizona, as articulated in their Strategic Plan. This is a great example of a statement of values, the second critical step in the strategic planning process.

In this second module of Strategic Planning 101, we examine the value of values. Why is value identification important and relevant to strategic planning? And how do we identify them in an organization?

The Purpose of a Values Statement
Values are the set of beliefs held by the organization; every organization has them. Values are the underlying principles that guide operations, decisions and staff. They are what drive the priorities of employees and managers and how they act within the organization. They are the basis of the ethical standards in dealing with employees, customers, vendors and competitors.

A values statement is essential to good strategic planning because values underlie the decision-making process. Ignoring the cultural values of an organization is disastrous for a strategic plan because regardless of the plan, major and minor decisions alike will always align with the culture but not necessarily with the mission. Identifying and incorporating the values into the planning process will assure that goals, objectives and strategies will be achievable.

How to Define Values
In any organization, there are two sets of values. There are the real values that drive current decision making. In addition, there are preferred values, which an organization believes should be real, even if they are not. It could be, for example, that an organization hopes to value diversity, when the past behavior of the organization suggests otherwise.

A consultant should identify both real and preferred values in his work. This will help articulate not only what the organization desires to be, but the capabilities of the organization to meet that ideal.

In identifying values, a very open and inclusive process should be followed. Employees, managers, customers, stakeholders, and the broader community should have the opportunity for input. It is not enough to brainstorm with senior management. Because this process is so pivotal to the whole strategic planning process, there must be broad ownership of the final product. The more and broader the input, the easier the final plan will be to sell.

A values survey is a good empirical way of at least narrowing the options. Open ended questions can usually help identify values. Consider questions such as:

  • When deciding how to solve a particular problem, what factors enter your mind?
  • If presenting a recommendation to your boss, what questions will he likely ask?
  • If this organization were considering a major strategic shift, what factors would it take into account before acting?

Additionally, the survey might contain a listing of potential values, asking for a rating as to which ones enter into the decision-making process, and which ones should but do not. Those with high rankings in both real and preferred values could form the basis for a values statement.

Individual interviews and focus groups with various stakeholder groups would allow for additional clarification. Issues such as "What do we mean in this organization when we say that we respect our employees?" and "How do you know when this organization puts customers first?" can be the topic for interviews and group discussions.

When discrepancies are identified between actual behavior and preferred values, these can form the basis for goals and objectives for the organization.

A well-crafted statement of organizational values can form a strong foundation for the strategic planning process. A thorough and inclusive process led by an independent third party consultant can bring objectivity and meaning to that process and its end result.