Defining what’s important - creating organisational values - a piece of cake? Ah…
It’s OK to pat yourselves on the back occasionally! However, it’s obviously important not to rest on your laurels. We wanted to revisit our vision, mission and values to ensure they are relevant, reflective of our work, resonate with the team and are strong enough to underpin everything we do.
Mel Tucker explains more...
Iridescent Ideas celebrated its 10th birthday last May (we may have mentioned it once or twice). To mark the occasion (as parties and gatherings were still not really doable due to COVID19 - at least not outside of Westminster) we looked back over the decade, producing a Ten Year Social Impact Report and a fabulous timeline, charting our journey and the difference we have made through our work. It was an interesting and rewarding experience but as well as looking back on achievements, we felt it was important to look forward too. What would the next decade (fingers crossed) look like? What should we focus on? Where did we want the next leg of the journey to take us?
Thanks in large part to support from The Rank Foundation, we’ve been spending some time developing new services and strengthening existing ones, honing our priorities and reviewing our strategic plan.
We felt that our vision - a more socially enterprising, greener, fairer economy - and mission - to deliver great business advice that helps social enterprises start, grow and succeed and to influence policy and strategy making - felt strong and clear. But revisiting and defining our ‘values’ proved to be a more complex exercise.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary ‘values’ are the principles that help you to decide what is right and wrong, and how to act in various situations. Now as a social enterprise we like to consider ourselves to be good guys, doing positive stuff and having strong values. So this should be straightforward right?
Of course not! We found distilling the principles that guide the decisions and behaviour of a group of people with varying roles, experience and personal values, into a few concise pillars which hold up the whole organisation to NOT be straightforward. We would like to share our recent endeavour of trying to do just that (on a budget, obvs) with you.
There are probably as many approaches to doing something like this as there are potential values to choose from:
So where did we start? With a massive list with literally hundreds of potential values, which - thankfully - someone else had put together and grouped into rough categories already. While preferable to a colourful mountain of post-its, this clearly needed some serious pruning before any discussion could realistically take place - otherwise it might not be finished until our 20th birthday.
Firstly, each member of the team dutifully worked their way through the list, highlighting the words that most spoke to them. Next, we produced a new list with all the values that we’d selected and got rid of all the ones that had scored nul points (read that bit in a Eurovision-style inner voice). Then we grouped them together according to the number of votes they had received, and arranged them highest to lowest. Are you still with me?!
By now we had whittled it down to about a hundred values - a good start but it felt like there was still a really long way to go. I guess we could have just taken the easy option and gone for the top group that had received the highest number of votes but we chose to bravely soldier on with the whittling. This felt important and worthwhile (at least it did at the start of the process) and needed taking time and effort over.
We devoted our next team meeting to working our way through the list, discussing and deciding which ones we were prepared to stand by and which would fall by the wayside. We started with the lowest scoring, dismissing ones we didn’t like - too boring, too weak, too uptight, too frivolous, too toxic, too meh - or where there was a stronger word which meant roughly the same thing higher up the list. This probably took us down to about 50 words - close, but no cigar!
Next, we started grouping words together that seemed to have a common theme - our approach to people, what we believe in, what we bring, what we aspire to. This process helped prune a few more words that didn’t seem to fit anywhere or make sense alongside this now much more selective group of values. I think it was at this point that it really started to feel like the random words on the page were beginning to take on a coherent shape and working together to create a wider meaning.
Some magic was happening!
At this point we compared what we had agreed on so far to the existing values we have held for the past 11 years. There were some similarities and some differences, which was reassuring. It felt like a validation of the work we had already done but also that we had grown and developed from there. We were ready to continue the journey but maybe in some exciting new directions, different to our previous path.
I don’t want to give away the end of the story just yet (that’s a social media and newsletter campaign of the future). Our next step is to crystalise this list of about 30 connected and resonating words into some kind of meaningful values statement that we can all agree on, buy in to, uphold and actually remember! Simplicity and brevity all the way.
We came away with a few actions, such as looking at how other organisations do it, what we feel works and what doesn’t, exploring a few alternative phrases and Googling ‘how to write a values statement’ (on reflection, it might have been helpful to START this process with that). While we have several valuable lessons to take away from this for next time, we are confident that our somewhat messy and chaotic process will ultimately produce something beautiful, affirming and transformational that we will ALL be invested in and proud of.