Choosing Our Values

Like individuals, every organization has a unique beauty. But like individuals, no organization is without warts. The sooner you can look your organization in the mirror and make an honest appraisal of your beauty and your warts, the better. It’s a dead end to either become obsessed by your warts or to become infatuated by your beauty.

By God’s grace, New Life’s staff culture is more beautiful than when I arrived two years ago. There are lots of reasons for that, but none more significant than the process we went through a year ago to create a staff culture document and then to begin to invest time and energy toward making strides toward our staff culture document.

The process of choosing those values was messy, but the mess was important. Ultimately the process took just less than three months. I share our process not because I think we navigated the process perfectly or that we’ve arrived or that I would recommend the same exact process for another organization, but because there were important points of learning along the way for us that I hope can benefit you.

1.       We committed to a process

Not everyone was thrilled that we were taking a significant amount of time to walk through developing a document that, to some, either didn’t seem to offer much hope for change, or was so obvious it didn't seem to need to be stated with a document. But everyone agreed that for it to truly be our staff's document, we all needed to take ownership. Furthermore, we agreed with the simple ground rules that our staff culture values would be those which represented “who we are at our best.” That spoke to the pessimists in the room, who might be tempted in such a document to focus on the warts.  And it spoke to the optimists in the room, who might be tempted to include values that are great, but aren’t reflective of who we are.

2.       Everyone was involved

The fact that this wasn't created by a senior team was significant for us. Part of our process of growing and healing was to make sure that everyone in the organization knew that they had a voice and they would be heard. It would have been a faster process for our Senior Pastor to put together a statement or our Executive Leadership Team to agree on our values, but putting all eighteen of us in the room and having equal say both in the recommendation of values and the voting on those values was key for us to begin to live out who we believe we are at our best: collaborative and loving. That isn’t to say that such a flattened democratic progress is what should be used in every circumstance, but for something as significant as a staff culture statement, buy-in is critical.

3.       We took time discuss

As I mentioned, the process took the better part of three months. We didn’t expect it to take that long, but part of what was helpful to our team was that the length of time gave people opportunity to share some of their disappointments and hurts and also express some of their hopes. By taking so much time it also provided the opportunity for feedback loops on the process itself, even outside of the meetings. As we were relatively inexperienced at garnering consensus, it allowed the team to respond about what was and wasn’t working as we made baby steps in that direction.

4.       We disagreed and built consensus

We began with about three dozen values that the team generated. Some of those were soon discarded, but others were dear to certain people in the group and we had to navigate conversations where we disagreed about who we really were at our best. For some in the group, it took a while for them to find their voice and be willing to speak up. For others, it took discussion and reframing for them to come on board. Our Senior Pastor, for instance, actually pushed against one of our final values for quite a while (not because he didn’t appreciate the value, but because he didn’t think it represented who we were). His disagreement and the group being willing to push back against him in a respectful way was, I believe, one of the breakthrough moments for us as a team.

5.       We committed ourselves to the end result

When we completed the process and crafted our staff culture statement, we committed to it as a staff: to working toward embodying it fully. We made immediate changes in how we ran meetings (incorporating more prayer, for instance) and began the process of including it in our scorecards (job descriptions) and in our hiring process.

6.       We followed through

We built our staff meetings and our staff retreat around the document. Team members were given ownership of certain pieces in the document and committed to follow through. For instance, we had a team create a whole new on-boarding process around our staff culture document and we implemented a new plan for celebrating anniversaries.

What was one of the blessings about the creation of our staff culture document is that even in creating the document, it allowed us to begin to take the baby steps to become the type of staff we wanted to become. We prayed, we collaborated, we navigated conflict, and we trusted each other to follow through on our commitment to our new shared values.

Next week I’ll share our statement with you.


Photo credit: Daniel McCullough/Unsplash