Guest Column

Value-driven leadership critical to long-term growth

March 23, 2018
| By Sam Beals |
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We hear a lot about corporate values these days. Business and nonprofit leaders weave them into their branding exercises, communication language and human resources guidebooks.

But are they actually driving the way organizations run?

Entrepreneurial leader Verne Harnish, author of “Scaling Up,” asserts that crafting thoughtful and meaningful core value statements is critical to a long-term growth strategy for any organization. And yet, a 2016 Gallup poll revealed only 27 percent of American employees believe in their company’s values — if their companies have articulated values at all.

Research shows huge gaps exist between the desired culture and the one employees experience. I believe it’s imperative for an organization to establish firm, understandable, attainable values, articulate them clearly to their people, and create processes and protocols that help bridge the gap between dreams and reality.

It’s something we prioritize at Samaritas. As a 2,000-employee, faith-based nonprofit with 40 offices throughout the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, we face many obstacles to building cohesion and connection across our organizational culture. However, it doesn’t mean we stop trying.

When we rebranded in 2016, we outlined clear corporate values. Ever since, we’ve been using them to guide our work. This is no small task — but it’s well worth the time and resources spent to define who we are and what we believe.

We began by reiterating the mission that has guided us for nearly a century: Serving people as an expression of the love of Christ.

Then we wrote our vision, which should be the internal guiding light shining on all the work that we do: We connect people with families and communities, empower them to live their fullest life possible and create a ripple effect of transformation.

From there, we built specific corporate values with guiding principles to make them practical and doable for our people. They are as follows:

Value 1: People First. We work as one team. We support and trust each other. We celebrate differences and respect others’ opinions. We find individualized solutions.

Value 2: Quality Service. We act with integrity and transparency. We don’t cut corners. We go above and beyond.

Value 3: Stewardship. We strive for maximum efficiency. We optimize resources.

Value 4: Innovation. We seek opportunities. We welcome new ideas. We challenge the status quo. We lead change.

Value 5: Communication. We listen. We encourage open, honest dialogue. We educate.

As CEO, my role is to lead by example, incorporating our organizational values into everything we do. These values have guided action in strategic and meaningful ways.

For instance, we rearranged our quality department to increase our business intelligence focus for better data and better outcomes. Last year, Samaritas promoted Shelly Vrsek to executive director of quality analytics, sending a message throughout our ranks that demonstrating a greater impact on those we serve is a top priority. Eventually, our articulated goal is to have quality directors for all service lines reporting to Vrsek for organizational-wide cohesion and demonstrated impact.

Another way our values are directing action is in the creation of another position, the director of strategic integration and communication. I welcomed Janet Roberts into that position as a way to ensure all departments and vendors connect clearly and successfully, and added communication to the position to ensure internal messaging is consistent and cohesive.

Core values, if done right, should be immutable — those deeply held principles that guide all organizational moves. Just like in our personal lives, values should direct our professional lives. People vote according to their values. They make friends who share their values. They choose a church, a country club, a grocery store, a university according to the values promised.

So, too, our work lives should be guided by values — our own, aligned with those of the organization.

Many Samaritas employees say they work with us because they believe in our mission. For many, it’s a religious experience — serving people as an expression of the love of Christ is not a small task and not something people take lightly.

When each step is guided by values, you can’t help but take your steps seriously, which leads to better work and greater impact.

Sam Beals is CEO of Samaritas.

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