Shepherding values into a cohesive statement
“David has been hugely supportive and incredibly helpful. He’s very flexible in his approach – not prescriptive but open to hearing everybody’s viewpoint while leading us to a solution that fits our need. He certainly helped to clarify my thinking.”
Amanda Stranack, CEO, BSAVA
The British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) is an organisation of over 11,000 members, which exists to improve small animal health and welfare by driving excellence in small animal practice. As a membership Association run by the profession, for the profession, BSAVA enables small animal veterinary professionals to develop their knowledge and skills through leading-edge education, scientific research and collaboration. BSAVA had been through a review of its mission and purpose, from which it had become apparent that its values also needed updating. As a cornerstone to the organisation’s strategic positioning, a new values statement was required to pull all BSAVA’s communities – volunteers, staff and members – together under one set of agreed values.
Having worked with Action Planning two years earlier in relation to strategic development, BSAVA CEO Amanda Stranack felt that we would be well placed to help.
We were asked to run two workshops, one with the Board and one with the whole staff team. Following this, David Saint was asked to help Amanda in refining the draft values statement.
Prior to the first workshop, David spoke individually to each participant. This helped to lay some useful groundwork, saving valuable time on the day.
Writing a values statement can be a complex and highly subjective exercise. As Amanda says, “We didn’t want it to be a tick box exercise and a set of words we couldn’t buy into.” Instead, David steered both groups to think about the qualities they felt should be expressed: eg personal qualities like integrity; behaviours like respect for others; principles like equality, diversity and inclusion; and organisational qualities like innovation.
As part of both workshops, David ran an exercise whereby he showed a sheet of familiar brand logos and a sheet of values statements and asked attendees to match the values to the company. This is a fun exercise that breaks any ice and can get a diverse group of people thinking together. Seeing the language that other organisations use also helped to get a consensus, even among those who had previously been sceptical around BSAVA’s values.
Throughout the workshops, David took on board everyone’s comments and concerns and worked with the groups to come up with a set of statements that they could customise and adapt. He then provided a sounding board for Amanda as she worked on refining the statements into a set of values that everyone in the organisation could endorse and work by.
BSAVA agreed all the statements and organised some further workshops for volunteers and staff, to define what the behaviours needed to be to underpin those values. David helped Amanda to prepare those workshops so she could run them herself.
In Amanda’s words, “The core basis of the values and statements we’ve come up with evidence that the foundations of the organisation are still very much there. We’ve got a growing staff team that are less close to the history and where BSAVA has come from, so the values help to make people aware and understand our ethos.”
It was really encouraging to see an organisation take their values so seriously. All too often it is a brainstorming exercise, loads of platitudes get listed on a flip chart and, 30 minutes later, “Hey Presto! We have a Values Statement!”
Sometimes it is possible to go to the other extreme, and BSAVA was in danger of doing that. There was considerable passion about the values (demonstrating the genuine strength of feeling about this values-based organisation). This plus the involvement of so many people – Board, Council and staff – could have resulted in the debate running for years! So together we designed a process that was both inclusive yet tightly managed; thorough yet pragmatic; creative but within boundaries.
Care was taken to ensure that the values truly represented what BSAVA stood for; that they were something that could genuinely be lived up to; that they were clearly defined so that people could see what was expected of them.
Even more encouraging to see was the determination within the BSAVA not simply to stick the results of the exercise on the office wall and website and say, “Job done,” but to work out how in practice they would disseminate the values through the organisation on an ongoing basis, and hold each other to account – in a constructive and non-judgemental way.