Voluntary organizations are all about values. People devote time and energy to this sector to further altruistic goals. They want to improve the quality of life in their immediate community and globally.
A value-driven approach presents distinct challenges for change management. Voluntary organizations share an innovation dilemma with other players in the nonprofit sector, such as education and health care. On the one hand, they are open to new ideas. They see themselves as having initiative and a connection with contemporary developments. When circumstances bring to members’ attention a new community need or a new method of providing services, they want to get involved. This enthusiasm gets strained when the costs of new initiatives encounter the limits of the available funds. Without a capacity to generate new revenue promptly, organizations must reallocate resources from existing activities. That is a tough thing to do.
Profit-oriented organizations develop business plans with various scenarios, do the math, and choose the option that maximizes return. Value-oriented organizations can develop scenarios, but have a harder time doing the math. They can delay important decisions for a long time.
To move forward, value-driven organizations must let go of some existing commitments. And these commitments are always important. Although the need for an existing program may wane or become overshadowed by an emergent issue, it rarely disappears entirely. Few voluntary organizations are in an open-ended growth mode. They face serious challenges in maintaining their funding base, giving them pause when considering any major new expense. Tough decisions are necessary. Often, through a process of indecision, organizations revert to the default option of business as usual.
Making decisions that support the organization’s core mission in a changing world requires an effective process for value reflection. And any meaningful consideration of values requires trust.
Four Steps to Building Trust
Trust brings a sense of psychological safety. Trust within any group broadens its potential for open, honest communication about what really matters. Trust does not occur automatically. Experience teaches people whether to trust one another.
- Shared Values: People trust others with whom they share core values. While this quality is important in any shared enterprise, it is critical for members of voluntary organizations.
- Civility and Respect: People closely monitor the subtle implications of their social contact with others at work. While gatherings may be quite loose on the fine points of etiquette, people maintain an intuitive sense regarding signals of respect and consideration.
- Competence. People feel safer with competence. Competent people are more likely to overcome the risks associated with new directions.
- Reliability. Reliability integrates elements of competence and consideration: both the ability to perform as well as a sincere commitment to performance result in a person you can count on.
Value-based decisions require thorough discussions. Challenging the priority of activities may uncover significant conflict among members. With a strong sense of trust and psychological safety members can engage in vigorous debate, confident that the group can manage conflict well and that their shared core values will prevail.
Three Strategies for Becoming More Decisive
- Voluntary organizations need periodic retreats to reflect on core values in the context of ongoing change.
- Gain practice in shared decision making through regular debates on issues that are not core to the organizations’ mission.
- Organizations benefit from developing a systematic process for considering major changes. Part of that process would include aligning a new initiative relative to their core values. The objective is to develop a framework that allows a clear comparison among existing and proposed activities.