Tapping the Performance Potential of Your Organization's Values

Organizational values are often described as the glue that connects your mission to your vision. What we know to be true, however, is that in the absence of stated, agreed-to, and lived values, people default to their own set of personal values to make decisions, prioritize, or resolve conflicts. If our core business as sport organizations is to produce ‘better human beings’ and sport is a tool to achieve that, to what extent are we, as sport leaders, leveraging our assets to deliver on this mission?

When coaches are trying to teach a new skill or increase their own knowledge, they often turn to sport science or sport medicine to inform their decisions. They are quick to seek advice from psychologists, nutritionists, and physiotherapists to help athletes gain a competitive advantage on the field of play.

But what of the sport organizations who plan, deliver, and organize sport in this country? We are close to 34,000 strong and yet, do we turn to organizational scholarship to seek answers to the many questions that dominate our landscape: How best to put out this fire? What is our legal obligation when terminating an employee? Is there a more efficient way to plan? How do I recruit and retain highly qualified people? How do I minimize conflict between my national office and my provincial/ territorial members? How do I lead the implementation LTAD at the club level?

Here’s what we’re seeing after having consulted with numerous organizations over the past several years in the areas of change, strategy, and culture. Organizational values can be described as dormant, lived intentionally or practiced intuitively. For many sport leaders, the practice of living their values can be described as "the way we do business here" or "it’s in the cultural DNA." That works really well when the values of the organization’s leaders are congruent with the values of the organization. It works really when staff and volunteers have been in place for a relatively long period of time and have generated a true sense of how things get done without having to necessarily refer back to the organization’s values.

What happens, though, when new volunteers or staff join the sport organization? What happens in moments of crisis when the organization’s values might be overlooked or dismissed to deal with the tyranny of the immediate? How can we increase the likelihood that our decisions are reflective of our core values and aligned with our mission and vision?

What a growing number of sport leaders have shared indicates that the living of corporate values happens often by accident or at best, through osmosis. In a sector that is known for achieving extraordinary outcomes and of igniting a sense of what is humanly possible, is the timing right for us to explore more deeply the connection between values and performance? We know them not to be mutually exclusive on the field of play – can they be leveraged more intentionally off the field in boardrooms and offices? In a social profit sector such as sport, can we afford to not leverage our values?

We invite you to share your thoughts and ideas as we look to work with you to increase our understanding of what makes good organizations, great ones.

Originally published: Centre for Sport and Law Newsletter (2009) Vol. 5(3)

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