There are countless articles, research, and management books that suggest the positive impact of having a set of enduring values is well understood and documented by some of the world’s best organizations. In sport, this proved not to be the case. Last year I completed my Masters thesis on the intentional use of values within National Sport Organizations (NSOs). While intuitively, sport leaders agreed that values could and should play a role within the management of their organization, all agreed that more needs to be done to leverage this untapped asset. For instance, when asked whether or not they were intentionally using their organization’s values to make decisions or inform their behaviour, sport leaders were clear. They were not.
Recent research conducted by Brock University, the University of Florida and the Sport Law & Strategy Group  investigated the role of values in National Sport Organizations (NSOs). In the fall of 2010, 23 out of 43 NSOs agreed to participate in an on-line survey, which was subsequently completed by 99 staff members of the participating NSOs. This research was based on my Masters study and what we found is not earth-shattering. Nor is it surprising. What intrigues me is what might come of it.
Here is what we know: when used intentionally, values can help to clarify what matters most to an organization by stimulating authentic dialogue and by providing a means to engage a diversity of perspectives. We have written here before about a more human-centric management philosophy that pays equal weight to the achievement of objectives (Management by Objectives, or MBO) and how these objectives are achieved (Management by Values, or MBV). Stated simply, MBO describes what we do while MBV fulfills our ability to clearly express who we are. MBO is about functionality, processes and results. MBV is about character, contribution, and culture. The case we are making is that there is a need for both approaches if sport leaders are to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Recently, researchers have identified three lenses – emotional, social, economic – by which the definition of values has developed. Each of these lenses provides a unique and specific focus for a particular organization. Investigating how managers think about and use their organization’s values can further our understanding of management approaches used to achieve success and optimize organizational effectiveness.
Here are the top line results from our research (click on NSO Values Report_2011 to read the full brief):
1. The majority of participants rated their NSO at the Intrinsic Stage of MBV. That is, individuals perceived organizational values to be embedded in policies, practices, and procedures of their NSO.
2. The intentional use of organizational values played a significant role in maintaining/increasing performance, and controlling dysfunctional conflict. What this means is that when NSOs are intentional about managing by values, their performance increases. This was demonstrated in three important ways:
This is early research and is by no means generalizable to NSOs outside those that participated in the research. This being said, if NSOs have items in common with some of the world’s best organizations, then management science is suggesting that values are worth investing in and can be the secret ingredient that can help organizations move from bad to good to great. We look forward to sharing more results with you on this exciting research in future articles on this web site.
 This research was conducted by Professor Shannon Kerwin from the University of Florida, Professor Joanne Maclean from Brock University, and Dina Bell-Laroche from the Sport Law & Strategy Group.