At a young age, I discovered one of my family’s values – order and tidiness! I obviously on that day was not displaying our family value, which up until that time Mom may have presumed I had simply absorbed through association with my family, osmosis-like. Well, in the midst of something that was out of place or generally unkempt, I was told point-blank that our family values proper order and tidiness. Everything has its place, so put it there! And then my mom told me a story to reinforce the point. Her father had a spacious three car garage, and in the basement beneath the garage was a huge workshop full of benches, tools, drawers, and storage bins. She remembers her father working on a car and asking her to get a particular nut and bolt from the workshop for him. He told her exactly which drawer of which bench she should look in, and then within the drawer, precisely which of the 16 little cubicles held the desired object. Everything, every nut and bolt, was in exactly the right spot!

That story has stayed with me all these many years. Wouldn’t I like to be so neat, tidy, and orderly that I could tell you with precision exactly where something is! In fact, my wife is amazed that I can go into the basement and, most but not all of the time, find exactly what I’m looking for and be back upstairs in less than two or three minutes.

Such is the power of a story to transmit a value so that it sticks!

Corporate Values

If you did a spot check of all your staff, how many could recite your ministry’s values? They should be able to tell you exactly what they are without much thought, because they should be consciously thinking about them, making choices based on them, and generally living them out day-by-day.

Ensuring the corporate values are a part of daily life in a Christian ministry is one of the crucial strategies to prevent mission drift. As a ministry leader, it is your job to transmit your ministry’s values to your staff, volunteers, and supporters.

But if you are going to have corporate values (which of course you should), make sure they are your real values, the ones you are willing to suffer and sacrifice for because you believe so strongly in them. Don’t settle for motherhood values, the ones you think you should have.

The values you want are the ones that really matter. Your corporate values will either come out of your fundamental corporate identity or strategy, or they will be a response to a time in your ministry’s history when their absence caused a significant problem. Unless honesty has been a problem or is so integral to your ministry’s identity that it has to be a real focus, it is not a corporate value, it’s just a good value. Choose just the few crucial values that deeply matter to your ministry.

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Transmitting Corporate Values

The two best ways to transmit your values are to model them yourself, and to tell stories about them. The two go together. Modelling values alone assumes people will pick up on the values osmosis-like, which may or may not happen (as I know from personal experience!). Telling stories alone will not have power unless the leader personally exemplifies them. Otherwise, they are just stories about someone else, usually long ago in corporate history. Telling stories (whether from history or current events) that are visibly supported by the leadership team’s actions today is a very powerful way to transmit your values.

A great resource for developing values-based stories is a book I’ve already told you about by Stephen Denning: The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative.

Crafting a Values Story

Denning has some very helpful tips for creating a powerful values-transmitting story:

  • You can start with the corporate values and think about when someone did something that embodied those values, or you can think about crucial turning points in your ministry’s history and see what values were embodied in that moment.
  • You can do the above either for the ministry as an organization, or if you want to connect the values to yourself to show how vital they are to you, you can do the above analysis using your own life.
  • You don’t need a full-blown story. Review the parables that Jesus told. He told them in minimalist fashion. You don’t want to clutter up the story with so many details that people have to wait for you to tell them which details are important to your point. Only say what must be said to make your point.
    • My opening story contained just the  points that highlight the value of order and tidiness
      • a large space
      • someone who doesn’t know where something is being told by someone else exactly where it is with certainty from memory
      • a preamble connecting the reader with the story through me
      • evidence that the value has survived three generations, showing that Mom’s story was a powerful part of transmitting that value, thus validating the point of this post.
  • A story with a twist will be much more powerful than a story that plays out as one would expect. Most, if not all, of the parables Jesus told had very unexpected twists. A Samaritan helping a Jew? A father demeaning his position (in that culture) by physically going towards his profligate son to welcome him?
    • Stories where the tables are turned are very memorable! If you can, build the unexpected in to your story. I told a true story up above, and it didn’t have a twist. But if you are creating a fictional story, such as Nathan did when he confronted David with his sin, you would certainly want to put a twist into it.
  • You don’t have to spell everything out. It may be better not to even mention what the value is, but tell the story so that the audience is left thinking about it and then reasons out what the value is. Let them have the fun, and the reinforcing memory, of their own “Aha!” moment. So you could say, “Here’s what I’d like to hear about the service we provide. A person in need…” and then make up a story.
  • You could tell a story about some other organization or person that exemplifies the value if you can’t find such a story in your own ministry.
  • Finally, you could make up a story, as Jesus did with the Parables. “There was a woman who…” or something like that will start a great parable of your own.

So take your top few values, and try crafting some stories! Guaranteed they will make your staff meetings more interesting!

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