Naming and Living into Our Values

By Traci L. Baird

When asked to characterize my work or leadership style, I have long said that I place emphasis on the how of the mission-driven work I do. The what, where, why, and who of the work are critically important, of course, but I have observed and felt that the how often gets left behind. An organization can have a great mission and leaders may have good intentions, but they can lose their way if they don’t treat people well, don’t have strong systems, or don’t play fair.

In 2019 EngenderHealth finalized a new strategic plan. As part of the process of designing our strategy and clarifying and updating our mission and vision, we talked about our core values. At the time, we did a great job of naming things that were important to us, but we didn’t land on a set of values that felt both true to who we were and able to push us to become even better.

I think our challenge at the time was that we were a new global leadership team, comprising some very long-term staff and some – including myself – who were brand new to the organization. We were still establishing ourselves as thought partners and aligning ourselves with each other and the clarified direction of our strategy and work.

During the following year, we kept organizational values in the back of our minds as we went deep on core principles for some priority themes, including our principles around gender, equity, diversity, and inclusion (GEDI), and on value for money. Recognizing that our policies and practices in these areas are grounded in principles, and seeing commonalities in these principles across themes, helped us identify the values that are central to us.

Our goal in establishing our organizational values is twofold: we want our values to help set the organization’s culture of how we do things, and we want to remind ourselves and convey to others what we prioritize and how we make decisions about our work. We wanted our values to feel specific to EngenderHealth, and we wanted the combination of values to resonate as both true and inspiring.

During the process of establishing our values, our global staff were invited to make suggestions, offer improved phrasing, question whether the value belonged, and identify examples of how we live each value. More than a third of our global staff engaged in this process, many more than once.

We landed on five core organizational values. Each core word carries with it a brief explanation, or framing, to clarify what we mean when we refer to the value. With no further ado, our values:

  • Reflection: we question, challenge, learn, and adapt
  • Inclusion: we are committed to equality, justice, and leaving no one behind
  • Integrity: we are principled and honest, and we walk our talk
  • Respect: we value the wisdom and agency of our collaborators, and appreciate our differences
  • Transformation: we seek bold new ideas and opportunities to innovate for progress

Are they true and inspiring? I hope so! We can identify multiple ways in which we demonstrate each value now, and also the room we have to improve. We have the opportunity to live into our values – to work hard at them being true and becoming more consistent and clearer over time.

We are sharing and discussing our values through multiple mechanisms internally, including through staff orientations, performance management, and meetings and workshops. We are also sharing our values externally, as part of our career site for job postings, in meetings with and materials for partners, and through this blog post, among other mechanisms.

We invite our colleagues – internal and external – to join us in reflection as we continue to incorporate these values into all areas of our work. We welcome being shown where we are and where we are not living into our own expectations for our behavior. And we will continue to set the bar high for ourselves, through our values, principles, policies, and procedures, and of course through the critical work that we do every day to advance gender equality in and through sexual and reproductive health and rights programs.