Values: igniting boldness and creativity

We have worked with Participation House Support Services, London and Area (PHSS) for over 15 years on many projects. Each time we are impressed by their courage in the face of adversity and wicked challenges. Their mission: “PHSS supports individuals with developmental disabilities and/or complex physical needs to live in their own homes, participate in community and enjoy life with family and friends”.

What is it that enables PHSS to speak truth to power, to maintain a laser focus on what is precious despite budgetary constraints, and to do whatever it takes to support individuals and families? It’s as simple and as complex as being true to a set of values that guides every single organizational decision and action.

A deep commitment to values empowers everyone, from Board to staff to volunteers, to stand their ground when confronted by forces that threaten to drive the agency off course. PHSS stands their ground with grace and dignity. They respond to problems with creativity, collaboration and a solution-oriented can-do attitude.

Executive Director, Brian Dunne has always led PHSS from a strong vision and values platform. Up until a few years ago, PHSS had no formal strategic plan apart from its vision, mission and principles. The organization flourished and advanced its mission by focusing on creating alignment between its values and actions. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, supports such a practical approach to values, saying “The world’s most visionary organizations concentrate primarily on the process of alignment”.

                Image source; Aligning Action and Values by Jim Collins in                          Leader to Leader, No. 1 Summer 1996

In a recent interview Brian Dunne articulated how being person-centred and values-driven has benefited individuals and families and helped PHSS advance its mission. He noted that when an organization is true to its values, “you don’t lose your soul to money”. Cultivating a reputation for being values-driven can make it easier to deal with government funders because they know they can’t dictate how the organization operates (within legislated boundaries), that the primary “customer” is the client and that you’ll do whatever it takes to address their needs. When full funding is not available, PHSS finds creative ways to address the needs of individuals and families.

Staff and board members are committed to the values that drive PHSS. Staff are loyal to the individuals and families they support, and the organization. Many PHSS staff approach their work as an avocation that is more than a job; turnover is low and satisfaction is high. The Board reaches for PHSS’ values when making decisions and addressing difficult problems. The Board regularly revisits and re-establishes its commitment to the values so that everyone is aligned and prepared to defend PHSS principles – to funders, community, donors, elected politicians and other organizations.

How does PHSS do it?

  • They don’t just accept what they’re directed to do without question – they confirm compatibility with their values
  • They seek out partners with compatible values – e.g. a local developer who helped them build a four-unit home
  • Board and staff reference values when making decisions
  • They provide values-based training for staff
  • A Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach (engaging individuals and families in the evaluation process) is used to evaluate how their values are expressed through their programs and services
  • The Board pauses periodically to discuss, reflect on and re-commit to PHSS’ values
  • The leadership carries PHSS’ values into conversations with government (politicians and civil servants), community meetings and other organizations
  • They translate values into action! With boldness and creativity.

O’Reilly and Pfeffer’s research found that organizations that consistently report growth and positive results share three best practices:

  1. Clear, well-articulated set of values that are widely shared and act as the foundation for management practices.
  2. Remarkable degree of alignment and consistency in the people-centred practices that express their core values.
  3. Senior Managers are leaders whose primary role is to ensure that the values are maintained and constantly made real to all of the people who work in the organization.

Ruth and Sandi


  1. “Aligning Action and Values”, by Jim Collins, Leader to Leader, No. 1 Summer 1996
  2. “Hidden Value: How Great Companies Achieve Extraordinary Results with Ordinary People”, by Charles A. O’Reilly III and Jeffrey Pfeffer, Harvard Business Press, 2000