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Inside Candid’s first year: defining our values

By Mizmun Kusairi & Jen Bokoff
February 18, 2020

Candid's executive team participating in a Q&A during Candid's first staff retreat. From left to right: Brad Smith, Mizmun Kusairi (holding the microphone and answering a question), Lisa Philp, Jacob Harold, Jake Garcia, Zohra Zori, and DeeDee Dickey.
Post coauthor Miz Kusairi (second from left, holding microphone) answers a question about inclusion during a Q&A with Candid’s executive team at our first staff retreat. Four of Candid’s values—direct, accessible, curious, and inclusive—are posted on the wall behind the executive team. “Driven” was also posted, but out of camera range. Photo by data standards manager and roving photographer David Wolchek.

Many of us breathed a sigh of relief on February 1, 2019. It was official: Foundation Center and GuideStar had combined operations to form a new nonprofit, Candid. It had been a long road getting to that point.

Then we looked ahead and realized we faced an equally daunting task: integrating two organizations and, in particular, building a unified culture from two distinct entities. You can help people adjust to change and provide an environment in which they can develop culture intentionally, but you can’t decree it. Organizational culture has to grow as people work together, build new relationships, and adopt new ways of doing things. It’s a process that continues at Candid today.

Defining Candid’s values was an important part of our culture-building efforts during our first year. Values provide connection and meaning. They guide our actions and our work both internally and externally. Because values are so crucial, several of us devoted considerable time to identifying the ones that would best embody Candid. Because our colleagues would have to embrace and live Candid’s values, we knew we needed to give every employee the opportunity to participate in this process.

A collaborative process

We were 2 of 28 people (nearly 15 percent of our whole organization) who led our efforts to define Candid’s values. This group represented members of 2 (of 11 total) of our integration workstream groups: Branding & Communications and Change Management & Culture. We began by looking at the values of our legacy organizations, Foundation Center and GuideStar. We then reviewed the materials our branding consultant had developed for Candid’s launch. Next we looked at the terms that came up most frequently in our colleagues’ responses to an anonymous survey conducted by the firm we’d engaged to help us navigate our first year of building an intentional Candid culture. Every Candid employee was invited to participate in the survey, and many participated in small-group conversations with the consultants.

After we gathered this information, we divided into three groups that tested and prototyped what Candid’s values could look like. Each group then pitched its ideas to a focus group of Candid employees. These employees identified what was working in the presentations, offered constructive critiques, pointed out what was missing, and highlighted themes that appeared across the presentations. We developed two proposals based on these conversations.

The next two steps were particularly fun. We conducted a poll on Slack, our internal messaging app, asking staff to select which of the two proposals they liked best. Every employee was invited to participate in the poll. We then conducted a real-time conversation over the app. Again, every staff member was invited to participate in the chat. In addition to asking our colleagues about the specific proposals, we solicited their thoughts on values in general, what they hoped Candid’s values would achieve, and how values related to other aspects of our work.

Post coauthor Jen Bokoff kicks off an interactive session on living Candid’s values at our first staff retreat, held in Baltimore in October 2019.Our group of 28 then developed specific recommendations for Candid’s values. Our executive team reviewed and endorsed the recommendations. We—Jen and Miz, the authors of this post—presented the final results to our colleagues at a town hall in October. Two weeks later, Jen led an interactive session about living Candid’s values at our first staff retreat in Baltimore. (That's Jen kicking off the session in the photo near this paragraph. To learn more about the staff retreat, see Miz’s comments in our executive team’s reflections on Candid’s first year.)

The results

Most of our values are aspirational, although some are true today. Every person at Candid holds themselves accountable to each of these values.

  • We are driven.
    We make an impact in everything we do.
  • We are direct.
    We communicate with integrity and clarity.
  • We are accessible.
    We ask, “how can we help?” and we mean it.
  • We are curious.
    We listen, collaborate, and innovate.
  • We are inclusive.
    We incorporate equity, inclusion, and respect for diverse perspectives in all our work.

Of course, defining our values is only the first step toward living them, and it will take more than a single interactive session to incorporate them into everything we do. It will take time, new ways of doing things, and strategic shifts. But these values are part of Candid’s identity. Through this second year of our work in the Change Management & Culture workstream group, we look forward to incorporating them more deeply into our activities and ethos.

Tags: Candid