Mortal Fools is a theatre, drama and creative learning charity based in the North East. Mortal Fools are a company of participatory artists and practitioners who co-create compelling, dynamic, socially relevant, and high-quality theatre with children and young people. We work with 1000s of young people every year across the North, jointly co-constructing work to meet the contemporary needs of young people. Over the last ten years, we have grown from a theatre group in a community hall, to an ever-growing organisation with defined values, with a growing team, growing project portfolio, growing National reputation and big, bold ambitions.

When the pandemic REALLY hit and the theatres closed, projects cancelled, tour postponed, theatre groups called off, we held a COBRA style meeting in our Mortal Fools’ office. We spent the first few minutes sat in disbelief, like many other businesses at the time – the impact on our ability to work and do our day to day, was stopped and the rug pulled out from underneath us. Our business is all about connecting, enabling, and empowering people creatively – so not actually being able to “connect” in the “real” world, was incomprehensible…. Well, initially.

We did not sit, stall, flounder and wait to see what would happen – we immediately, starting thinking about the impact of our work stopping, what our purpose as an organisation was or could be in the pandemic and what that meant to the young people we work with and our wider network. We started to steady the ship, seek out opportunities, proactively act and pivoted many projects. In a matter of weeks, our activities were up and running again, projects had evolved, new commercial strands on going and our business plan, looked mighty different and forever changed.

One of the many reasons, we were able to nimbly adjust so quickly, was the collective understanding of our core values and a values-based approach to leadership. The shared values of Mortal Fools anchored and united the team, creating a shared purpose and new authentically evolving new version of the organisation. Outwardly, to our network – nothing really changed – we remained present, consistent in our communications, open, creative, innovative – all the things, we had been before. But internally, there is nothing like a crisis and the uncertainty and chaos of a pandemic, to really test out your organisational values. In a pandemic world, where everything felt hard, unfamiliar, and new across multiple fronts, our decision making, and evolution was shaped and steered by our values; we were able to re-prioritise and set a new direction of travel.

So, what are values?

Values form the foundation for everything that happens in an organisation, they are the fundamental underpinnings of the who, where, what and mostly importantly, THE WHY, of an organisation. They usually exist as statements and tend to be a clear, concise, shared meaning of values/beliefs, priorities, and direction of an organisation. Values tend to be something that organisations, take time to proactively, define them clearly or they might not be conscious, but they will exist and operate unconsciously.

Now you might say, well all organisations have defined values and they appear on their website – an organisation’s statement of its values, is very different to a values-based organisation. We’ve all seen in the media, organisations that present themselves in a way and suddenly, an article in the press depicts something very different and a crisis of sorts unfolds– they make odd decisions, begin to function a bit rudderless, release statements that seem disingenuous or robotic, their processes are revealed to be poorly constructed or unfair, they prioritise profit over people and they tend to go silent on their social media. That is largely because, it takes a lot of effort to present yourself in a certain way to attempt to match the values an organisation might inauthentically state, when they are simply superficial and meaningless – it is like window dressing.

How often have you seen a business say – “we care about people” and then make people redundant with an unfair package, or “we support creative talent” whilst using the design of an artist on their newest product without payment, or “we look after our people”, whilst folx are working silly hours in a toxic culture and struggling with their mental health with no support or, “we have an inclusive workplace” whilst no attempts to actual think about accessibility, equality and diversity.

When an organisational mask slips, we see the organisation for what it really is, we get the “lessons will be learnt” speech and then it is business as usual again. That is an example of an organisation, using its values as nothing more than window dressing. The actual operational values, exist in the decisions that lead up to that “reveal” point and we can guarantee, that an organisation like that will prioritise restoring the window dressing above actually changing and critical reflection. Organisational values exist in every decision made, in every interaction with your network, in your budget lines and spending and what you hide, cover up or ignore.

At Mortal Fools, we are entirely real, human and our organisational values, run through every single element of the organisation and every single person who represents us. Our values have always been there, but for years they existed in a sense of “the Mortal Fools way” but we couldn’t effectively, communicate them. We spent a lot of time a couple of years ago, really drawing them out into our conscious and now they stand as promises to our Mortal Fools community.

Our values at Mortal Fools are:

  1. CONTRIBUTING – Everyone Matters
    All of our team and everyone we work with contributes to shaping our programmes, helping us to learn and make an impact. Our activities are participatory, an asset in the lives of the people we work with, making a positive contribution to the wider arts and voluntary sectors, seeking influence in both grassroots and strategic settings.
  2. GROWING – Becoming more
    We are bold and ambitious and not afraid of failure. We constantly look to learn from others. We champion a growth mindset and believe everyone, with the right level of challenge and support has the potential to become more.
  3. WITH OTHERS – Better Together
    Our activities bring people together – to achieve, to learn and to have fun – with collaboration, co- creation, and kindness at the heart of everything we do. We support the development of key skills like empathy, teamwork, and resilience. We care, and this compassion helps us to build strong relationships, allowing us to be bolder and achieve more.
  4. AS OURSELVES – ​Always authentic
    We encourage everyone to be their authentic, imperfect selves – with strengths, vulnerabilities, emotions, and needs. We know embracing differences makes us all stronger, more empathetic, and wiser. We strive to meet the needs of everyone we work with, making sure we are accessible and inclusive to people from all walks of life. As a company, we do not copy or compete with others. We walk our own path, and we seek to work with those who also value authenticity and openness.

What are values-based actions?

Values based actions, are decisions and actions, you take as an organisation that really demonstrate your values – often when things do not go to plan. Remember, your values aren’t what you say, they are what you do and how you act.

An example of this for us recently was, we did not have captioning ready in time for our young people’s video project which was an oversight. Now, we could have said nothing, hoped that no one noticed and addressed the problem, as quickly as we could behind the scenes. That didn’t feel very Mortal Fools; so, we decided, as an organisation that has been doing a lot of work around accessibility, investing into it, prioritising it – that we needed to own it and be honest about it for audiences. We owed that transparency to the folx who rely on captioning to be able to engage and we hoped that whilst, things clearly had not gone to plan, we wanted to restate our commitment to accessibility, that we were reviewing our project processes to ensure it never happened again and most importantly, we wanted to reassure that audience with an access need, that we hadn’t forgotten about them, but we had dropped the ball.

This decision hit our “As Ourselves” value – we felt it was important to be honest and our “Growing” value – our growth mindset, meant we weren’t scared of admitting our mistake publicly and highlighting what we were going to do to correct it.

What is values based leadership?

Values based leadership focuses on leading an organisation and evaluating performance on more than just metrics and margins; performance is also judged on how the organisation really lives its values and achieves its purpose. Values based leadership sets the tone and culture of the organisation – it means that not only do the organisational values influence and drive organisational activity, but values-based leadership, becomes a guiding light in times of difficult, change and a pandemic.

Values based leadership session.

Values based leadership is incredibly important to us and it has enabled us across 2020 into 2021. Now, you’ve had a flavour of Mortal Fools and our organisational values, we’d love you to join us on Monday 24 th May, 6pm for the first in a new series of NIBE events focusing on business ethics across different contexts and sectors; Values based leadership; passion, purpose, and performance in business. – an online event run by Mortal Fools for young leaders and folx interested in how personal values influence and impact leadership style.

Across the session, you will grow your understanding of how embedding your personal values can not only transform your leadership skills – giving it renewed passion and purpose, but it can also transform the way we do business and our positive impact on the world.

It is free to attend but you must pre-book HERE.

In the meantime, you can find out more about us at Mortal Fools on our website, social media (@mortalfoolsuk) and YouTube Channel.