Decisions with Core Values

Decisions with Core Values

I’m aware that not everyone loves the concept of core values.

Being that as it may, LearningLeaders has chosen to adopt the principle and practice of creating and living our core values as best we can. Being aware cultural fit matters as much as skills, we include and discuss them in hiring and promotion discussions. Being aware that continuity in a company is as important as innovation, we include and discuss them when we make decisions about the direction of the company. They also directly impact students - one recent LL graduate shared with us during the Step-up ceremony a speech about how the LearningLeaders core values changed her outlook on learning. Our values do and will exist outside of our LearningCenters.

Many decisions we make on a daily basis are pretty quick and easy. It’s the larger and tougher decisions where core values are often the most valuable and simultaneously the most divisive. In a well-functioning organization, when employees (or in our case, Partners) are faced with with tough decisions, I would hope that core values of the company come into the decision-making criteria. Do the decisions we’re making support the larger ideals we have chosen to respect? It’s challenging to have dozens of people agree on anything - though if we all agree that a select number of principles are important, that’s a great place to start!

An interesting phenomenon as companies grow is that when making key decisions team members often have a drive to rely more on precedent than going back to core values. It’s perfectly natural. In fact, it’s actually a biological reflex. Where we can save mental energy in decision-making or physical exertion, we do. Don’t be concerned - it’s not just you. Even Elon Musk and Ariana Huffington and Christine Legarde are biologically wired to be ‘lazy' in this way.

The way this plays out is that we look to decisions that have already been made and base our decisions on those. Rather than necessarily thinking through the effects of core values on tough decisions every time, we effectively outsource decision-making to the past. We outspokenly embrace more efficient decision-making just like many other companies do: creating a KnowledgeBase with FAQs, posting and broadcasting information in weekly emails, and telling stories from earlier days at LearningLeaders to provide Partners with more context around why certain things are the way they are. In many cases relying on precedent has positive effects.

Unfortunately, over-reliance on precedent has two pretty big downsides. First - Relying on precedent is a marvelously effective way to shield oneself from blame or downside risk. Imagine you’re working with another Partner and they make a critical decision. You don’t necessarily agree and you want to understand their thinking. You ask, “Can I better understand your thinking on this? Why Option A when we could have picked Option B, C, or D?”

The response you hear is, “Well… last time ABC Team had a similar decision… they did it that way.” The other person has effectively let themselves off the hook by relying on decision-making to people of the past. Maybe the decision was the best one at that time. Maybe it wasn’t. That response doesn’t exactly display that it’s been thought out very clearly. That’s 100% WHAT with 0% WHY. Consistency has some value, but it shouldn’t trump all. Taking the ‘easy way out’ and putting no skin in the game is no way to go through life.

Second - Making decisions primarily based on precedent will slowly erode and destroy our core values. We need to be conscious of when we’re relying on precedent. If we’re not conscious of this, then our core values will quickly become less relevant to our decision-making than our recent conclusions, effectively rendering them less valuable and meaningful. In my opinion, this is tragic, because the purpose of core values is to maintain what has made us great so far and provide integrity to an organization that exists within a world that is otherwise changing rapidly and can become chaotic. In a world of chaos, customers crave order. Many seek dependability. As do many of us, I presume.

We are deciding, today, every single day, the way Partners at LearningLeaders will act 5-10 years from now. With each decision we make, we are also shaping the future decisions people will make here. It’s natural to rely on precedent. It saves time. It saves energy. In many ways relying on precedent is positive. But we cannot over-rely on it at the expense of our core values.

In more ways than we can possibly know, the company we will become tomorrow is a product of the decisions we make today.

Let’s be thoughtful.