Staying true to our values

I’m a regular junkie for books and writings on how to build and operate great organizations. Examples of quality emerge from both the private and public sectors, but they always come with a demonstrated track record of quality throughout time. Truly great organizations can not only pull off a good quarter (or even year), but they can deliver quality consistently again and again.

This study of lasting quality has led me to think deeply about the concepts of organizational culture and (even more deeply) what values the organization holds and exemplifies.

The word “values” has serious and deep meaning — and it gets to the core of who people are and what they believe. Business writer Patrick Lencioni writes that these values should be “aggressively authentic,” and set the organization apart from its competitors. If you fill up your mission and vision statement with vacuous words that sound good, but ring hollow because they lack precision and authenticity, then you are wasting everyone’s time.

Consider these values: Respect, integrity, communication, excellence. On the surface, these are unassailable. Who would disagree with them? But in practice, they are often empty platitudes and do nothing to really guide the decisions of an organization. By the way, those values are what Enron listed in their 1998 annual report — while they were lying to their customers and investors through intentionally deceptive and fraudulent accounting practices.

Real organizational values should not only guide decisions, but also actually constrain options and limit choices to those which fit within those values. According to Lencioni, if an organization is unwilling to accept the real pain and constraints that come with living up to your stated values, then don’t even bother going through the false exercise of developing them and writing them down.

Stating your values, and then behaving in a way counter to them, devastates trust from customers and employees. It makes the organizational leadership into hypocrites and unworthy of respect.

Eagle County Schools has been working to define our organizational values. We’ve pushed ourselves to consider how they are “aggressively authentic” from other school organizations. We’ve also worked to consider how these values both guide and constrain our decisions — so that we are living up to what we said we would be.

With the help of the staff and the Board of Education, we’ve defined our vision as Global-Ready Graduates. This means that our kids should graduate able to work and compete anywhere in the world.

Our organizational values are as follows (with description):

Engaged learners — Students that are invested in and take pride in their work. Engaged learners are students who go deep into their studies and see connections for their work beyond school.

Inspired professionals — Teachers, administration and staff who consider education a calling and deeply moral and personal work. Inspired professionals have sacrificed to have the opportunity to teach and work with our children and they are committed to improving their craft.

A sense of adventure — Eagle County is a special place to live, and our school district looks for people who embrace life here. The meaning of this goes beyond nature lovers and adrenaline junkies — we want people who have a courageous spirit and aren’t afraid to take chances and try something new.

A caring community — Our schools are an inseparable part of the community fabric and there are “invisible fibers” that connect us. We feel both the suffering and the joy that comes into our lives. Our schools are there for the community, and the community is there for them.

A commitment to equity — We believe that all children can learn and are capable of greatness, but they will have different paths and will need different supports to unlock their talents and pursue their passions. A commitment to equity means that we don’t give all kids the same thing, we give them what they individually need to succeed and thrive.

Our schools will take an aggressive approach to recruiting this spring, thanks to the increased salaries and openings we will have as a result of 3A funds. In our hiring, we plan on using these organizational values to screen prospective employees, making sure that people who work in our schools already have these values as part of their core beliefs.

We’ve put some real effort and thinking into our values and what we plan on doing with them. Throughout time, we won’t back down on our goal of being a globally competitive school system — Eagle County deserves nothing less.