Developing a values-based framework for rapid decision making


As COVID-19 and its social, psychological, and economic impacts unfold on a daily basis, organizations are facing tough decisions. Should we cancel our annual fundraiser? What about the conference we are holding next week? What should our remote work policy be? What about upcoming scheduled interviews for that position we really need to fill? How should we change our policies and procedures? How will this impact our budget?  And our team? 

Wide-ranging questions are coming tsunami-style, and answers are hard to craft against a backdrop of breaking news alerts and disparate opinions about best practices around the world. 

Ongoing change and the need for rapid response is a given in the coming weeks and months, and the campaigns and organizations that fare best will be those that establish a framework for decision making. That framework should be developed from your core values. 


The importance of core values for organizations 

Core values are way more than a bunch of words that you post on the website and slap on the wall. They are in fact, a collectively-held set of ideas that serve as a roadmap to: 

  1. Shape your culture
  2. Find the best people to do work with, from employees to vendors to strategic partners
  3. Make big decisions, determining what to say yes to and when to take a pass
  4. Figure out how to respond when things go wrong

You can read more about the vital importance of core values and how to develop them here. Whether they are documented or not, your organization already has core values that govern your organizational culture and norms of behavior.  So let’s talk about how to use them to navigate decisions for your organization. 


How to make decisions through a values lens

1. Think about your organizational values. If you have them written down, and your team is used to referring to them often, that’s great. You will have a strong set of principles to start from.  If you have them but they’ve been gathering dust on your website OR if you don’t have documented core values, don’t fret. Just roll on to the second step….

2. If needed, revisit your organizational values. With a few members of your core team, establish what your core principles are going to be for decision making in the coming weeks. These should be values that are frequently demonstrated within your organization already. Resist the urge to select values that represent what you wish your team was like. Answer this question: what makes our organization uniquely us? Is your team known for its light-heartedness and love for fun? Perhaps fun is a core value. Are you governed by direct, honest communication? Perhaps transparency is particularly important to you. Establish three or four core values that will be foundational to your choices in the coming weeks. Don’t overthink this – you can always come back to them later. 

3. Plot the behaviors that extend from your core values. For each value, determine a short list of core actions that you will proactively follow during the public health crisis. For example, if fun is a core value perhaps you’ll find ways for your team to connect with one another online to keep spirits high at a time of increased social isolation. If transparency is a core value perhaps you will commit to sending a regular email bulletin to your staff and community with updates as to how developing events are impacting work product and processes. It’s important to remember that your values-driven actions must align with the latest public safety guidelines

4. Communicate your values-driven response to your team and community. Using whatever channels make sense, proactively communicate the decisions you have made to your team, clients, service-users, and community. Explain how these choices extend from your core values. 

5. As decision points arise, come back to the values. With every tough choice that asserts itself, come back to the same question: What do our core values tell us to do? Empower team members throughout your organization to utilize this same framework for decision making to avoid bottlenecks and confusion.   


The coming weeks promise ongoing uncertainty, which will demand continual decision making for organizations in less than ideal circumstances. The best decisions extend from an intentional, consistent process of decision making that you can develop at every level of your organization. Using your core values as the foundation of this decision making process gives you the greatest possible opportunity to stay true to what matters amid chaos and confusion. When in doubt, always come back to your values. 


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