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Your Values Statement: More Than Meets the Eye

November 2, 2016 0 Comments

iStock_000020585606Large(1)You’ll recall that the last article posted at this blog, “The Governing Gold Standard,” describes a modern approach to developing innovation initiatives – what in my work I call the Change Investment Portfolio Process – that is rapidly replacing old-time comprehensive long range planning for meaningless periods such as three or, God forbid, ten years.  This contemporary approach typically involves board members early in the process in an intensive “strategic work session” at which, among other things, the district values statement is updated.

Although values (which I define as cherished beliefs and fundamental principles that guide and constrain our planning and operations) are exalted in planning theory, I’ve found that they’re often treated perfunctorily in practice.  I can’t tell you how many workshop participants over the years I’ve seen roll their eyes when I mention the need to re-visit their organization’s values statement.  And I’ve found it really difficult to get board and executive team members excited about updating their values statements as part of their innovation planning process.  When I bring up values, the initial response is more often than not “So much for the fluff, let’s get to the meat.”

I submit that it’s a real mistake to underestimate the value that values can bring to your district if you take them seriously.  There’s much more there than might meet the eye.  Values are broad-backed beasties that can carry more baggage than you might imagine.  For example, these days many school districts around the country are:

  • Employing their updated values statement to as a serious planning tool: setting boundaries (the “Thou Shalt Nots”), raising serious planning questions (what gaps between our values and our actual practice should we focus on in this planning cycle?), and even reconciling competing or conflicting values, which many of my colleagues in the governance business consider a preeminent board governing function.  For example, in a recent board-superintendent planning retreat I was involved in, we spent quite a bit of time discussing how to reconcile the democratic value of free, open dialogue with the potentially competing value of civil and respectful discourse.
  • Using the process of updating values in a retreat as a means to build a more cohesive board governing team, lifting board members’ sights and also combatting the inevitable centrifugal force exerted by constituencies in the community.
  • Systematically eliciting community leaders’ input on district values, often by involving them in a daylong brainstorming “charrette,” and in the process strengthening community ownership of the district.
  • Also using the updated district values statement as a powerful tool for educating community residents about the school district, especially when a school board member explains each value in a forum such as the monthly Rotary luncheon or meeting of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters.

Of course, any school district that pays only rhetorical allegiance to its stated values, ignoring them in practice, will eventually lose credibility and earn a tarnished reputation in the community.

Doug Eadie

President & CEO of Doug Eadie & Company, Inc., Doug Eadie assists superintendents in building rock-solid partnerships with their school boards.
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