October 15, 2018

2 Hard-boiled Eggs & the Importance of Value Ranking

Woman at an airport standing in lineBehind five travelers and their roll-aboards in Hudson News in the Denver airport, two hard-boiled eggs sat in a refrigerator case.

After jiggling to the case, I grabbed the eggs, then bumped my way to the end of the checkout line. The line moved quickly until the women ahead of me, stopped everything. She had two children and three rollers in tow. “I’d like to make a return,” she said to the clerk. “I bought this five minutes ago.” She held out an unopened package of earphones.

“You bought it from me?” the clerk asked. Truly, he’d never seen her, or any customer that morning. “Where’s the receipt? You didn’t take it, no? Then I threw it away. I can’t refund it without a receipt.”

“Hand me the trash,” she said. “I’ll find it.”

The clerk motioned, as if helpless, to the line of travelers now reaching the back wall. We were dehydrated, travel-weary, and, for those of us close enough to hear, transfixed.

Chaos in Our Nonprofits

Our nonprofits, at times, get busy, fast-moving, and hectic like this. In the midst of turbulence, our staff, board, and volunteers make rapid decisions. Some of the choices harm us. Others help. Consider, for example, the donor who plans to donate five million dollars, but leaves in a huff, because she lost her receipt or some other piece of paper. Alternatively, imagine the donor who decides, based on your newest staff member’s gracious handling of a conflict, to make your organization the beneficiary of her will.

How can you prepare your people to take the best course of action in chaotic situations?

  1. Identify and prioritize your values.
  2. Ensure everyone understands them.
  3. Give people the latitude to make decisions based on your top values.

Let me explain. Many nonprofits identify their values. That’s good. Well-chosen values clarify what’s important.

Unfortunately, many nonprofits and businesses fail to prioritize their values. Un-prioritized values generate multiple, frequently conflicting choices. The result? Messy muddles chock full of good options that cause people to circle round and round, instead of making decisions.

Let’s go back to Hudson’s. The firm’s website indicates its values. These include operational excellence, financial discipline, and being the traveler’s best friend.

Which is the top value?

  • If it’s financial discipline, the employee insists on a receipt. If a customer objects, the employee immediately calls his or her supervisor.
  • If it’s being the traveler’s best friend, the employee sees a mother and two children traveling. He befriends the mother and starts the return.
  • If operational excellence tops the list, the employee notices the crowd, hands over the trash, and checks out others, until the woman finds her receipt.

If you were the employee what would you do?

What happened? Finally, after more discussion, the employee called his manager. She listened to the situation and immediately rang up the return. Everyone gave a collective sigh of relief, and we got underway.

To make high-quality and consistent decisions, you and everyone who loves your nonprofit needs to know your top value. What are your values? Have you prioritized them? Does everyone know and use this information to make decisions?

For more answers, check out the  Nonprofit CEO Library.

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Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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