Instilling and Maintaining a Value-based Model in Your Organization
Culture is one of the core elements that startups consistently underestimate. Yet, experienced entrepreneurs identify culture as instrumental to their company’s success.
As such, we are continuing to highlight practical examples of startups that bring Culture to life. Today, I am pleased to introduce Education Resource Strategies (ERS) as a wonderful example of a values-based organization. ERS has a clear and compelling vision to help transform education through smart resourcing.
As you’ll read below, Karen and Allison have developed a robust set of core values that they have integrated into their venture, ERS. These entrepreneurs have engrained their values into everything from on-the-job behavior to their weekly standup meetings, bi-weekly coaching, monthly innovation days, and more. This ethos is also an important part of their overall strategy and extends into their partnerships outside ERS. It’s an exciting example of culture at work and for an important cause. Enjoy their story!
Education Resource Strategies (ERS) is a non-profit organization based in Watertown, MA. We are dedicated to transforming how urban school systems organize resources (people, time, technology, and money) so that every school succeeds for every student. Started ERS back in 2005: now in our tenth year, we serve over twenty school districts across the United States.
At our core, we believe that:
- All students deserve a great education tailored to their needs.
- One-school-at-a-time reform is not enough; we must redesign school systems to create the conditions for all schools to succeed.
- It’s not just about how much you have, but how well you use it: districts can restructure their resources to meet their strategic goals and schools’ unique needs.
To realize this, we developed a multi-dimensional vision for restructuring school systems: School System 20/20 Thus far, we have developed a specialty in three of the seven strategies related to teaching, funding, and school design.
Vision and Culture
To build an organization that aims to have substantial impact, we created an environment that keeps key values. Furthermore, ERS strives to incorporate our core values into everything we do: our work with our partner districts, fellow reform organizations, and within our organization.
Impact – We are passionate about transforming outcomes for urban children. Potential for impact guides our work and our priorities. We have the conviction to take risks on behalf of the children we serve.
Teamwork – We collaborate effectively to achieve the greatest impact. We depend on our collective wisdom and mutual support to ensure that together, we are greater than the sum of our parts.
Candor – We value open, honest, and respectful communication, even when it challenges conventional wisdom and is hard.
Learning – We learn from every experience. We embed capturing and sharing our learning in the way we work every day.
Work-Life Balance – We support every member of the ERS team to integrate meaningful work and professional growth with a healthy personal life throughout his or her career.
Service – We approach our work with humility, respect, and recognition of the challenges facing our partners.
We think of ourselves as a “value-based” organization — our values (along with our vision) drive the way we work internally and with our client, and the type of work we engage in. We infuse our organization with these values.
Maintaining values within the organization
ERS has developed a comprehensive Goals and Development process that provides guidance and accountability for living by our values as an organization. Most companies have written values statements – we go beyond a list to state explicitly how our values translate into expected behavior.
Furthermore, we incorporated these behaviors into job-specific rubrics that provide a framework for bi-weekly 1:1 coaching conversations and twice yearly performance reviews. All of our coaches are trained on giving feedback. Our coaches work hard to practice a feedback model that is consistent, based on examples, in the spirit of learning and growing, and is a two-way conversation. We aim to ensure that no one is surprised at a review because of the ongoing feedback process.
We are all working together to grow
As a learning organization, we require open and candid conversations. Everyone needs to be trained to do so, and the process needs to be ongoing.
A culture of openess and innovation
Furthermore, we have a weekly stand-up meeting (~15 minutes), where we share what’s going on (from professional to personal), recognize success and mistakes, and ensure everyone feels part of a bigger story. We also have annual, organization-wide retreats that enable both social bonding and professional growth. Finally, we have a monthly “Innovation Day” where we protect a team member’s schedule such that they can explore ideas outside of their official purview.
As an example of how this manifests day-to-day, one of our analysts, Dan, brought together a group to explore how we could expedite coding data using automation. Coding data is extremely time-consuming, however, it is the foundation of our analysis. Thought Dan had only been at ERS for less than eight months, and it was his first job out of school, he felt empowered to take the initiative. Following this initial meeting on Innovation Day, he asked for, and received, a formal allocation to work on this effort. Under his leadership, he reduced coding time significantly. And he didn’t stop there. With help of our Director of Technology, he contacted a group of entrepreneurs who host challenges to the technology community to solicit help. Judging from the proposals offered by the community, we believe that coding time can be cut down from approximately 6 weeks to days.
Our values inform everything from our decision-making processes to who to hire, how to pursue an analysis to how we communicate our findings to clients. We work with our partners respectfully and do our best to recognize the complexity of their circumstances: they should feel strengthened and not overwhelmed or annoyed by our interactions.
How ERS’ evolves
ERS’ values have remained fairly consistent over time, but the culture has had to shift as the organization has grown. When the organization was small, it was easier to know we were all on the same page. With more people and more levels of experience, we’ve needed to become more explicit and deliberate in articulating our values, in ensuring that each of us abide by them and clarifying how we are accountable to them. Many of the practices described above evolved to protect our values as we grew.
Karen Hawley Miles is the President and Executive Director of Education Resource Strategies
Allison Hausman is the Director of Communications for Education Resource Strategies
And with thanks to Alok Tayi for the introduction and work with Karen and Allison on this post.
(Images used in this post are from Education Resource Strategies.)