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Prioritizing Values

Thursday, October 22, 2009 Leave a Comment

One of the most useful exercises we did at our annual retreat was creating individual lists of core values in order of importance, and then comparing and quantitatively analyzing those lists. Why the italics for in order of importance?

Because the results were truly eye-opening. Previously, when we had talked about our values, we had done so in a way that assumed they were of equal importance. I didn't ask if developing multi-faceted theatre artists was a more important value than long term collaboration, because I didn't think prioritzing values mattered.

It is, of course, essential, because different values can come into direct conflict with each other. An example is the current uproar over the casting of a hearing actor in a deaf and mute role in New York Theatre Workshop and The Acting Company's The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. For an excellent analysis of this debate, check out Leonard Jacob's take at the Clyde Fitch Report.

Be sure to read the comments section for a perfect example of core values in conflict. If you value aesthetic excellence more than inclusiveness, you are likely to side with those who support NYTW's casting choice. Is it more important to take advantage of opportunities to cast deaf actors and have their experience represented directly on stage; or is it more important to cast the best actor?

The debate is more complex than that, and without knowing the casting process or the core values of the companies involved, I'm hesitant to take sides. But this is exactly the situation where a clear priority of values could help explain difficult decisions to your stake holders.

That is, of course, if you value transparency. And now it's my turn to own up to the fact that this particular post is housed in glass, as Flux is not quite ready to share the fruits of our core value labors. We're hoping to have something to share by January 1st.

When that happens, it will be our responsibility to explain those values in clear language, prioritizing them as best we can, while being realistic with ourselves about the complexity that plagues every decision in a field where resources are scarce, time limited, and outcomes, uncertain.

That said, one of the lessons of our retreat was that it isn't enough to know your core values; you also have to clearly prioritize them to be ready for when the difficult decisions come.

Does anyone know any companies who could serve as models in this regard?


  • WT George said:  

    Brother,we've done it here at Touchstone. We kept them down to less than seven or so values, did it on butcher paper, prioritized by voting. There's one more step, I'd think, that it sounds like you're doing and that we haven't done. You're holding on to them and soaking them into the culture of the Company. We saw our values as a moment in time, understood that it was an evolving view. They helped us with long range planning, and then we'll return to them perhaps once a year to see if they still hold up.

    Here's a value question. Do you hold to your values priority list if the personnel change and because of this priorities change?