Using Core Values as a Decision Filter

What role do values play in making decisions?  Huge, if we chose to use them appropriately.  Let’s dissect an example where this was not the case.

A large Catholic hospital chain has decided to argue in court that fetuses are not people, in order to protect itself in a lawsuit.  A woman went into cardiac arrest upon arrival at the hospital, and the hospital did not perform a C-Section to deliver the 28 week old fetuses.  The case is being appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, and Colorado bishops are reviewing the decision of the Catholic hospital.

In the immediate term, this means that a large Catholic entity decided that money is more important than its core beliefs.  Catholic Health Initiatives owns 171 hospitals and has net assets of $15 billion, so settling the lawsuit was not a life or death situation for the organization or the people that it serves. (Full disclosure: I am a mostly lapsed Catholic who cherry picks his Catholic values.)

Wow!  You couldn’t have a clearer case of core values and financial results being in total opposition to each other, and in organization that has such a strong belief system.  So what hope is there for the rest of us as we struggle to balance values and financial results in our impact enterprises?

Impact enterprises frequently face decisions that may fall one way or the other – greater social impact or greater profitability.  How we make those decisions may determine the soul of the organization, its social or environmental impact, and its long-term viability.  Here are some questions you can ask that may help you to make these tough decisions:

  1. Does the decision go against the core values of the organization?  If so, should the values change?  This should not be done lightly.
  2. What will be the short term and long term impact on the soul of the organization and the people who work for it?
  3. Will the decision have a negative social impact in the short term, but strengthen the organization in the long term and allow it to increase its impact?
  4. Is the social impact one of omission (we’re not able to help more people) or commission (we are harming people?)
  5. What is the level of financial impact?  Will it have a marginal impact, or does it threaten the organization’s existence?
  6. How can we be creative in aligning core values and financial results?  There may be ways to gain the financial benefits without compromising core values.

The last question is the most intriguing and powerful.  It is the question that an impact enterprise should ask itself on an ongoing basis.  It is the question that drives change which results in the most sustainable long term impact.  It is the question that requires creativity, and encourages organizational and leadership growth.