DeVos Just Taught Us Something New: What Influences Decision-Making?

Earlier this week in DC, the Senate’s voicemail system went down. As many as 1.5 million calls per day poured in, fiercely objecting the appointment of Betsy DeVos as our next Secretary of Education.

As a company committed to creating technology that facilitates learning and training, we are taken aback by the decision. We reflected how this topic relates to a bigger picture than just public education. It made us think about what influences people when big decisions are made.

By many accounts, the resounding disapproval and outrage over DeVos was due to her lack of qualification. Lacking any experience in public education, her role was  as a lobbyist, using her fortune to influence change and conversations—mostly in favor of private schools. So if we can distill this into a power struggle people are weighing in on, it can be viewed as money vs. qualification.

Although this writer (among many others in the education and training fields) are distressed about this decision, there is a larger lesson. We can feel better about decision making when we check in by asking the right, hard questions. Here are 5 to start with:

  1. Does the person who is leading the charge really understand and advocate for the people they represent? It is the responsibility of leaders to really understand the group they are leading and what is in the best interest so that they can be the most authentic and effective voice for those they are representing.
  2. Have we heard input and feedback from all the key decision makers? It’s important that every single key decision maker on the team is able to collaborate and communicate their thoughts, goals, and ideas. Far too often the most persistent, or perhaps even pushy leaders get their way without proper checks and balances or considering alternative approaches.
  3. Are there entrenched forces in your learning environment for your business and employees? Entrenched forces in place can allow situations like HUD and DeVos to arise. Make sure you are doing your best to recognize them and find resolution for them.
  4. How do we measure success? Does the way we measure success paint an accurate and complete picture? In public education, many measure success by graduation rates, standardized testing, and college acceptance outcomes. In the business world, many measure success by meeting (and exceeding) quotas, volume of sales, retention of sales, and referrals. But it’s so much more than that. Harder to quantify data points like “quality of experience” and “building trust” are huge qualitative and long-term goals to keep in mind. But these are the data points that move your team forward – as a team.
  5. Is your ability to grow disabled by continued dysfunction? This is perhaps the most painful and ongoing question to ask ourselves. What can we do to improve the gaps between communication and goals to get teams to work most powerfully together.

DeVos’ tenure—long or short—will test the assumption that quality education is a right for everyone—not for the privileged 1%. While the Senate failed to ask and answer these hard questions, we must do so— both as a country, and within our own organizations.

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