How values drive every decision taken at LEAD, India’s fastest growing funded edtech startup
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At LEAD, values are not a buzzword or something we hope to achieve some day (in the future). They are intricately linked to the work of every employee and are at the heart of every process – from recruitment to appraisals and everything in between.
‘Education’ and ‘values’ are two terms that are almost synonymous. One of the key aims of education is imparting the right values to a new generation. However, it is equally true that values are rarely well defined, and often get reduced to a cliche in the race for grades and other easily measurable outcomes. Our students deserve better. But how can the education sector ensure this?
Ever since LEAD was founded, the question of values has been central. But we are not talking merely about values being incorporated in what students learn from textbooks or in class but also the idea that a company in the education sector needs to adhere to a core set of values that gets reflected in the services it provides to teachers and students.
From the beginning, LEAD has been a hybrid organisation – a for-profit company with a strong social focus – that internalises these values in every step of the process. In fact, when LEAD’s first schools were launched, the vision the founders had was to inculcate in the students a set of values that had stood them in good stead – values that would enable children to grow into well-rounded individuals. It was only natural that these same values would be at the heart of LEAD’s internal functioning and drive employee and leader performance.
At LEAD, people are invited to find meaningful solutions to India’s education problems – a socially relevant purpose that is rewarding and has immense career growth potential. Over the years, LEAD has become a logical career move for those driven by a deep desire to change education in India. Many of these professionals were earlier working in NGOs or as teachers in various initiatives in the education sector. They have brought with them zeal and a commitment to the values LEAD espouses, often enriching these values. After working at big multinational organisations throughout my career, one of the things that pulled me towards LEAD was the alignment of my personal values with the values at LEAD that bring together like-minded people motivated to achieve our mission.
LEAD’s core values
So, what are these values that lie at the core of LEAD’s mission? Every element of our work is defined by these five ideas: Courage, Integrity, Growth mindset, Be the cause, and Empathy. Each value is linked to the other to determine the way we approach our work. ‘Courage’ stands for being unstoppable in doing what is right, the ability to take difficult calls to ensure we do justice to students and teachers, and the willingness to ask critical questions, even to one’s seniors. Closely related is ‘Integrity’, which is about honouring one’s word but is about much more than sticking to deadlines and deliverables. Integrity also encompasses each and every step of LEAD’s work, from visualising the product to its final rollout and engagement with teachers and students. The ‘Growth mindset’ complements this by centering growth, not in terms of the achievements of individuals, but as the organic development of the mission in which all stakeholders play their part and work together to build the project. ‘Be the cause’ is an especially key value as it focuses on personal accountability to achieve goals in a manner that each member of every team exemplifies the goal to transform education.
Finally, ‘Empathy’ is especially vital in a company that works with the Affordable Private School (APS) segment across the country. The diversity of needs and requirements calls for professionals who have empathy and vision. On a day-to-day basis, this is exemplified by how the child is at the centre of all thought processes at LEAD. The child’s perspective and the student’s ultimate developments are represented in every meeting so that LEAD’s professionals never veer far from the goals with which the company was started.
How LEAD stands apart
These values have been incubated in LEAD from day one in an organic manner. The challenge for any startup, especially one in the education sector, is remaining faithful to its values and ensuring that every employee is not only aware of them but is driven by them.
As LEAD expands – the company has scaled from 300 to 1,300 employees in less than a year – the need to further internalise, reiterate, and embed these values remains a high priority for us. The values that were and are part of LEAD’s DNA need to be replicable across all layers and functions.
The good news is that our leaders – at every level – are aware of this challenge.
In a recent series of conversations with CXOs and managers at LEAD in my role as the VP of Talent and Organisational Development, it was heartening to find that every leader identified values immersion as the most important priority for my function, not just focusing on new hires but as an organisation-wide practice at every layer. This focus and commitment to top-down alignment on values is unique to LEAD among other startups.
Nonetheless, the question of application of these values remains. The most important element is defining not just the ‘what’ but the ‘how’. Most organisations are content to speak about values but leave the implementation to the employees, which causes confusion. LEAD stands out in its determination that every employee lives these values that are hard-coded in their daily workflow. Whether it be a tech lead insisting on a product being in perfect shape before rollout or a sales executive being clear to a potential client about deliverables irrespective of the promises of the competition, each employee has a chance to enact these values in their day-to-day work, and is encouraged to do so.
Many other steps – small and big-play a role in the reiteration of these values. From standees in the office to regular town halls and stand-up meetings, values are touched upon at every opportunity. Values are also re-checked regularly for relevance and LEAD is in the process of concretising values further by identifying key indicators for each of them, so that there is nothing ambiguous when employees apply them during their work.
Our aim is that the values we prize at LEAD are also integrated into every process we undertake – from hiring, onboarding, and training sessions to appraisals, rewards & recognition, and L&D and coaching initiatives, employees are immersed in the values of the organisation.
The same reflects in the culture of feedback, which is a robust process for which employees are encouraged and managers are trained.
Similarly, the appraisal system centres values as well. At LEAD, a successful professional is not someone who merely achieves targets but does so in consonance with what the organisation stands for.
A major upcoming step in establishing these values further is the Interview Certification Programme, which looks at equipping every TA executive, hiring manager, and interviewer in the organisation with industry best practices in hiring as well as checking each potential candidate for fit with our organisation values.
As we continue this rigour, we will continue to integrate values with the way we interact, hire, measure performance, retain and reward.
All this boils to a key element of practice that is integral to LEAD’s functioning: for us, the time to do things the right way is now, not six months down the line or at some indeterminate time in the future when things are going well. Values do not come after project milestones and success but are intricately connected with them. For me, and other LEAD-ers, being part of a company that places values at its core is not only a matter of pride but also something that motivates us every day to continue on our mission to transform education in India.
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