We need personal development from a grass root level to deliver results
Anyone who thinks that rolling out a corporate values programme is going to
make a jot of difference to their business is living in cloud cuckoo land.
Once upon a time the values circus had a novelty factor. Staff would be
subjected to off-site events, climate surveys, values champions, workshops and
snappy videos of grinning staff to a backdrop of upbeat pop tunes. It did fuel
discussion about staff behaviour at work, but such initiatives are now greeted
with all the excitement of another round of redundancies.
High on hype, most ‘living the values’ schemes are great for conference
organisers and consultants happy to peddle yesterday’s projects as tomorrow’s
solutions. But they are lousy for business leaders and employees alike.
Poorly pitched initiatives question the credibility of senior management and
can appear lud- icrous to employees who often find it a pointless and
patronising waste of time. It can also be damaging to the bottom line, with the
organisation diverted from its profit-generating activities.
This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t change the way people behave at
work. It can be done, but first you need to decide why you want organisational
If it is to provide the killer competitive edge that makes your company
better than your competitors then you are probably out of luck. More than 90
per cent of organisations’ values come from just 12 phrases, including
teamwork, results, innovation and customer focus.
Furthermore, if the company values are to create a corporate glue to bind
together disparate cultures and increase company loyalty, then look for another
solution. Individuals are more likely to rebel against universal behavioural
standards that treat them as a homogeneous group than conform to them.
But if the organisation’s objective is to encourage employees to behave in a
way that makes them more effective, then you are in with a chance. But your
approach will need to be counter-intuitive.
First, don’t mention the values. Instead, focus on helping employees
flourish as individuals by encouraging them to gain the skills they think they
need to be more successful, not just at work, but in their life as a whole.
Make learning these capabilities as easy as going to the gym. A 90-minute
session once a fortnight in the office will, over the course of a year, take
less time than a week’s course and be a lot less disruptive.
It also provides 25 more opportunities to apply what the employee has
learned and will deliver more sustained change than most traditional training
courses or values workshops.
This needs to be positioned as a personal development programme where people
can choose what they want to do. The organisation might decide the content of
the programme by popular vote or allow people to choose subjects.
What matters is that employees do not feel they are all being treated in the
same way and feel trusted to know where they need improvement (albeit guided by
appraisals, managers and online diagnostics).
HR professionals need no convincing that work culture is critical to
business success. The challenge is in choosing a solution that delivers
The best chance of changing the way people behave at work is to swap a
top-down approach for one that comes up from the grass roots – change corporate
values for personal development and continuous improvement.
This way you will get the kudos of providing a new benefit – the value of
delivering sustained improvements to both culture and performance. And you may
even discover that your company values are being lived without (apparently)
By Octavius Black, managing director of The Mind Gym