One of the very few bright spots of the pandemic has been the emergence of a much-increased sense of community and fellowship. From the Thursday clapping for the NHS and other front-line staff through to the elevation of Captain Tom to a knighthood, there is all around a clear sense of caring for friends, neighbours and of often strangers. Each evening the news bulletins are filled with examples of unselfishness and occasional heroism. It has been said repeatedly that life post Covid will be characterised by the emergence of what David Cameron perhaps intended when he described the “Big Society”.
What are the odds of this happening? Ignoring the dangers of being termed a doom-monger, I suggest that they are absolutely minimal. At the moment we have a collective crisis and from this has emerged a new value system. Post Covid hopefully this sense of crisis will progressively fade but along with it will decline this new sense of fellowship. There will be nothing to sustain the current value system, unless of course Boris backtracks and he revisits the Big Society without the cynicism and disbelief that appeared first time around.
There are distinct parallels with the world of work. The majority of companies will have succumbed to the mantra of having mission statements and value statements in pursuit of corporate social responsibility. The reality is that these are pleasing additions to the annual reports and certainly look good when adorning to the Reception walls but rarely permeate in practice to the shop floor or the general office.
Why? There are two major reasons for this.
Firstly, the process of establishing the values is either too remote from the workforce at large or is too complex to be of any practical use. In a former life, I took over a large quango in the world of education and set about establishing some meaningful and, to my mind simple, value statements with a cross section of the junior ranks in the workforce. It took three hours. Everybody seemed pleased with the end product but the word came down from the Department of Education HQ that we weren’t to use them.
They had commissioned experts to do the same thing across the country and we had to wait. Six precious months later and £100,000 lighter, we were presented with what looked like a noticeboard covered in Post -It notes. These were said to reflect the diversity of the quango and its vocational nature. To most people it was a collection of jumbled up, disconnected motherhood-and-apple-pie platitudes. It had no impact at all because management had no idea how to interpret these values pragmatically. The workforce were frankly confused as the final display looked like a left over from the Tate Modern.
The second reason is that the values do not reflect actual behaviour and merely represent ambitions without any effort to make them reality. There is little point in having aspirations without doing something positive about achieving them. The creation of values is seen as an end in itself, possibly with a naïve belief that somehow, they will influence and permeate the entire establishment. This is wrong. Defining the values is only the start of the process.
Over the past twenty-five years I have visited so many different establishments where their Values are proudly displayed but have rarely been convinced that they represent any real influence on culture and ambience. That is not to say that this is not important. In fact, I would argue that, given the likely challenges in the post Covid world, now more than ever SMEs need a living code to define behavioural values, but one which means something to both management and the managed. Otherwise as the challenges come thick and fast, the British disease of cynicism and change resistance will re-emerge. It may sound cruel but our national standards of productivity and work ethic tell their own story. From experience I would say that having such a code helps release the voice of the silent majority and can silence the naysayers.
The irritation here is that it is not hard to devise such a code. In the LEAD™ Masterclass we discuss that gathering a handful of the team together for an afternoon, explaining the necessity of having behavioural codes, showing them a few examples and facilitating a debate is more than sufficient to generate a value system. Three hours tops. As long as the group can come up with simple expectations of behaviour and attitudes word statements and ascribe a core set of values to everyone plus an additional set to cover extra behavioural demands from management, then you will almost certainly have a useable framework. I first witnessed this being done at the excellent Runshaw College and that set of values/behaviours was still largely untouched a decade later. However, the secret is not in the derivation of the values but in their dissemination.
Over lockdown, I have revisited my thinking here. My approach here has always been shaped by the excellent work done at Runshaw College and it definitely works there and in many other places. However, upon reflection I think that the twelve attributes of the “Runshaw Person” plus the ten additional demands on the Runshaw Manager are far too many. The key objective is to establish a simple framework which is both memorable and capable of defining an internal ethos. Perhaps we could simply come up with just five key attributes of the “person” and another five required of the “manager”. In this way we can more readily permeate the organisation through posters, screen savers, notice boards and the like. It would also be far more practical to incorporate them into routine communications and into peer reviews and management style questionnaires.
The actual selection of these values, attributes or qualities has to be left to the workforce but perhaps the following model could be considered as a starter for 10:
The “QuoLux™” person is:
Caring, Conscientious, Positive and Committed to Change and Excellence
The “QuoLux™” manager is, in addition to the above:
Consistent, Fair, Engaging, and a Team Player who effectively manages poor performance and recognises good performance.
I am sure your team can do much better but the art here is in defining an ethos which all can accept and work towards. Without that ethos, I feel that the volatility of the next few years will lead unfortunately to disagreement and alienation. In times like this we need to work together to generate the synergy shown by those high performing companies who succeed year after year.
Professor John J Oliver OBE
Reference: Oliver, J. & Memmott, C. (2006). Growing Your Own Heroes, pp.136-149.