few weeks ago when writing a review of Ed Mayo’s excellent book – Values – how to bring values to life in your business” on this Huffington Post site I used the following words:
Values matter. They can drive behaviours and performance in businesses, co-operatives, social enterprises, charities, community groups, the public sector and indeed individuals. They differentiate between and tell us much about both organisations and individuals.
Values are about more than some words on a poster, on a web site, in a chief executives peroration, in a customer, user, or citizen charter, or in a CV. They have to be lived and they have to be authentic.
These words matter as values matter and have to be lived and breathed not simply written down in the expectation that someone will be impressed. This means that values have to be accompanied and underpinned by integrity, honesty and openness.
It is all too apparent from my experiences of observing and discussing the experiences of others working in the public, education, charity, voluntary and business sectors that too often values which are projected in neon lights are simply ignored in practice. This way does much harm to the credibility of those behaving in this way, for those responsible for this behaviour and these people and the organisation itself.
There is a responsibility on employees, senior executives and boards across the sectors to challenge any divergence from stated values and actions which demonstrate a lack of integrity. Equally services users – for example learners and parents at school or customers of a retail store – should challenge when they witness any such deviation from both stated values and frankly from those which they and other reasonable people would expect from respected and responsible people and organisations.
I am reminded of some recent examples where I have watched as businesses, charities and public institutions have either completely collapsed or have been seriously damaged because of a failure to live by their values. This can be as fatal to an organisation as technical or financial failure and indeed these failures are all too often linked. It can be too tempting to abandon values when the going is get tough when in actuality this should be very time to strengthen the commitment to values.
When, for example, a public service has developed a vision and model of operating though the involvement of a range of stakeholders over a number of years it is not clever nor consistent with good values for the leadership of that organisation or service to decide to change the vision and model without any engagement with those stakeholders; or to fail to support staff and service users to address the required change; or for the service leaders say that they have no choice but to change because they are being told to do so by someone with greater authority – probably either an unnamed “greater authority” or a “greater authority” that is not prepared to be accountable.
In such cases not only is the integrity of the leadership involved diminished but so usually is performance. How can employees and other stakeholders be expected to maintain values and standards when they perceive that leaders and decision makers are not.
Likewise when leaders of organisations withhold information from or place undue pressure on or impose dramatic change on staff the values and integrity of these leaders will be questioned. It is very likely too that the performance and reputation of the organisation will be damaged and sometimes irrevocably.
Another common example is when leaders put self-preservation and interest before those of staff and in public services service users and the community. This is wrong and short sighted for inevitably it will weaken not only the individual leader but also the institution; and in the case of a public service probably harm the interests of the service users and community. No single leader or collective leadership – political or managerial – has the right to act in this way and should they do so they will blow assunder their personal integrity.
When any individual is asked or even instructed to act in ways that are contradictory to their person values and principles they must call on these values and principles when deciding how to respond. In many cases this may require them to consider challenging the request or instruction made of them and if appropriate resign. This will be a matter for their professional and personal conscience.
I could offer many more examples of values being cast aside and the short and long term consequences of this.
I am not saying that it is always easy to stick to one’s values and all of us will have either strayed or been very tempted to stray. In these circumstances what matters is to recognise that you have strayed and take corrective action which should include an apology to those adversely affected.
As Ed Mayo wrote to eloquently in his book values matter. They should be the compass which by which leaders and indeed everyone steers their organisations. Compliance with stated values especially when the going gets tough.
Leaders from political leaders and boards to individual executives and indeed all of us have to stop before we act and ask two important questions (there will of course be many more questions to be asked and answered in most circumstances. These questions are
- is what I am planning to do and the way in which I plan to do it consistent with my personal and my organisation’s values?
- what direction is my and the organisation’s values compass indicating I/we should go?
Leaders who act in this way, in my experience, are more likely to succeed and to be able to sleep easily at night.
Likewise staff and stakeholders including service users, who challenge when they see stated organisational values not being pursued, are more likely to secure the service/organisation’s sustainable future and themselves sleep more easily. It is not ever easy to challenge in this way but there is no benefit from regretting not having done when the damage has been done.
As before I commend Ed Mayo’s book but above all I hope that all of us will be steered by our values.