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Ditch corporate values – Training Solutions preview


Training Solutions Show 2002 Octavius Black, managing director of the Mind Gym, will be speaking about the future of learning at work on Day 2 of the Training Solutions conference (19-20th June). Here he explains why giving employees learning opportunities is a good alternative to imposing a corporate culture.

Ditch the values

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 arrival of the ‘values’ circus, complete with off-sites, climate surveys, ‘values’ champions, workshops and snappy videos of grinning staff to a backdrop of upbeat pop tunes, (as well as, of course, laminated cards) had a novelty benefit which at least fuelled discussion about how we behave at work. Now they are greeted with all the excitement of another demise.

High on hype, most ‘living the values’ initiatives are great for conference organisers and consultants happy to peddle yesterday’s projects as tomorrow’s solutions but they are lousy for leaders (a further dent in their credibility), ludicrous to employees (a pointless, often patronising, waste of time) and lethal to the bottom line (as the whole organisation is diverted from activities which might make a difference to ones which almost certainly won’t).

This doesn’t mean that you can’t change the way people behave at work – you can. However, first you need to decide why you want organisational values.

If it is to provide the competitive edge that makes your company better than your competitors, then you are probably out of luck. Over 90% of an organisation’s values come from just 12 phrases, such as teamwork, results, innovation, customer focus, etc.

If it is 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 which treat them as a homogeneous group, than willingly conform to them.

If, however, your real objective is to encourage employees to behave in a way that makes them more effective, then you’re 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 that they think they need to be more successful, not just at work but in the whole of their life.

Make learning these capabilities as easy as going to the gym. A 90-minute session once a fortnight in the office will, over a year, take up less time than a week’s course, be a lot less disruptive, and, as there are 25 times more chances to apply what I have just learnt, deliver more sustained change than most traditional training courses or values workshops.

Position this as a personal development programme where people can choose (to some degree) what they want. You might decide what is in the programme by popular vote, or you could allow people to book into the subjects that resonate. What matters is that employees do not feel that they are all being treated in exactly the same way and they do feel trusted to know what they need to be better at (albeit guided by appraisals, managers and on-line diagnostics).

HR leaders need no convincing that culture is critical to business success. The challenge is to discern between the solutions that are snake oil and those that deliver results.

The best chance of changing the way people behave at work is to swap top-down for bottom-up, corporate values for personal development and big bang for continuous improvement. This way you will get the kudos of providing a new kind of benefit, the value of delivering sustained improvements to both culture and performance, and cost savings that will delight your Finance Director.

And you may even discover that your company values are being lived without (apparently) trying.

Octavius Black is Managing Director of The Mind Gym
e: [email protected]
t: 020 7376 0626


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