Posts Tagged ‘values’

Culture – the reality versus the myth

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

You may have read about the sad death of Moritz Erhardt, the young intern at Merrill Lynch, who seems to have met his death as a direct result of the pressure cooker environment created by the bank he hoped to join.  They take on about 30 of the brightest and hungriest gradates each year as interns and let them ‘duke it out’ throughout the seven week period in Battle Royale style to see who can survive the process. Polly Courtney, author of ‘Golden Handcuffs’, who also went through this process wrote in the Independent today, wrote:-

“The firm ticked all the boxes on the HR front. We were assigned “buddies”: full-time bankers to whom we could go with any questions or concerns. (Nobody I knew ever approached their “buddy”; bankers didn’t have time for questions.) We attended lectures and talks on the values of the firm (Client Focus, Respect for the Individual, Teamwork, Responsible Citizenship and Integrity) and we were taught the procedure for surfacing concerns. (We found these laughable at the time; with hindsight, they were ludicrous.) The reality was that we had all signed away our right to the statutory working week; for one summer, we were the property of the firm.”

I first came across the concept of company culture in the 90’s when my company was part of the biggest corporate merger ever.  I was astonished at how different the cultures of the two companies were and impressed by their willingness to create a brand new and better one.  That was the start of my personal journey into this work.  Back then we were all taught the importance of values to underpin this culture and how they were meant to guide our decision making.  However, since then, as the vogue as spread, every big company can spout out this kind a stuff but most, like in the above example are nothing more than meaningless platitudes.  If your values don’t guide your behaviour, then they are worse than useless.

They can be hugely powerful tools to build your team and guide your decision making but if you don’t lead by example, if you are seen to not let them guide your actions then forget about them because everyone else will…. and worse, they will be used in evidence against you.

The Power of Leaders telling the Truth

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

As previously admitted, I’m a Quins fan and I spent a miserable afternoon this Sunday shivering on a touchline in freezing temperatures to watch my team play a dreadful game against their most dangerous rivals.  Saracens had just nudged us off top place in the league and we needed to to beat them in order to reclaim the slot we have held for the best part of two seasons.  This was our first game in their brand new stadium and it was clear from the start they were really up for it.  They seemed sharper, faster, and more dangerous.  Even though at at halftime we were still in the game in wasn’t long before we gave away a try and you knew that the game was as good as over.  In a single game we went from being shoe-ins for a top two place and a home semi-final to wondering whether we’d make the play-offs!

So why is any of this relevant to a non-rugby fan?  I was fascinated to hear what their coach had to say after the game.  We are so used to people putting a brave face of failure or trying to somehow mitigate its impact by talking about the things that went well, or perhaps explaining why someone/something else was really at fault.  In this video, he simply and powerfully tells the truth.  His comments are balanced, neutral and honest.  He doesn’t seek to reduce the consequences of failure or slump into doom and gloom.  He just says that we let ourselves down and now have a much harder task getting where we want to get to.  I’ll be fascinated to see how the team respond in their must win fixture against Gloucester on Friday.  I’ll also be interested to see who he picks, the ‘junior’ players who in the weeks before won us the LV cup or the legends who have won so many international caps.

If more leaders told the truth to their people in simple, clear language I think we might see much better performances.  Conor’s bywords are “Stick to our processes and procedures and the results will look after themselves”.  As a club, Harlequins know what brand of rugby they want to play and you can see everyone in all the squads playing the same way.  This is where values and culture really pay-off, when they are clear, strong and shared.  Everyone there know what ‘good’ looks like.  It is a real lesson for the corporate world where so often they are just words on a poster or in a staff handbook.

“If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:”  Rudyard Kipling

“No two animals…”

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

I was listening to the radio this morning and heard a scientist, Professor Brian Cox, say “No two animals see the world in the same way.”  He was referring to how catfish sense things through the murky waters via vibrations on the river bed and a swarm of chemicals in the river. Another example would be how, for instance, snakes find their prey via heat sensors near where their nose is.  Bats and dolphins use echo location, bees and other insects use infra red wavelengths to see markings on flowers that we can’t see.  So he was illustrating that different species have a whole spectrum of senses they each deploy in different ways to map and explore their worlds. 

As humans we are used to the idea that blind people can find their way, unsighted, through environments that are highly complex and would bewilder a sighted person; perfumiers can distinguish an amazing complexity of scents, similarly wine growers have a much keener ability to analyse tastes. 

However, his statement is true at a much more basic, though more subtle level.  We each have our own little world, which we label ‘real’; we have a set of rules of what is right and fair, and how things ‘should’ be.  We have a set of values and beliefs about what is true and how the world is.  Some of these come from our upbringing, our societal and familial beliefs, some from our experiences.  We each build a little inner model that helps us understand and navigate our lives.  However, what is seldom discussed or realised. is each of these unchallenged models is totally different, and we only find out about that when we get into arguments with people about what is right or real.  We often hear about how men and women have different views on what is important, or what is ‘going on’.  That is just one slightly more visible element of these different worlds we inhabit.  There is more information about this here.

We need to be aware of these unchallenged assumptions, beliefs and views as they interfere with our communication and can cause friction and arguments, just think about the troubles in the Middle East.  One really good example is how the Americans are indoctrinated into believing they are the biggest and best nation in the world and appointed by God to keep the peace… their peace, which in fact means waging war all over the world, far away from their homes!

If you wish to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding and stress remember Professor Cox’s words “No to animals..” And that includes you an me.. “ see the world in the same way”

Change Lessons from Harlequins – Tony Copsey (ex MD)

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

This is the second in a series of interviews where I interview a number of the people who played a part in Harlequins remarkable turnaround from the team that was relegated in 2006 to the team which won the premiership this year.  This was a 10 year journey and it can teach us come interesting lessons.

Tony was a professional player for Llanelli, Saracens and Wales.  He came to Quins a few months after Mark Evans to help him in the transformation, with Tony focusing on the off-pitch aspects of the change.  Whilst one might imagine that a rugby club is all about winning on the pitch, the interesting thing is that in order to do this they require resources to invest in players and facilities, both for the team and the spectators.  Unless you have an owner with deep pockets, there is therefore a very strong link between their ability to generate income and the on field results.

Tony’s job was to ensure that the Stoop (their ground) was a place that people wanted to come to, where they enjoyed their match day experience regardless of the result on the day, because this bought the Director of Rugby time to get the right players in place.  Over their tenure Evans & Copsey drove the gate up from 3,000 to nearer 12,000 a game.  He also pointed out that he had to try to make the facility make money during the week when there was no game from things like conferences and events.

Effectively, there was a team behind the team on the pitch who sold the tickets, did the marketing, wooed the sponsors and did the PR, in addition to feeding and watering the public on match day.  Tony explained that a lot of work went into ensuring no one was more than 40 yds. from a beer or a sausage (metaphorically speaking) and that they didn’t have to wait too long to get served.

They did a lot of work on what the brand Harlequins stood for and what their values were and how this translated into the day-to-day behaviours of the staff.  He also explained the importance of senior players in helping to model the ‘right’ way to behave and help discipline the youngsters about what it means to wear a Quins shirt.  There is a lot of talk about their exciting brand of rugby, and the press is full of people singing the praises of Chris Robshaw, their captain, who now also captains England.  He is a walking embodiment of these values and is fine example of what Tony was describing.

An interesting observation was that emotion is a powerful force in buying decisions where sport is concerned so if you want to attract sponsors, you have to create a club that people care about, and are excited by. 

Tony was also constantly reviewing the back office team’s roles and tuning them to the needs of the club as their situation changed.  Getting the right processes in place and the right people was key.  He aimed to try and make his staff the kind of people that got headhunted.

I hope to be able to continue this analysis over the coming weeks

Previous interviews:

  1. Mark Evans

Behavioural Conflict

Friday, January 20th, 2012

I listened to Major General Andrew Mackay talking about what he perceives as key shortcoming in the Army’s management of the conflict in Afghanistan.  He suggests that in modern warfare, in which the civilian population’s ‘hearts & minds’ have a significant impact, it is essential to understand their thinking, needs and values if you wish to influence them and their behaviour.  This seems pretty elementary stuff in the field of business, but if it is being overlooked by an institution as big as the British Army, then perhaps it bears examination.  In warfare, and change management, you have to win the hearts an minds of the populace.  No one behaves in a way that damages their self interest, so you have to understand how they perceive and measure this.  Whether it is in the size of their harvest, the amount in their wage packet, or the rate of expansion of the local cemetery, you simply have to understand it, if you wish to influence it.

The war in Afghanistan has cost the British taxpayers something like £18b, and there is no clear success or endpoint yet, certainly little visible R.O.I.  Most companies don’t have this kind of budget for an unclear result, so remember, step 1 in any change program, define a clear vision of what success looks like (for everyone involved, not just you!), step 2, is understand the WIFM factor for the people affected (not just you!)

How many people have died needlessly in Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East and elsewhere in the world because of cultural ignorance and insensitivity of the leaders of those who are trying to help?  You can’t bomb your way to peace, and you can’t bully your way to harmony…

Banking – Has anything changed?

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

Over the last two years or so the repercussions of the sub-prime debacle have been rocking the world economy, and bringing down such global giants as Goldman Sachs & JP Morgan Chase. Every High Street in the country has been left with gaps where businesses have closed; even such household names as Woolworths have bitten the dust. In the UK we saw Northern Rock, Lloyds & RBS bailed out by the government and cost this country £!.5 trillion! Furthermore every home-owner has seen the value of their asset dive by around 25-30%, which will have had a catastrophic impact on many families. So, amidst this global upheaval, and almost a year after the main shockwave, I ask “Has anything changed in the banking sector?

I will be the very first to admit that I am no banking expert, but let us examine this through the lens of Change. The politicians had to act to avert an even worse crisis and they had to both reassure us (and our creditors & partners.) They then had to sell the cost of their actions to us. Thus we had Gordon Brown telling us

“Any system has got to be based on long-term performance and that will have to be policed in the future by the FSA”

in an effort to convince us that there would be no hiding place and that a new sheriff had just ridden into town and we were safe once again and could again rely on the proverbial strength of the British bank.

However, Alan Greenspan said recently

“I made a mistake in presuming that the self interest of organisations, specifically Banks, was such that they were best capable of protecting the interests of their own shareholders” and “Crisis will happen again but it will be different no two crises have anything in common except human nature”

In order for change to take place there has to be a number of factors in place:-

  • There must be a clear acknowledgment that either things aren’t working or can be done better


  • A change in leadership, including new blood at the top tables


  • Rewards for changing and/or penalties for not doing so


  • Clarity about the role of banks… who do they serve? Their shareholders, the community, the country, their depositors, their borrowers???


  • · A clear idea / vision of what needs doing to make things different


  • Clear , powerful communication down the chain of command of how each person is now supposed to behave and how they will be measured and rewarded

  Given that they seem to have failed almost all of these pre-requisites, and indeed, given that their main regret seems having been caught with their fingers in the cookie jar rather than anything more fundamental (think of their apology to the Treasury sub-committee,) I suspect we can safely assume that they will firstly look after themselves, and then their shareholders and thus continue to do the things that make them rich.

Let’s be clear, I don’t care who gets paid £1m; or more! What I do care about is the reason that they are taking that home. What wealth have they generated? Who, besides them and their shareholders, benefits? As long as that is clear and commensurate with their level of pay, that is fine by me.

However, it seems to me that banks have two roles. Firstly, they are a utility that processes the financial transactions of borrowers and depositors, with a primary role to safe guard the assets entrusted to them, using their expertise to make this process smooth and safe. The other is as a speculator in a range of different financial ventures, where they should share risks and rewards with their partners and investors. I don’t think these two roles, or two sets of stake-holders sit very comfortably together.

“In times of universal deceit, speaking the truth is a revolutionary act.”  George Orwell

The people who are in charge are all bankers who have been absolutely raised with the traditional view of their role. Indeed, one insider, and multi-million bonus earner said that he was busier than ever as the reorganisation in the market place has just meant fewer players are carving it up and the ‘credit crunch’ has allowed them to dictate terms rather than compete.

Paul Moore, the HBOS whistleblower, was fired for telling his bosses they were getting it wrong; we need people like this to have the power to draw up new blueprints of how banks work in the 21st century.

Have each and every one of us mortgaged our futures and paid with our pensions just to keep the same people driving the same Porsches, living in the same mansions? Our lives have certainly changed, but I think it unlikely that the people who control this sector have…

I leave you with a few interesting historic quotes:-

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.” – Abraham Lincoln, (from a November 21, 1864 letter to Colonel William F. Elkins)

“History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling money and its issuance.” – James Madison (4th US President)

And the final Pièce de résistance… found in the press yesterday

What more can I say…..?  So I’ll leave it to the World’s most successful investor

“If you’re in a card game and you can’t figure out who the patsy is, you’re it.”  Warren Buffett

                                                                                                                                                    © I-Change 2009

Video Blog: Have you got your Head in the Clouds?

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Some thoughts about he nature of clouds and what they tell us about focusing on what is really important

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Solar eclipse

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Yesterday, one of the longest solar eclipses for a long time was visible in Asia.  The moon moved in front of the sun for over 6 minutes and the world was plunged into premature darkness.  People watched in awe as they have for as long as man has walked this planet.

However, this eclipsing of the sun; the turning out of our main source of illumination allows us to see things in a different light.  During this financial upheaval and the ensuing economic chaos many have had their smooth progress arrested and been forced to question what they are doing and how they are planning to achieve it.

It appears there are a lot of people about now who are questioning their assumptions, their methods and perhaps even their goals.  In these topsy-turvy times, we are being invited to review and reconsider what we are doing, the lights have been temporarily dimmed and we are offer a different perspective; we can see and follow lesser, less dazzling lights.

I’d be interested to hear if you have been experiencing any of this and what you have done about it.

It’s only during an eclipse that the Man in the Moon has a place in the sun”


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Monkeys have a sense of morality

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Frans de Waal, a scientist from Emory University in Georgia has discovered that monkeys and apes have an innate sense of fairness, are prepared to help one another and will do so even when there is no apparent reward.  It is a fascinating study.  It is important because it contradicts previous ideas that morality was solely a human preserve, that it was, in fact, a defining characteristic.

I blogged the other day about the importance of values in corporate decision making.  Our values as individuals have a key function in helping guide our actions.  Unfortunately, if we don’t feel able to act according to our own values this can lead to stress.  It is unfortunate at a personal level, but if one has a general misalignment between the values of the team and business then this leads not only to stress but also to resistance.

If even our primitive cousins have a sense of fair play, then how much more important is it that leaders actions are perceived as fair?  If a decision is at risk of being seen as ‘unfair’ then it is crucial that the leader takes the time to communicate what underpins it so that people can understand his/her rationale.

“I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.”   Ernest Hemingway

“Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.”    Aristotle


What value are values?

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

I was working with a long standing client today and we had to make some decisions that were both commercially and morally challenging.  They had to decide where they were going to draw up the boundaries on what behaviours they accepted from their staff.  There were two or three related issues that were very definitely ‘grey’ areas.  Where did one draw the line?  How much weight did one give expediency, commercial profit, reputation???

I said to them “Before we begin, lets revisit the company values we drew up a few years ago and check that you still feel they are right for your business, because if they aren’t we should change them, and if they are, we should apply them to this situation.”  I was told that they not only still thought they were right but they regularly tested their actions against them.  It was so refreshing to hear of a company that actively tried to live its values.  I can’t say that I come across it very often.

We then used these values to help us make some tough decisions, but it was a much quicker and easier conversation than it might have been.  It was a great example of their value if correctly applied.

There was a tension been two of the values of Commercial & Professional behaviour but that is fine.  Their job was to decide how to balance these in the best possible way, but our decision today has helped give life to the third value of Transparency and makes it much easier for the staff to know what is okay and what isn’t.

Do make explicit use of use of values in your business and if so, how have they helped you?

“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”   John Fitzgerald Kennedy

“A new way of thinking has become the necessary condition for responsible living and acting. If we maintain obsolete values and beliefs, a fragmented consciousness and self-centred spirit, we will continue to hold onto outdated goals and behaviours.”    Dalai Lama