The House that Jack Built – the meaning: This is a cumulative tale that does not tell the story of Jack’s house, or even of Jack who built the house, but instead shows how the house is indirectly linked to other things and people, and through this method tells the story of “The man all tattered and torn”, and the “Maiden all forlorn”, as well as other smaller events, showing how these are interlinked. (Wikipedia)

Values! What values?

Nearly every organisation has values. Nearly every L&D department tells you how imperative they are to the success of the organisation. Yet when it comes staff knowing what those values are, what they mean to them and how they should behave, most of them need to ‘phone a friend’.
So what went wrong between designing the values and engaging people into living them? First of all, let’s take a look at why we need a set of values

Values underpin our work, how we relate to each other and the outside world and they even steer our plans that ensure we reach our vision. We have an entire book of possible values, but some of them are so important to the success of an organisation and its people, they remain central and constant irrespective of profound outside interference.

What values are not

They are nothing to do with operational practices, business strategies, our people’s levels of competence or their talents.

What values are

They are a guide to help us build internal and external relationships, help us understand what we stand for as a group or organisation, they guide all of our decisions (major and minor) and steer our reward and recognition practices.

They are the foundation on which the organisation is built!

Read that line over and over and ask yourself…’If this is the case, how on Earth can every employee in every organisation, everywhere NOT know their organisation’s values; or for that matter be 100% sure of what is expected of them? Actually, we could say if we don’t have a collective set of organisational values, what is the point in working as an organisation, we may as well all work on our own!

The power of authenticity

I am going to use an example here that has been used a thousand times before; but it is imperative to make my point. That is Richard Branson and his Virgin brand. Richard Branson didn’t sit in a room with a ‘marketing’ team ‘brainstorming’ his organisational values and coming up with a short-list of words or phrases before setting a strategy on how to get the ‘message out to his staff’.

His core values are at the very foundation of what the organisation and the brand was built upon. Everything he has innovated, each process and procedure that has been designed, every success he / they enjoyed was built around that same foundation of values. The values were the fuel that drove his organisation and everyone in it – period. They were centric to business success, not a ‘must have’ marketing or HR gadget added on as an after thought. In other words, it is apparent to employees, customers and any other stakeholders that the brand was (and is) its values. Fundamentally, they were ‘authentic’ and because of this, employees understood them and naturally brought them to life in their everyday behaviour. As a result customers developed an expectation and a deep trust in the Virgin brand, and the rest is history.

The dilemma of a legacy organisation

So assuming we all agree that values should not just be a set of empty, meaningless ‘words’, how do we decide what they should be? We live in a complex world where everything needs to be put into context. A dynamic, creative entrepreneur like Branson who starts an organisation is in the fortunate position of being able to build a foundation in which to build his organisation from the ground up – this is nice and tidy.
A legacy organisation on the other hand, that has had it’s foundation built before it’s CEO and current employees were born, cannot rebuild the foundations without tearing the whole organisation down and starting again. This is why legacy organisations find themselves in the values ‘dilemma’ so often. With all the best intention in the world, it is like building the foundations underneath a house that is already standing and with the people living in it.

Crowdsourcing ‘values’ design V designed by the board?

Though many organisations are talking about ‘crowdsourcing’ with its employees, i.e. employees collectively designing the corporate values (presupposing because they designed them, they will understand them, be engaged into them and bring them alive), there are a number of flaws in this thought process. If we agree that the organisational values should lay the track that is going to take the organisation and its people to its vision, then crowdsourcing is impossible. This presupposes that the vision and the strategies were also designed by the employees, which is highly unlikely. Also, just because the organisation ‘crowdsources’ the values, does not mean they will be any better understood, engaged into, or brought to life by the majority of the employees. The fact is, whoever has been responsible for dreaming up the new vision and is in the driving seat of the organisation must also be the lead in the development of the critical core values. This is not something that should be delegated to a marketing team, an HR team, a special project team, or the employees at large. If these values are laying the foundation of a great new organisation with a fresh vision, they are imperative to the success of the mission and are the key that will open the door to change for everyone in that organisation.

Nowadays, with value for money pressures prevailing, senior managers have an additional responsibility to develop their people. A powerful way of doing this is to take on the mantle of development ourselves – senior managers can help others learn their craft by showing their own workings out.

As a child I was good at mental arithmetic and I continued to love studying maths. However I remember being frustrated at being marked down for not showing how I’d arrived at what I thought was an obvious answer. By O-levels, I found that my intuition was limited – I began to make mistakes and I couldn’t trace back to see what I had done wrong and to identify where I needed a different approach. My previous confidence waned and I had to relearn the discipline of showing my workings out before mastering more complex equations.

As with arithmetic, so with leadership development, it seems! ‘Showing your workings’ can be a great way of helping others to learn how to lead. I have seen countless examples of this happening almost unconsciously and I believe that with support – which does necessitate some initial investment – many senior people can develop their staff effectively whilst avoiding having to justify high development expenditure. Here are some techniques I would recommend:

  • Adopt coaching techniques as part of your conversations with staff e.g. the GROW model (Goal, Reality, Options, Will) to help them develop their own solutions.
  • Invite shadowing but with built in review time e.g. what did I say in that meeting that most surprised you? What do you think I really wanted to happen?
  • Encourage enquiry e.g. You have 5 mins to explore with me my current take on this topic…
  • Introduce review breaks in meetings e.g. Shall we just take 5 mins to review how effective we are being in resolving this issue – what could we do differently?

Somewhat counter-intuitively, many otherwise excellent managers and leaders are reluctant to take on this sort of a development role. Some find it hard to deconstruct and explain what they do so instinctively – a bit like my younger self doing arithmetic. Some are surprisingly modest and are reluctant to present themselves as exemplars. Most have not had the opportunity or support to think through how to do this well and what their own authentic leadership developer role might be like.

This is where the initial support comes in. I firmly believe that all senior people benefit and, indeed deserve, a coach. For groups of managers, a combination of ‘develop the developer days’ supported by action learning groups or coaching will be highly effective way of supporting and reviewing a more sustainable organisation wide approach to LMD.


Just found this interesting article on Change Management. It provides food for thought - it details the fact that an awful lot of change happens but it doesn't necessarily result in the desired outcomes...

I saw this Dilbert cartoon the other day (and now have permission to use it). It seemed to aptly summarize Gallup’s Q12 and Google’s Project Oxygen. Both these studies evaluated what drove job satisfaction, good performance, and weak performance, too. The dominate theme in both reports was pretty clear: clarify expectations upfront and assign people work they want to do, work that’s important, and work they are good at. 

For the last 25 years I’ve been suggesting that’s this wild concept should begin even before the person is hired, specifically, when opening a requisition for a new job. The idea is rather than using traditional skills-infested job descriptions to screen out people, define the work the person being hired needs to do to be considered successful. Then using this list of 4-5 performance objectives craft compelling career stories to attract and screen in people.  I refer to these types of job descriptions as performance profiles

An example will help clarify this oddball concept. Most job postings are in this format:  “Must have a CPA, 4-6 years of international financial reporting experience, and at least two or more years of supervisory experience.” Few top-notch accounting folks – especially those who are fully-employed and not seriously looking – will get too excited by this type of job description. However, if you say something like this, don’t be surprised if the best are beating down your door: “Use your CPA and lead a critical international acquisition effort for our company. You’ll be managing a world-wide team of accounting all-stars with exposure to executive management every step of the way.” 

Making the shift from traditional job descriptions that emphasize skills and offer lateral transfers, to describing compelling career opportunities, is a critical first step in seeing and hiring more top people. Then, don’t be surprised when you start hiring more top people who are competent, motivated and excited about the work that actually needs to be done.