Values in Practice- from intention to action

How can Wellbeing Teams live their values everyday, in every interaction? This is the question I am looking at with our Advisor Jackie Le Fevre, and this is the first of a series of blogs to explore this.

What is the road to hell paved with?

According to one well known saying it is paved with ‘good intentions’: we set out on a path with noble aspirations steeped in genuine intent to be and do better and yet it does not always turn out that way. I find this to be particularly true of organisational core values programmes.

Conducting the conversation or exploration to arrive at the emotionally rich, energy laden statements that make our collective corporate hearts beat in time is heady stuff. Then a day or a week or a month after the ‘launch’ the values are still on the paper they were first written on (maybe laminated too) but the same old same old is firmly back in place. There’s a ‘do-say’ gap that no one appears to want to tackle. If you would like to read more on that idea try this blog by me for AllThingsIC.

Instead of bemoaning the bad practice that serves no one, here we are going to explore what ‘good’ could look and feel like and I am going to share my personal Three Golden Rules for expressing core values to lay the foundation for subsequent successful embedding and practice.

As many readers will know Wellbeing Teams have six carefully crafted and mindfully articulated core values. They are Compassion Responsibility Collaboration Curiosity Creativity and Flourishing. They are always in that order of priority and this matters. We know from research that values are hierarchical: this means they sit one above another and it is not possible to hold two or more as equally important in any given moment. Now if values are truly core they will be honoured in any and every situation, even if it hurts, but the sequencing has an impact on the “feel” of the moment both for the people doing the doing and the people experiencing the impact or outcome of what is done.

Imagine being a family member of someone receiving support. You are anxious about what you see as unsettling changes to the care plan, even though you know the person being supported has co-produced the care plan and wants to try the changes. Now suppose a Wellbeing Team has its six core values but the order is a bit of a moveable feast and colleagues can activate which ever value/values they feel fit the situation. Now you speak to a Wellbeing Team member about your concerns. Their response springs from the Creativity value about how exciting all the new things are or it springs from the Collaboration value where (rather defensively to your ears) you get a long explanation about coproduction and the importance and choice and control.

Do you feel reassured?

In the world of our Wellbeing Teams the values sequence is locked down. First the team member will respond to your concerns with compassion, then they will explain where the vital responsibilities for ensuring success lie and how they will be achieved in collaboration with others, then you will be invited to wonder at just what might prove possible one day followed by examples of the creative ways in which things can be tried, so that ultimately everyone flourishes.

Do you feel reassured now?

Golden Rule No 1: Set the order of your core values and always use them in that sequence

It is not just about sequence, meaning matters too.

Among those commercial and public service organisations that list their values there are many which provide a simple list of words with no explanation. You know the kind of thing: Integrity, Honesty, Teamwork. I have two comments to make on this.

First: a simple list of very generic terms does not help me differentiate your venture from any other and core values should be an expression of what characterises the way you approach the world and the work and sets you apart from the rest.

Second: words in isolation do not tell me what you mean by ‘Innovation’ or ‘Quality’ or ‘Customer’. Nature abhors a vacuum and if you don’t tell me what you mean I will have to decide for myself and I will base my definition of ‘Innovation’ on what it means to me and this will be different to what it means to you. There is also a risk here that if you have used a generic term like ‘Integrity’ with no explanation I may well also think to myself “that’s one of the core values of Enron, G4S and Barclays before the LIBOR revelations – this is not a good sign”.

Golden Rule No 2: Describe your values meaningfully

If you currently only have a list of terms, but it is your sense that people are very attached to those terms, then undertake a big conversation or storytelling project to explore and surface the meaning. When you do finally settle on a form of words to describe those big emotionally rich and energy laden ideas that are more important than a whole host of other ideas really try and enable it to come across as a human thing to “be” as much as a human thing to “do”. By way of illustration compare these two descriptions of Compassion. The first from a large Hospital Trust and the second from Wellbeing Teams.

No 1 Compassion means “we use a person-centred approach in all our interactions with colleagues, patients, clients and their families.”

No 2 Compassion means “actively hearing and sensing another’s thoughts and feelings, being kind, and finding empathetic ways to support individuals and each other to achieve positive outcomes”

Nothing wrong with either and some description is far better than no description, particularly if arriving at the description has been a participatory process. That said, I don’t know about you but, I experience a much stronger draw towards the second than the first.

At their best core values enable the formation and strengthening of connections between organisations and everyone whose lives they touch whether internal or external.

Golden Rule No 3 Express your values in heartfelt terms

Once you have these three foundations in place you can turn your attention to really bringing those values to life and that is what we will explore in Part Two.