Hard work! Aligning organisational values and behaviour

Alignment of articulated and enacted values in business

The issue of how well an organisation’s values align between what they say they are and what they actually do in practise was illustrated very graphically by a large software company this past week. It also shows how difficult it is to get all parts of a large organisation to act in the same way on the same issue. The news coverage aggregation via Google is fascinating to review.

In that case we see an organisation that has articulated a particular value – diversity – very strongly. It has successfully enacted this value in many ways and places within the organisation and is seen as a leader in the broader community. And yet there still remained a pocket of that organisation that did not see how that value did not align with some planned promotional activities.

As a former manager within large corporations I know how challenging it can be to get the values enacted across the entire organisation. And I have a great deal of sympathy for Microsoft and their recent predicament. It could happen to any of us.

But their predicament did get me thinking about how this kind of thing could be prevented in future, and how other organisations could learn from this.

Blame is not the answer
Hardly anyone wakes up in the morning thinking that they want to head into the office and damage the company’s reputation. Mostly these things result from misunderstanding what is required or not perceiving that an action might be considered badly by external stakeholders.

Blaming the individuals who make a mistake does not really help. It can make them into passive-aggressive rule followers or ensure they feel hard done by and leave. Firing them also sends a bad message. It tells other people that mistakes are not tolerated, and stops everyone from feeling safe to take action.

Turning the mishap into a corporate story or parable is useful
Putting the learnings from a mistake into a corporate policy (while making some feel better) generally does nothing much to change behaviour.

The trick is getting the learning into the culture and translating it into practice. One good way of doing this is to create a corporate story or parable that illustrates what happened, the results, the key learnings and the principles to apply to avoid similar mistakes in future.

Then the parable needs to become part of the leadership narrative and is used create awareness of the values and how they should be enacted. It is much easier for people to remember story than a policy.

To get the story out it is necessary for business leaders (formal and informal) to use the story to illustrate how the value applies in real life. Some insights into how this can happen are:


McKinsey: cultural revolution in four steps

Don’t forget Enron!
They had some of the nicest sounding values you could list and put on a pretty poster. But clearly none of those values were enacted in a meaningful way.

Enron’s 1998 Annual Report, “Our Values”:
RESPECT: We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness, and arrogance don’t belong here.

INTEGRITY: We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, we won’t do it.

COMMUNICATION: We have an obligation to communicate. Here, we take the time to talk with one another…and to listen. We believe that information is meant to move and that information moves people.

EXCELLENCE: We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do. We will continue to raise the bar for everyone. The great fun here will be for all of us to discover just how good we can really be.

Source: Yale (opens Word document)

There is nothing that makes corporate values seem more real than people seeing leaders within the company apply them daily as part of doing business.

Operating systems are merely hygeine factors …

Many people in the IT industry don’t realise that operating systems are not important to ordinary folks. We don’t want to be bothered with things that live under the surface of our devices.

This is one of the reasons Apple has made such inroads in recent years, they abstract the complexity away from users so nicely. It is also why Linux is starting to get a bit more traction, they’ve finally realised most people don’t want to fiddle with a command line to install things.

Usability is a critical feature for technology. Consumers are getting tired of technology that is hard to use. This feeling is bleeding over into the workplace too. Soon IT departments will find people rebelling against complex and hard to use systems. Their users will slip away to find SaaS applications that meet their needs and accept montly payments via corporate credit cards. Then what price the current obsession with centralisation and cost reduction my IT friends?

Sydney’s inaugural Social Innovation BarCamp #sibsyd

Sydney’s inaugural Social Innovation BarCamp went well yesterday.

The day kicked off with an opening talk by the Hon. Bob Carr, who kindly gave his time to support this event.

Throughout the day we had some amazing networking and discussion sessions focused on creating sustainable futures and directing innovation towards social good.

We also had a lovely lunch sponsored by Cisco and coffee sponsored by AskHer.

I’m very grateful to everyone who helped out to make this event work, in particular my co-un-organisers  Selena Griffith and Michelle Williams.

There are already some amazing photos up in the Social Innovation BarCamp group on Flickr:


It’s real people and real communications

This past week I spoke at the Sydney session of the International Customer Service Professionals (ICSP) on the topic of How can Social Media benefit our business? along with several other well known professionals (@carolskyring, @jasonealey , @CatrionaPollard).

It is always interesting to see how business people – whose real jobs are something completely unrelated to technology and social computing – are grappling with the digital revolution.

There is a dawning realisation by these business people that something different is happening. That old ways of marketing are shifting. That new modes of communication and conversation are evolving. And they are questioning.

The questions are to be expected. What is it? How do I do it? What needs to change in my organisation to make this happen?

Answers to these questions are both deceptively simple and fiendishly complex.

The real challenge lies with the simple fact that now there is no avoiding interaction with real people. It also means that all of the assumptions that we’ve made about our customers for so many decades might just be wrong (or they might be right – who knows?).

The one sure thing with this digital revolution is that our businesses are now marketing to audience of one. And that this audience has the ability to talk back to us in no uncertain terms.

A new challenge for business in the age of digital revolution is dealing with real people and undertaking real communication with them. No more set and forget above and below the line marketing campaigns. Now we might just have to think about it a bit more than we’ve been used to.

Tolerance: freedom of speech, thought, association and discussion

It has been very interesting (during the 2010 Australian federal election campaign) to watch people advocating freedom of speech on one hand and then getting upset when people with differing views speak out.

The intolerance of opposing points of view has really resonated with me. It makes me a bit sad that we are not always able to have a free and frank discussion of important issues.

However, it has also made me question how willing I am to listen to the other side of an argument. Interesting question, isn’t it?

Both sides of politics here (Liberal/National and Labour) have abandoned all pretense of bipartisan approaches, leading to polarisation. There is not much listening going on at all, and hardly any visionary policy for Australia – just polemical positions that make me sigh. I suspect that will just drive voters to make the Senate not winnable by either major party, with the Greens and a handful of Independents as the only likely winners.

The other thing that I have observed along with this is the growing trend towards ‘thought crimes’. No longer does one need to actually perform an illegal act to commit a crime. It is now sufficient in many regimes, such as Australia to simply think about something or to have contact with certain groups of people (see here for overview).

Also we are seeing growth in surveillance – CCTV and the like – to protect us from violence and crime.

It makes me wonder if all these things are not adding up to create a less tolerant mindset for our society than we have been used to for the past few decades?

Filesharing: copyright has always been a bit broken but we never noticed

I was chatting to someone at a party on Saturday night about copyright. The gentleman I was chatting with was strongly in favour of strict enforcement of copyright. He was advocating fining people who share copyright material online.

It got me thinking. Once you consider the problem in offline terms it seems that many of the problems of copyright content have been with us since the days of Gutenberg. And that problem has always been related to re-distribution (or ‘file sharing’) of copyright material.

Before the advent of modern printing copyright was unnecessary. Even in the early days of the printing press copyright did not really matter since it was so difficult to produce a book and to then distribute that book widely.

The reason for this was technological. In that the constraints in distributing printed matter meant that wide distribution was hard to do. For example, just look how big and heavy this Gutenberg Bible is to move around. You would not like to be down at the local market trying to move a lot of this model.

But with the Protestant Reformation there was a drive to put the bible into the hands of all Christians, and to ensure that they could also read. This led to a focus on improving the technology of the new device (a.k.a. the book). Very quickly with this strong support from Church (and often State as well) the book began to resemble its modern petite dimensions. With this change in technology – i.e. smaller lighter books and better printing machinery – distribution suddenly became much easier and the problem of people sharing copyright content started to rear its ugly head.

And, at the same time, the other problem facing copyright content popped up its head – file sharing (a.k.a. sharing books with other people who had not paid for them). Thus even since the Protestant Reformation file sharing has been a problem.

Once the book became a portable device the issue of file sharing became a problem. The second hand bookshop became the place where file sharing took place. People also did it at home or work – bringing in their books to pass along to another person.

As a society we came to accept this as part of the deal. So what is the big problem when we have the same behaviour in the digital space? I suspect it is a problem of scale. Suddenly I can purchase one copy of some content and then share it with many people around the world, who can in turn share it with many others.

But we are not going to solve this problem by telling people not to do it. It is too easy to do. Also legal alternatives are not as easy as doing the wrong thing. iTunes is probably the easiest of all the mechanisms for acquiring digital content legally. Many others are just too hard. Recently I tried to do the right thing and purchase some digital music only to be told by every supplier that I can’t have it because I live in Australia and it has not been released to us yet.

These kind of distribution problems make it to easy for consumers to do the wrong thing. Until we have ubiquitous solutions that are as low impact and as easy to use as iTunes; with material freely available for purchase in every region it will be hard to stop digital sharing.

And let’s not even get into a discussion about the inequity of the situation where I can buy a book and then give it to a friend but cannot even share my one digital item across all my machines so I can consume it where I want. After all I can consume the content of a book where ever I choose. There are still some technology issues to be solved here too for digital.