Management and Leadership Series Posted by Nicola Maxwell

These are my principles and if you don’t like them…

…I have some others.

Groucho Marx

Given the current political climate, perhaps Groucho’s amusing admission has greater currency.  Can we trust our political class when they list their principles and values?  Will they live by them?  Or will they parade them solely to garner our support and abandon them at the first opportunity?

Of course, politicians aren’t the only defaulters.  Many organisations espouse worthy statements of mission, principles and values, often displaying them proudly on their walls and in their advertising.  But, in reality, they signally fail to live up to them.

The consequences are obvious – lack of trust, cynicism, disrespect and division – so why do they let this happen?  First of all, in our experience of working with organisations, it is rarely deliberate.  The fact is that generating a set of organisational values that everyone throughout the business can identify with is tough.  But it’s not half as tough as living up to them!

Usually, good intentions and shared interests will carry the process through to the point at which most people can buy into the values conceptually.  The problems start when they have to translate them behaviourally.  

For example, ‘mutual respect’ and ‘collaborative working’ are fine ideals.  But will senior management have the resolve to challenge disrespect towards colleagues when it’s displayed by their star performer?  Will they confront the protective ‘loner’ attitude that often typifies their ‘rainmaker’ partner who makes a lot of money for the company?

Even if the resolve is there and managers dearly want to enforce agreed principles, the skills are often lacking.  Confronting behaviour that is incongruent with espoused values – having one of those ‘hairy’ conversations, as we at edoMidas call them – isn’t easy.  It requires sensitivity and confidence, neither of which is in abundance if you don’t have the tools at your disposal.

High performing organisations have many things in common. As well as having clear goals at all levels they display consistency in behaviours i.e. they walk their talk and this involves everyone in the organisation, no exceptions.  This problem of leaders and managers shying away from difficult issues and potential conflict led us to research and develop our Critical Conversations Programme.  It gives managers the tools, techniques and skills to deal with those hairy situations. Click here if you want to know more about critical conversations

Without those skills it’s far more likely that those posters on the wall will become just another example of management saying one thing and doing another.  And, if that’s the case, what should we do?  Well, let’s leave it to Groucho to have the last word.

The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing.

If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

Groucho Marx

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