What does it take to embed values and effect cultural change?

Barclays Bank boss wants to effect culture change through new values

Today I read that the Barclays boss tells staff to sign up to new values or leave.  It makes interesting reading, the following paragraph resonated with me:

“Over a period of almost 20 years, banking became too aggressive, too focused on the short term, too disconnected from the needs of our customers and clients, and wider society. We were not immune at Barclays from these mistakes.”

Then I read the following paragraph and my mouth fell open:

“He said bankers pursued short-term profits at the expense of the values and reputation of the organisation, and in the coming weeks more than 1,000 staff would be trained to spread the new values and embed them throughout the bank.”

Any ideas as to what it is about this paragraph that stopped me in my tracks?  I can tell you that it is not the first part of the paragraph. No, what stopped me in my tracks is the following:

“…. in the coming weeks more than 1,000 staff would be trained to spread the new values and embed them throughout the bank.

I get that the top man at Barclays wants to effect cultural change. And he is using values as a pillar of the new culture.  So far so good.  My question/concern is centred on how one embeds values and roots cultural change.

How do you train adults to spread the new values and embed them?  

I know you can train people to use a fire extinguisher.  I have undergone that training.  I know that you can train some people – if you put in a five days of intensive role based training – to become great facilitators.  I have undergone that training.  I know that you can train people to use a new CRM system. I have undergone that training.  Can you train people to live specific values?

Yes, you can preach values to them. Yes, you can pressure them into going through the motions of spreading values. No, you cannot embed values through training.  You cannot get people to live value simply through training and spreading the word.  To think that you can do so is to fundamentally misunderstand the being of human beings, values and culture.

I notice that the values that I live, often without even noticing that I live them, arise out of the way my parents lived and thus how I lived as a child.  I notice that there are values that bore themselves into me slowly by virtue of training intensively to become a chartered accountant.  I notice that there are values that gripped me as a result of working with a wide variety of people when I was running companies that had gone into receivership or administration.  I particularly notice the creative values that sized my being-in-the-world after spending twelve months working for a creative digital agency.  Up to that point I had put analytical value on the throne and looked down on creative people, creative values, creative lifestyles. Now I value the triad of creative-analytical-systemic values and thinking.

Do we have values or do values have us?

Listen carefully, we don’t seize/live values, values worms themselves into us and eventually live us!  Yes, you read that right.  I am father to three and I can categorically state that their values are not the ones that I preached. No, they are the values that my wife and I lived.  How does that tend to happen?  Through a totality of interconnected references: language, talk, practices, equipment, paraphernalia, and projects pursued.

My advice to you and the top man at Barclays, forget the preaching, forget the training. Listen to Chris Bailey. Why? Chris, who has a post-graduate degree in anthropology, shed light on values and culture in his recent post titled Three Myths of Corporate Culture.  It is worth reading. Here is what he starts his list of myths with:

“Myth #1. Culture can be built, top-down.

Yes, it’s important for leadership to clearly articulate goals, values, and mission. But these elements merely provide direction and structure, the expectations of management. They are not the culture themselves. The problem is that management has come to see culture as one more way to institute controls over employees. If you read, “This is the [insert company name] way” when discussing culture, then you’re reading a top-down, executive mandate for what management wants the culture to be…but likely not what actually is. And just because the CEO says, “This is our culture” doesn’t make it true. It’s way bigger than that.”

To effect cultural change focus on equipment, language and practices

You might be new to culture change.  You might be new to the language I am using. And you might be wondering what is he talking about?  My response to Chris’ post on culture should clear up your confusion:

“Hello Chris

It occurs to me that you do have a richer nuanced understanding of culture. I am a simple guy and I strive to ask simple questions those to do with phenomenology. And so the question that I ask is where does culture reside? Put differently, where can I find it?

The likes of Khun and Heidegger have provided me with an access to that question. Culture lies in and is enacted in a totality of references that includes people, language, practices, equipment, paraphernalia, and projects pursued. If you get this then you get, for free, that the culture in marketing will not be the same as the culture of sales and neither will be the same as the culture in finance….

Sometimes the easiest access to influencing changes in culture is to change equipment, paraphernalia, language and practices. Let’s just take equipment and eating. What happens if I take away knife and fork and replace them with chopsticks? This little change does have significant ripple effects. Given time, it changes cooking and eating practices. Notice, I did not have to issue instructions, do marketing, deliver presentations, engage in propaganda, change KPIs…...

Sadly, culture is misunderstood, as you say, that most of what passes for culture change is pre-destined to failure.

Maz”

Summing up

You do not embed values and effect culture change by sending people to classroom training.  You do not embed values by preaching.  The access to effecting change and culture is through language, discourse, practices and equipment.  Oh, I forget to mention: it all starts with the man at the top and cascades downwards – that is to say that the man at the top has to be a visible living example/embodiment of the values in action through practices.