By David Evans (pictured), CEO and Founder of Grass Roots
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."
If circumstances had been different, Confucius could have made a fortune as a management consultant, having that rare combination of expansive thought and economical expression – although some people have also done pretty well out of economical thought and expansive expression.
The epigram above could be displayed with equal relevance and benefit in the classroom, the changing room, the living room and the boardroom: add the fact that it has stood the test of time, and clearly we are in the realm of permanent truth rather than ephemeral wisdom.
At the opposite end of the intellectual spectrum we have the contemporary notion of ‘work life balance’, which implies that work is an alternative to life rather than a part of it.
Confucius might have shaken his sage Oriental head at that one, preferring to debate such topics as whether objects exist when not being perceived and whether we all have identical sensory experiences.
Do you and I see the exactly the same colour when we look at something that is red? We can of course solve the conundrum in a practical way by ostensive definition, agreeing which objects we will call red rather than trying to define and describe redness itself.
So it is with company philosophy: people will get a much better and clearer idea of what a company stands for by noting the behaviour of which it approves than by listening to chairman’s addresses or reading mission statements.
And when push comes to shove, if they see a contradiction between theory and practice they will come down on the side of practice.
As Harold Geneen of ITT said in the last century, "It is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises, but only performance is reality."
Missions and values are the intellectual framework, the published rules, but everyday work is the field of play. People will discover ‘the way we do things around here’ by watching it being done and seeing it being fairly judged.
The only point in having missions and values is to influence behaviour, so it is important to build an overwhelming case that excellence is noticed and appreciated whilst incompetence is noticed and remedied.
Corporate credibility is at stake here: the crackdown that was not a crackdown on drivers using mobile phones made an ass of the law again, and the sweet FA has rules that are flouted in close up and action replay every weekend.
To quote the lately deceased and much lamented social philosophers Pete and Dud, motivation is “not so much a programme, more a way of life”.
Whilst there is a time and a place for initiatives with immediate focus on immediate goals, they only make sense in the wider context and the bigger picture. Without a coherent strategy, how can you decide the right tactics?
You cannot run any organisation of size as a democracy, but you can run it with consensus.
We scored a notable success with a client by a series of workshops at which their employees debated and discussed how the company’s (non-negotiable) Values could best be expressed and implemented in the realities of everyday working life.
Once that had been agreed, there was a simple system for employees to bring such exemplary actions to public attention.
Not NASA stuff, but it stimulated employees first to define and then to do what the company valued (and wanted), with an all-important sense of involvement and ownership.
In our own organisation we have a recognition programme called Exceeding Expectations that encourages employees to nominate colleagues for going beyond the call of duty in some way.
There is minimal paperwork, but the nominator does have to relate the citation to one or more of our published Values. (Incidentally, we applaud sustained excellence as well as occasional heroics – both have their place.)
One of the reasons I called our company Grass Roots was to emphasise its focus on the people who are the heart and soul of any organisation.
We are not mercenary allies of oppressive taskmasters seeking to extract the last drop of energy and effort from their human resources: on the contrary, we promote the health, wealth, ambitions and aspirations of individual employees.
We simply try and convince each and every person with a contribution to make that their job is worth doing and worth doing well, aligning their personal progress with corporate goals to create a situation where everybody wins.
I sometimes think that organisations have lost sight of corporate salesmanship, creating structures where people are unable to see the wood of benefits for the trees of features.
Procedures, processes and policies are dumped on an unsuspecting audience who do not realise how their lives will become better, easier and more productive as a result.
When they do, they understand.
Check out 12ahead, our brand new platform
covering the latest in cutting-edge digital marketing and creative technology from around the globe.
12ahead identifies emerging trends and helps
you to understand how they can apply to modern-day companies.
We believe 12ahead can put you and your
business 12 months ahead of the competition. Sign up for a free trial today.