A creative approach to corporate values
A while ago I was approached by the M.D of a major construction company and asked to ‘do something’ with their core values. The business had a new five-year plan which prompted them to re-visit their core values, which had been ratified and published.
The MD was concerned that many in the workforce would not be able to say what the core values were, let alone act in line with them. We put our heads together and came up with a creative approach which we called ‘Shaken not stirred’.
Imaging if you went to see a James Bond film; you pay your money and as the ticket clerk hands you your ticket he slips you a laminated card and says:
“These are the core values of this film. Please memorise them and you will be tested later.”
That would be ridiculous. And yet the James Bond franchise, like all stories, does express core values.
When we ask people to describe the Bond values they struggle to articulate them. They will usually say things like:
“He uses lots of gadgets.”
“He always gets the girl.”
And when asked if they would expect him to beg for his life when threatened.
“Of course not.”
Clearly, cool courage is one of his values. And we all know it. But we know it in an ‘of course’ sort of way. It’s as if these values are embedded in our subconscious and trying to articulate them requires effort.
The point here is that values, if they are to inform our behaviour, must be embedded in our subconscious. We just do certain things ’round here, and it is unthinkable that we would do certain other things.
Collective values exist by default in every organisation. The problem occurs when the behaviours they evoke are not conducive to the aims of the business. Then the senior team have the job of creating a new set of values to replace the existing one.
As it happens, film makers are experts at creating this type of deep rooted understanding of the values expressed in their films. And we in business can learn a great deal from the way they go about it.
Notice first that they don’t tell us the values. We never hear James Bond say:
“I will never beg for my life because that would be cowardly, and courage is one of my values.”
So, the fact that your staff cannot recite the core values is not really the issue. In fact, in some instances we advise against publishing them since they can expose the senior management to cynicism.
So how do the creative types craft a film in such a way that we absorb the values in a subconscious way?
They do it by subtly weaving into the plot situations of increasing tension in which the protagonist demonstrates the values by his or her choices and actions. There are four key elements to this process:
is about demonstrating the values in an unequivocal manner. There can be no room for misinterpretation. The message is clear and transparent. Bond is not courageous by accident. The author has to put him into situations where his courage is tested, and he then makes choices about how to respond. When we see him act courageously we subconsciously absorb that courage is core to his personality.
is about repeating the message. The viewer will not get it first or second or third time. The author must find numerous ways of demonstrating the value without drawing attention to the device.
is about the same value being demonstrated as well as expressed. It wouldn’t work if Bond were to state; “I won’t ever do that.” and then, in a later scene, do it. The words must match his actions. He must never do anything that contradicts the value – unless it’s included in the plot in order to create tension, and then it must be resolved later in the story.
All the creative people involved in crafting the film agonise over every detail of the production to maintain these three elements. What would a cool courageous man wear? What car would he drive? What would he drink and how would he drink it? “Vodka Martini – shaken not stirred”.
The final element is the most important:
Having established that Bond is cool, courageous and intelligent, when we see him strapped to a bench with a laser beam about to cut him in half it raises a compelling dramatic question. We know he is cool and courageous but will he cave in under pressure? We are reassured when he calmly outwits Goldfinger into thinking that MI6 knows about operation Grand Slam thus making it necessary for Goldfinger to spare Bond’s life.
When we discussed this at the construction company they described a situation in which one of their values is often tested. They have a policy of working in partnership with their suppliers. They guarantee long term contracts and will not entertain undercut prices from rival suppliers. However, the Business Development managers have to make competitive tenders where margins are very tight. It can be very tempting to accept a reduced price from an unapproved supplier to make the bid competitive.
The question is what happens if this is discovered?
People are watching to see if you mean what you say. It’s not until every behaviour that contradicts your espoused values is addressed, and is seen to attract a negative consequence for the perpetrator, that people believe you.
By examining in detail the elements of the creative process that goes into the making of a film the senior team were able to come up with a creative plan of action to embed their espoused values.
Hollywood Lessons in Leadership™ – Lesson #6 of 6
© 2016 Anne Oberon, http://www.oberonconsultants.com