Values, attitudes and old dogs

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There’s a lot of talk about values at the moment.

Values based recruitment is one stream of discussion.  Whether one can accurately assess and so select for values is a bone of contention between those in the know: HR professionals and occupational psychologists mainly.  Another values-based discussion stream surfaced through a twitter chat with, among others, the wonderful Umesh Prabhu over the weekend.

I’ve heard Umesh speak on a few occasions now – including a powerful address to the forty-nine strong NHS Executive Fast Track cohort whom he challenged to lead by values first and values always.  Umesh gave countless examples of his own leadership courage in situations where a less congruent leader might well have faltered.  This is backed up by an impressive track record of impact as Medical Director at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh FT.

During the virtual debate, Umesh ‘twallenged’ (yes, I just made up a new word) that ‘I doubt if values can be developed Chris.  Purely personal view.  You have to have core values first to develop.’  I ‘twountered’ that I firmly believe values can be developed so long as there’s core decency.  Others joined in with stories of their own shifts in their personal values – especially in response to significant life events or serious illness in family members.  Some postulated that everyone has an internal spark of compassion that can be cultivated and grown.  Others responded that the organisational culture we work within will clearly affect a person’s values – hinting that sociology teaches us cultural norms whilst unconsciously educating people how to be by a process of assimilation and social normalization.

All this got me thinking: when it comes to values, can you teach an old dog new tricks?  Are my values different now from when I was 20?  The answer is mostly ‘Yes!’  Sure, there are some beliefs that were ingrained in me by my early family life.  However, I’m sure there are more that I’ve developed through a process of maturing, experience and learning.  I’ve picked up values from others too – especially the leaders I’ve respected as authentic and competent in equal measure.

The Academy’s brilliant and award winning NHS Graduate Management Training Schemes (GMTS) resourcing team are already working at the cutting edge of selection.  Over the last year they took over 16,000 applicants for the scheme down to just 102 successfully employed trainees.  In the process they deploy situational judgement tests that explore an applicant’s value-based response to challenging scenarios.  They also employ a small army of volunteers drawn from across the NHS to interview applicants.  The interviewers are encouraged to draw on their own experience of providing care and working alongside people who clearly demonstrate NHS values as they look for trainees who will operate with patient care as a core belief.

However, finding those with potential – both in terms of ability and values base – is not enough.  The Academy’s development programmes are all underpinned by a conviction that beliefs and values can be developed.  Our programmes encourage, confront, support and challenge leaders to explore the key question of leadership ‘What’s it like to be on the receiving end of me?’  This necessitates more than the soaking up of knowledge and the learning of new skills.  It requires personal reflexivity – self-examination – to explore the culture and climate they promote through their behaviours and impact on people, through their beliefs and values, especially how these show up as their attitudes, to their very inner selves – their character, preferences and indeed their self esteem.

In short, it’s very possible to teach an old dog new tricks – ‘dogs’ of all ages have a natural propensity towards growth and development.  The tricky bit lies in helping old dogs unlearn their old habits.

4 thoughts on “Values, attitudes and old dogs

  1. I agree values can change after 20 if you feel or it is proved there is a fundamental flaw in them through your interaction with society and the workplace. However in the majority core values around right and wrong, beliefs, good citizenship do not change but evolve as you mature and gain life experiences. Ones values can certainly expand and enlarge as we develop and grow as individuals and in social groups but that may not mean we’ve attained new values.

  2. What if when teaching your old dogs new tricks, you find that the new tricks turn out to be poorer values? What if by trying to rationalise everyone’s value system in an organisation you erode that individual creativity and ingenuity that made the person an attractive candidate in the first place? For instance, does it matter if someone is rude to patients and colleagues; when their belligerence and single mindedness goes onto achieve something great? What if the values that emerge from the top of the food chain are not nearly as potent as the ones practised daily by those at the bottom – but that original and instinctive behaviour is challenged to harmonise with the official values set?

  3. Dear Chris, thanks for mentioning our discussion. I learn a lot from leadership gurus. Of course, I grew up in India and my core values come from my parents and grandma who told me when I was 5 years old ‘Umesh, always be honest and sincere and tell the truth and do the right thing right, be good and do good to others’. She went on to say ‘Life may not be easy but you will die peacefully and a happy man’! Can you teach old dog a new trick, depends on the dog Chris. If the dog wants to learn! We can teach values, leadership, management, finance, professionalism to anyone but what one learns is up to them. Sadly with culture of bullying, harassment, victimisation, discrimination, naming, shaming and so on: even if we teach the old dog the new trick many dogs are not able to change anything because when they go back to the dog house they lead ‘dogs life’ and not able to practice what you and others teach them. This is because of the culture, poor leadership poor governance and accountability in the Trust or CCG they work. So, yes we can teach any dog old tricks but will that make them nice human beings or they continue to lead dog’s life depends on help, support, mentoring, guidance, coaching they get from their senior dog when they go back! One swallow doesn’t make summer and one dog will not be able to play the new trick if others are upto their old tricks!

  4. Umesh hits the nail on the head (again) new tricks can be learned and people can consciously align their personal values to different or refreshed behaviours in pursuit of meaningful outcomes. If, however, this happens as part of a ‘culture change’ initiative and it becomes apparent over time that some big old dogs think the new norms do not apply to them not only is the original good work undone but the people who did make the shift in good faith can feel betrayed and then performance/productivity/engagement (what ever you want to call it) will be worse than if nothing had been done in the first place. I wish I met more leaders as consciously connected to their priority values as Umesh but they are rare. It does not have to be this way. For those who are not naturally reflective or insightful (because they have there strengths) there are good ipsative tools which can surface from the unconscious limbic brain a mental map of the values at work in the decisions and perceptions of that individual. One such tool – the AVI – is currently part of a Valentines promotion and it is free to explore until 15th Feb. I invite you Chris (and any other colleagues who may be interested) to give it a whirl and see what you think