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Posted by Sarah Brown on 26 May '20

The relevance of the Dominic Cummings story to anyone who runs an organisation: instinct v rules

Every organisation needs a culture where its values are followed instinctively, it is not enough to rely on rules because rules do not cover every eventuality & can result in behaviour people find ‘unfair’ particularly if the values are not ranked.

Lack of consistency is what leads to people feeling unhappy at work and in the wider environment as the Dominic Cummings story has shown. People do not like what they perceive as unfairness, when one person is treated differently from another or acts differently and is not held to account. Any organisation needs clear values that dictate behaviour, this goes beyond rules to the underlying meaning. No set of rules can ever be comprehensive enough to cover every eventuality so it has to be the wider ethos which is clear – an instinctive understanding of what is right and wrong and, importantly, which value is most important when there is a conflict.

Returning to the Dominic Cummings story there were two conflicting values caring for your family and caring for the greater good of the country, which longer term will protect your and everyone else’s family. Most people believed that the top value was caring for the greater good of the country translating that into staying at home to save the NHS and save lives so they didn’t travel long distances or do many things even if it impacted their family; Dominic Cummings acted as if the top value was protect your family so he behaved as he did. In a perfect world you would do both but Dominic Cummings chose to follow the value to protect his family when put under pressure, others under similar pressure took the line of protecting the wider good.

So, is your organisation seen as fair?

In your organisation does everyone know what is the top value, what must drive behaviour when difficult decisions have to be made?

If they don’t and even worse, if you rely on rules to sort things out then there will be people in your organisation that feel it is unfair. People will also delay acting as they will be scared of getting it wrong. They won’t be able to show their initiative unless they know the principles to apply to decide what is the way to act and that involves knowing what is most important.

Why it is particularly critical now

In this unsettling time when many people will have got used to a different way of life. Taking a walk each day, seeing their family more and being in communities that show they care for each other. There is change everywhere and people are unsettled and they need to be working for an organisation which motivates and inspires them and makes them feel secure if they are to return to working to their full potential. It needs to be a ‘fair’ organisation with clear ranked values so people know what will make them a hero in the organisation.

If you have found this interesting then you may like to read

Are your company values working?

Can you guess VW’s values from the way they act?

Are shared values either realistic or achievable?

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Tags: values corporate culture