Values and culture highlighted as critical issues in the demise of the Coop

Martin Palethorpe, a CTT consultant and a member of the PRAGMA Group, has distilled the eight key lessons from Sir Christopher Kelly’s report on the Failings and Management of Governance–an independent review of into the events leading to the Co-operative Bank’s capital shortfall. Click here to see Martin’s summary.

Key among the lessons are:

Live your values
Make your values live and stick. Live them in all initiatives and embed them in behaviours. Translate your values into meaningful guidance. Make sure too that your espoused brand matches how you actually operate.

A healthy culture 
Consciously and strategically develop your organisational & Board culture. The Coop had a culture that focused on good news, lacked accountability, tolerated underperformance, lacked transparency, discouraged challenge, and deferred problems.
Transparency, openness, debate, challenge, clarity & accountability are critical values needed in any successful Board or Executive team. These values will fundamentally impact how your Board works and how it makes decisions, which can be the difference between long-term sustainability & success and utter failure.

These issues come as no surprise to those of us involved in doing cultural values assessments and supporting cultural transformation.

What’s it all about Mr. Prime Minister

Anyone who has ever “lost the plot”—made a wrong turn, got into a messy relationship or simply realized that they are suffering the consequences of making a wrong choice, nearly always finishes up asking the same question. What’s it all about? And the answer is always the same. Values!

Now lift the stakes. What happens when a nation loses the plot, as Iceland did in 2008 when the country went bankrupt? Or in May 2013 in the suburbs of Stockholm, when immigrant led street riots broke out. Not something you would expect in Swedish society. Remember earlier this year, when riots broke out in Venezuela over food shortages; and Brazil, where demonstrators blocked the streets protesting about the vast amounts of money being poured into new football stadiums for the World Cup while millions of people are living in poverty. Go back to the early part of the 20th century when women were demonstrating in the streets so they could get a voice in the governance of their nations. What were all these about? In every case the issue was the same—making the right value choices in governance.

This is the topic that will be discussed at the Spirit of Humanity Forum this week (the Spiritual Equivalent of Davos) when over 200 leaders from around the globe meet in Reykjavik. The theme of the conference is the power of love and compassion in governance—sharing actions for effective change.

Some of the questions being posed to the delegates will be:

  • How can decision-making reflect our core human values?
  • What are the underlying principles that guide values-based decision-making?
  • How can we apply such principles in our institutions?

Key to this discussion will be the how to implement the progression of values that lead to democratic governance: namely, freedom, equality, accountability, fairness, openness, transparency and trust. Whether you are an individual, an organisation, a community or a society, living these values is not easy. Even Iceland, which according to the Economic Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index is the most democratic nation on the planet, got it wrong in 2008.

Nor are the other leading democratic nations well advanced on this journey. Yes, they have installed freedom, and most have made a commitment to equality, but how many have fully embraced accountability and fairness? How many can be considered truly open and transparent, and how many have built a society based on trust. The answer is, not many! So why are these questions not being discussed by our world leaders in Davos? The answer is simple—the majority of our political and finance leaders cannot get their minds off wealth and money. They are mesmerized by the values of power, control and status. At Davos, the self-interest of the elites consistently trumps the common good of humanity.

That is why the Spirit of Humanity Forum is so important for our global future. It provides a much needed counter balance to the limitations of Davos. Its focus is on What are the values we want to live by? What are the values we want to see in our governance systems? And where are love and compassion in this mix?

There is not a single person on the planet who cannot relate to the importance of these values in their lives, so why are our world leaders not talking about them? Why are our national policies not driven and guided by these values? These are just some of the questions we are hoping Reykjavik 2014 will answer.