By Mervyn Eastman
This short practical guide, from the pen of Ed Mayo attempts to re-enforce the “power and benefit” of values which have a significant “influence on our attitudes and behaviours within a business environment”
Given Mayo’s background and present position as Co-operatives UK’s General Secretary it is not surprising he has primarily focussed on what he calls, “profit with purpose” businesses such as co-operatives. The book explores a number of case studies evidencing opportunities and challenges, as well as “the potential of bringing values into the heart of the organisation”
The style of ‘Values’ is the first thing a reader will notice, written in a chatty, almost ‘values for dummies’ sort of way, which makes it highly readable, even on occasions entertaining, but always engaging.
The author threads through (its some 80 pages and 7 short chapters) the concepts and thinking of philosophers, economists, academics and business gurus, past and present, with the likes of Madella, Kamprad ( founder of IKEA), Bill George (former Chairman and CEO of Medtronics) and others.
Mayo is both a philosopher and economist but by introducing a ‘card game on co-operation’, confused this reader (who in any event, finds ‘snap’ quite challenging) who is also clearly sharp with the old cards!
I liked this book, and though I’d never make a fist of a game of cards (co-operative or not) I found Mayo’s approach, in the words of Munique Leroux, President of the International Co-operative Alliance’ “fresh and uplifting”.
Values are explained in the first chapter, with the emphasis, that they are what motivates us.
Indeed it was the Values and Principles of Co-operation that eight years ago (when I discovered them) inspired me to join the movement after a 40 year career in public service.
Intrinsic values, argues Mayo “keeps us satisfied and motivated”. This is important when looking at the business environment .Values help us work together and challenges us but at the same time they are not easy (p17)
I found chapter two (Organising Values) especially informative stressing as it does the importance of ‘rooting’ values “in an open and deliberative process on context and behaviours” and here Ed Mayo draws on a number of examples stretching from China, to Mexico and more generally Fair Trade but the important message being that “what makes an institution effective in not any particular set of values, rules and structures, but the level of organisational coherence they offer in practice (p22).
Confusion results where there is organisational directions that are contradictory or incoherent. The opposite end of coherence is ‘organisational neurosis’, a fragmentation of direction, effort and commitment, with a loss of effectiveness. Not surprisingly.
I contemplated this, in the context of social care, in that the interests of so called ‘service users’ and staff providers, collide with commissioners or owners.
Here (and this is not discussed) I question whether there is a fundamental difference, and hence a disconnect, between managing a business (profit with purpose) from providing a public service, either directly or commissioned via a private company, charity, CiC or Social Enterprise?
How do Values Play out in Business? This opens a discussion on how and why businesses great and small fail when their ethical founding values are changed or discounted.
Leadership or cultures of control, have a critical role, in whether organisations talk the talk of values, and/or walk the walk, the behaviour and decision making of CEO’s, Boards et al or actually enforce the Values on which they were originally formed. Not all values lead to action and a gap can open between professed values and behaviour.
This had a resonance for me with regard to public services, whereby supposedly value driven decision makers and managers are at variance with the lived experience of ‘users of their services’ in accessing or receiving their services.
The discourse in Chapter Three is well constructed and argued without being patronising, concluding with the powerful message that “ at root, the business case for ethical values such as fairness or sustainability is for the sake of fairness or sustainability”
At the book’s core is (of course) explaining and applying Co-operative Values and Principles (Chapters 4-7) and it is acknowledged, that they are however, not always known let alone understood.
I would have liked to have seen a little more critical analysis especially around Fair Trade and The Co-operative Group and Bank, as, simply stating that the “idea that values in business can indeed change the way that business is done” whilst obvious, came across as a little “mealy mouthed” or put more bluntly – bland!
The narrative around the “co-operative difference” could also have been strengthened.
I’ll pass the Game of Cards over at this point, I’ve re read it and leave it to readers to ‘enjoy’ but I did like the comment from Nehru (p67) ‘the hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play is free will’
Health and social work values are referenced, in the context of recruiting for values and the use of role play in the selection process.
It would have benefited from attention to the relationship between Rights based approaches to Social care with some exploration of Co-operative values and principles in terms of the ethics of ‘justice and care’.
Care represents connectedness and appeals to relationships and thus focuses on co-operation and communication. (ref Banks S. Ethic and Values in Social Work, Palgrave 1995).
What is crucial (as the Co-operative sector begins to explore care as another area of development within the co-operative economy, based on equity, solidarity, honesty, openness, social responsibility; with it’s currently malnourished benevolent approach to ‘caring for others) is that it examines its values in the context of the ethic, values and priciples of social work, social care, and Human Rights.
The core message of Values was to “engage staff, customers and suppliers in an emotional way that touches on their own core motivations” which can then “become a natural part of commercial life” which I believe it achieves.
Looking through the lens of a social care service and it’s values however, requires a different narrative and language eg service not business, engagement with staff and “service users” beyond the rather meaningless terms of empowerment and even co-production.
Co-operative Values of self-help, self responsibility, democratic decision making, equity etc are sadly lacking within the public sector and most commissioned social care, so what therefore is the co-operative advantage?
The book led me down this path and perhaps that is its greatest contribution, because what Ed Mayo has achieved, is not just a fresh and uplifting guide, but by inviting the reader to apply their emotion, intuition and personal value base, it allows us to re examine and explore, and hence close the value-action gap, which exists in our own minds and practice.