In most organisations’ receptions, you are likely to see a framed list of values that include integrity, professionalism, customer focus, and teamwork.
Values represent the core of a belief system. Our values govern our behaviour. A person can decide he will not taste alcohol because he has taken his values from his religion which forbids alcohol. The behaviour is a direct reflection of the values. Taking it further, a collection of values that govern how we behave, becomes our culture.
What does it mean when an organisation wants to effect a culture change? This brings in another dynamic — goals and objectives. What does the organisation want to achieve? This births strategy, which will define how we will achieve what we set out to achieve.
Many leaders have found that if the culture is not right, the strategy will not deliver. The mistake that they make, however, is trying to impose a new culture by issuing directives. This simply will not work because as stated earlier, culture takes its life from values. They have to be values in the hearts and minds of the people. Values that are not lived are useless decorations on the wall.
So, “How do we get people to live the values?” To answer this, we must first look at how not to do it. For example, my parents were lovely, church-going Christians who tried to do everything by the book. The greatest values I learnt from them can be summed up as hard work and doing good. For those who have read Robert Kiyosaki’s book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, my dad was that guy who everyone loved and praised for his hard work and integrity but was a far cry from rich.
I inherited my reading DNA from my parents because I grew up with books around me. I also learnt about taking care of family and making it the centre of everything from my parents and today, in my 30th year of marriage, I have tried to reproduce that.
School of life
I, however, did not learn any business or entrepreneurial skills from them or how life outside employment works. I did not learn how to be a visionary leader and neither did I learn about mentorship from them. I had to discover these for myself in the school of life. As much as they loved me, they could only pass down what they knew and lived out. I became what I saw. In order for me to become other things, I had to go after what I wanted. I had to see differently.
You cannot change a culture preaching integrity that cannot be seen. If you preach teamwork yet your behaviour encourages silos, there will be no teamwork. If you paste professionalism on a wall as a value yet your actions are not aligned, no one will heed the writing.
As human beings, there is a fundamental rule we must understand: We become what we behold. The tragedy of many organisations and indeed many African countries is that mediocrity and corruption have been the greatest thing some leaders have had to show and it simply reproduces itself. Barring something dramatic, we remain on the very fringe of mediocre corrupt states because a younger generation becomes what it beholds.
This is a cry for new role models to emerge. As long as the good guys continue to hide and do their good deeds behind closed doors, it opens the floodgates for more of what we have - where the corrupt become role models for future generations. If that is what the reality is, the future is not looking too good.
Wale Akinyemi is convenor of the Street University (www.thestreetuniversity.com) and chief transformation officer, PowerTalks; [email protected]