The dangers of losing your sense of direction
As we witness David Cameron’s latest ‘flip flops’ on key policy areas of health and social care and crime last week, and hear Rowan Williams’ strong comments about the impact of having no clear leadership direction and underpinning values in the current Coalition government, a striking image sprang to mind . Try Googling the words ‘confused picture’ and it’s one of the top four images that pop up. It’s a signpost with the words ‘Confused, Lost, Perplexed, Disoriented, Unsure and Bewildered’ on its posts – all pointing in different directions. It was used recently by several different employees in a focus group when asked to find an image to sum up how they feel about their company. And it also came to mind when I heard what’s been happening at one of my clients.
About six years ago, when they were a very confident, growing business, I helped them to develop a very distinctive set of values: five key attributes that employees felt defined who they were, as well as setting a clear aspiration about how they behave and act. For six years, these values have been used to underpin their strategy, shape ways of working, key policies and inform the way they make important decisions. Other companies admired them as a strong values-driven organisation.
Unfortunately, the business is now experiencing much choppier waters and tough decisions have had to be made to cut costs i.e. people. I was saddened to hear that the way those decisions have been made and communicated have fallen way short of the expectations set by the values. It made me realise that a business (or government) needs to make clear its commitment to its values or principles of policy even more loudly and explicitly in tough times. This is just the moment when employees and customers (or citizens) need to know that there is a path and it is being followed. That helps to reduce the sense of confusion, gives coherence and credibility to a way forward and builds confidence in the leadership.