Where do you get your values from? It is a question we pose often at the North East Institute of Business Ethics (NIBE).
We set up NIBE to get people talking about business ethics and to help each other evaluate the values and the culture of businesses in the North East. We launched NIBE at The People’s Kitchen in Newcastle to affirm that business is part of the community in which it operates. I firmly believe that values and culture cannot work in isolation from people and their community.
For me as a vicar of the Church of England, my values come from my faith but they are influenced also by discussion, experience and, of course, my upbringing. The challenge we have nowadays is to decide what shared values might be or ‘look like’. I believe we are in a ‘confused.com’ moment. All around I see discussions about what British values are, as if they are different form French ones or South African ones. But are they?
The reason I talk about being a ‘confused.com’ moment about what values we share and how we might live them out is that I see contradictions all around me. It’s hard to explain in a short article but an example might be ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. We are told to tune in for the results show on Sunday but how clear does the BBC make it that that programme is actually recorded immediately after the live show on the Saturday night?
The culture is one in which not spelling out the truth is OK. What kind of culture are we accepting? Is twisting the truth OK? When I spoke on BBC Radio Newcastle they seemed to think so because, they said, everyone knew what was going on! But do they and is that OK?
My second question after ‘Where do you get your values from?’ is usually ‘Do you live them out?’ Living out your values in a business sets a culture (and that’s not just the boss although that’s a great start!).
I will use a hero of mine from the secular world as an example. Who is your hero or heroine? Mine is Stephen Gough (born c. 1959 same year as me so a good punk I hope!) known as the Naked Rambler. Stephen is an activist and a former British Royal Marine. In 2003-04, he walked the length of Great Britain naked. He did it again in 2005-06, but was arrested and subsequently spent six years in prison. Yes, six years! He was involved with the public nudity advocacy group The Freedom to be Yourself. That’s one of the reasons he’s my hero — he wants to be himself, oh, if we could be ourselves! But the main reason he is my hero, and why I am writing about this in an article on values and culture, is that he sticks to his principles. He believes in what he is doing so much he is willing to go to prison for six years. I wish I was brave enough to do that, and I wish that businesses would stick to the principles they set out. Having high values isn’t easy – it comes with a cost. People sometimes forget that!
My plea is stick to your principles and values and the culture we want will result. Live the change you want to see. But before that, may I suggest your first ask yourselves: ‘Where do I get my values?’