Values, marketing and lies

Would you like to work for an organisation that espouses ‘Communication, Respect, Integrity and Excellence’ as its core values?

Sounds pretty good right?  Well, be careful what you wish for.  These were the values of Enron in their Annual Report of 2000, the very company notorious for the worst fraud and corruption scandal in modern history.

The lesson here is that our values not only have the potential to be meaningless, but they can even be lies.

A gentle provocation if I may:

  • Is your school really more respectful than the school down the road if you espouse Respect as a value?
  • Are your students really more prolific tellers of truth than students in other schools if you proclaim Honesty as a value? Really?

I suspect we know the answer to these awkward questions, and yet whole staffs and leadership teams spend entire days, weeks and months determining their school’s values and their definitions.

I’d contend that, if we spent just a little time asking ourselves why we’re doing this, we might find ourselves confronted with these values being little more than marketing tools.

And that’s ok.  There are a lot of schools, businesses and institutions falling for the trap of formally declaring values as a distraction from getting their hands dirty with actual behaviours.

The good news is that the solution is simpler than we thought.  Just treat these value statements as potential outcomes of thanking and congratulating students for demonstrating behaviours that comprise those values.

If your staff can make a linguistic habit of sentences such as “Thanks for packing that sports equipment away.  That’s a really responsible thing to do” then responsibility will just gradually happen.

And you won’t need to spend time debating whether responsibility or respect should be a value, you won’t need to teach mini-lessons about responsibility, you won’t need to paint responsibility murals and you won’t need to change your school letterhead every time you cycle back through the futility of the values definition process.

Let’s refrain from following the Enron’s of the worlds down the jargonistic nonsense of formal values.  You’re so much better and more important than a bunch of greedy corporate shysters trying to bullshit their way to a profit anyway.

Keep fighting that good fight,

PS. So … lockdown eh? Big love to all you Principals and School Leaders in areas hamstrung by the latest covid interruptions.  Sometimes you just need a chat at times like this.  If you do, I’m up for that.  Here’s my Calendly link.  Just book a time that works for us both and we’ll chew the fat for a bit.


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