All together now people: ‘Thank God it’s Monday’

All together now people: ‘Thank God it’s Monday’

Companies must align their values with those of their employees, says Prof Simon Dolan

Emma Cullinan

“You need courageous leaders to take a risk in changing the culture,” says Prof Simon Dolan, who teaches MBA students at Esade Business School in Barcelona and is the author of more than 60 books on values and management

“You need courageous leaders to take a risk in changing the culture,” says Prof Simon Dolan, who teaches MBA students at Esade Business School in Barcelona and is the author of more than 60 books on values and management


Your relationship with your employer is like your relationship with your lover, says Prof Simon Dolan, who advises companies how to align their values with those of their employees.

Couples negotiate on an emotional, ethical and economic basis and if they cannot come together on these then the relationship will be unhappy, says Dolan who teaches MBA students at Esade Business School in Barcelona, Spain, and is the author of more than 60 books on values and management.

As it is with incompatible romances, so it is with companies, says Dolan. They cannot be sustainable if managers simply impose their values from the top down. In such cases employees are unlikely to buy into the message: “Everyone in the company has to share values otherwise they will not succeed long-term.”

He doesn’t have much truck with mission and value statements on company websites. “Employees soon find out what is really happening day-to-day,” says Dolan who was in Dublin last weekend giving a course on Coaching by Values.

He has found that when an employee’s own values don’t tally with the core values of a company they become unhappy, stressed and alienated and just perform at a level that is sufficient to get by without being sacked.

What makes companies dynamic is a workforce who are passionate about what they do, says Dolan, who often talks of playfulness and a culture with no divide between work and life. He envisages – and is employed by companies to create – a world in which people will say: “Thank God it’s Monday.”

Employees need a sense of purpose and to do things they enjoy, says Dolan. That creates the energetic, motivated, fulfilled workforce required for success.

It’s a message that appears to be growing, at a time when David Cameron’s former advisor Steve Hilton has published his book More Human with the message that treating employees well is good for business.

The majority of Prof Dolan’s students say they would take less pay to work in kinder conditions.

He cites the service industry as one area where employees are more educated and sophisticated and no longer happy with just doing routine tasks. “If they don’t enjoy them and are not empowered to do what they really want, then they will do a good job but not an excellent one.”

Employees also aren’t energised if they are pushed to be more efficient, in order to make profits for shareholders, says Dolan. They’ll ask “why should I work hard for some rich people to become richer? How about investing some of the profits in helping me to develop, such as through training and better facilities?

“The capitalist model basically doesn’t work,” says Dolan, who has a PhD in Human Resources Management and the Psychology of Work. “Sometimes we forget why we have companies; we can’t just do it to satisfy shareholders. People get burn-out and go on sick leave or just do the minimum to ensure they are not the next one to get laid off.”

He cites an evolution from MBI (management by instruction) in which managers issue orders and staff carry them out: “You labour for money, you get paid, shut up.”

Then there is MBO (management by objectives) in which employees are told: “I don’t care how you work or where you work as long as as you produce.”

This, he says, can get chaotic and effort is not always highly correlated with results.

Dolan advocates MBV (management by values) in which people work because they want to without being told what to do and where team members work to their competency and do what they enjoy.

Dolan cites consultancy work he did in a German pharmaceutical company with 500 staff. They had 50 projects and were allocating scientists to them. “We changed that and asked staff where they would prefer to work. About 60 per cent of scientists switched and were more motivated.”

He’s keen to point out that he’s not saying shareholders and making money are not important, just that the emphasis could change.

Paradigm shifting includes not concentrating on the technology, market or product, he says, but the people and mixing economic objectives with ethical and emotional ones.

Dolan is working with Volkswagen Seat in Spain on its values and after three months of dialogue they have opted for 40 per cent economic values, 30 per cent emotional and 30 per cent ethical. “They identified their core values and select people that share them.”

Such changes involve many procedures and bravery, says Dolan. “People say, ‘wow, interesting, but not in our place, we are comfortable’. You need courageous leaders to take a risk in changing the culture. It is not like changing technology or positions; it is a systematic process,” he says.

An example of change being applied badly is where companies ask staff to be more creative and innovative: “Except if you really innovate you take the risk of failing and if people fail they get fired. If that happens, how many more people will try to innovate? You need a high tolerance for failure.”

Instead of talking about leaders, Dolan says he prefers to focus on followers: “What types of people are you willing to follow? People who have have values that you value.

“Companies need to wake up and smell the coffee. Things are changing much faster than they can imagine.”


Previously published in The Irish Times.


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