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A really brilliant blog post about Artificial Intelligence

The blog post found here – waitbutwhy.com/2015/01/artificial-intelligence-revolution is about artificial intelligence and is really brilliant.

The sort of thing you read and get all excited about and are desperate for everyone else to read, too, so you can discuss it, and chortle together about the really funny bits, and be all incredulous about the stuff that is incredulous-making. And then people don’t read it, and you get a bit disheartened, because it’s brilliant, fascinating, terrifying and funny in equal measure. Scratch that. It’s a lot more terrifying than it is anything else.

But, please read it, because it will enrich your life.

And then come back to this one – mine – which isn’t remotely terrifying, but when you consider communicating with people – customers, or employees, partners or suppliers – then it will be interesting for you.

One of the points in the really brilliant blog post above was about how artificial intelligence doesn’t get called that once it becomes normalised. So (I’m paraphrasing) – once we have folded some artificial intelligence into our day-to day-behaviours (like Google maps or Amazon’s ‘you might like’ feature), we don’t think of it as scary world-ending artificial intelligence – we don’t even call it artificial intelligence – we just accept it as something small which makes life a bit easier. It just is.

This got me thinking about organisations and values. How do organisations get to a point when they stop calling out ‘these are our values’? How do they arrive at a point when they are so accepted and so ingrained that they are just who they are and what they believe in, and what their customers value them for? Hans Snook, the founder of Orange, famously avoided values. Instead he just wanted an essence.

In the UK today, John Lewis does this well. Their values are trust, respect and fairness, which totally resonate with the experiences most of us have with them as customers, and are highlighted by their customer promise – ‘Never knowingly undersold’. But, they are a very particular case because they are a partnership model. So everyone who works there is invested – in the truest sense of the word – in the success of the business.

What about Tesco? (I admit that’s an easy strike, but bear with me). They are having something of a torrid time at the moment. Add to this the supermarket landscape changing with supermarkets from the discount and premium ends of the spectrum winning custom from the big four in the middle and Tesco is having trouble. So, I was interested – what are their values? Did they resonate with my experience of Tesco? How could their culture be so damaged that it results in a £250 million overstatement of profit?

Here are their values:

No one tries harder for customers

• Understand customers
• Be first to meet their needs
• Act responsibly for our communities

It is generally accepted that where things started going wrong was a lack of investment into the stores and the customer experience. Of course, the alternative argument is that Tesco is an institutional pension favourite and the dividends and profits posted year after year – at the expense of store investment – was indeed trying hard for customers: investors by another name. But good practice surely states that you should only do what is good for all your stakeholders?

We treat people how they want to be treated

• Work as a team
• Trust and respect each other
• Listen, support and say thank you
• Share knowledge and experience

This is clearly intended as an internal value, but really, values transcend that pesky internal/external divide, and Tesco hasn’t always treated people as they want to be treated – suppliers, staff, or customers.

We use our scale for good

• Creating new opportunities for millions of young people around the world
• Helping and encouraging our colleagues and customers to live healthier lives and through this helping to tackle the global obesity crisis
• Leading in reducing food waste globally

This is a new value, introduced in the wake of the landscape shifts mentioned above and a rather disconcerting sop to Tesco becoming too big to fail.

So how can values become who you are and what you believe in, throughout an organisation? Something which hasn’t happened at Tesco?

I said up-thread that this was for communicators – but actually, just communicating values is never enough to create an organisation with a common set of values. It’s a great start, and if you’re not talking regularly about values, then yes – do that.

But an organisation communicates in many ways that don’t involve copywriting or scriptwriting, or report-printing.

Your recruitment process, a newbie’s first day, the state of the toilets, how you recognise and reward outstanding performance, how you deal with persistent bad behaviour, how you talk to customers, the charities you support, how many women you have on your board – and everything else you are and do – tells somebody everything they need to know about who you are and what you value.

So where do you start? The challenge is that it is a huge task to reconsider every single thing you do and say as an organisation. It’s where a values project often comes grinding to a halt. Because it can seem just too big a job. And involves about a million stakeholders who have their day job to get on with.

Start small. Start with a discrete process, such as your review process and tweak it, change it or totally re imagine it to ensure that it embodies your values – both in how you run reviews, and the outcomes and behaviours you are reviewing. Perhaps then consider your recruitment process – to ensure that you are hiring people who share similar values, and who understand what will be expected of them to deliver against yours. And then consider environments – what does your work space say about you and what you value?

Organisations who have considered processes and communication through the values perspective over time find themselves aligned to the same, often unspoken values. And if they haven’t, often they will be aligned, but perhaps not to the values they want. Make sure that who you are and what you do doesn’t happen organically – you need direction and nurturing to get to the right place for your organisation.


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