World Values Day – its time to talk #values 

October 20th 2016 is the first international World Values Day. And it is a good time to talk about values.  

Despite calls to keep calm and carry on, we have a more uncertain time for UK business and markets, with Brexit in prospect, than any since the oil price shocks of the 1970s.  

It feels like the old story about a man and a horse.

The horse is galloping quickly across the land, and it seems to all the world that the rider and his horse are going somewhere urgent and important. But when another man, standing along the way, calls out “Where are you going?”,
the rider replies “I don’t know! Ask the horse!”

To date, Brexit has been treated as a political decision – a complex, technical challenge for negotiation and a high risk period of adjustment. The deeper question, and one that can start to root us and allow us to act with purpose, is what country we want to live in, what nation or nations do we want to be part of. What, in short, are our values?  

The USA talks about the American Dream. The UK appears quietly proud of being neither a dreamer nor, as one of the few nations in the world without a written constitution, a draftsman. The success of devolution in recent years means too that the UK is a complex and perhaps fragile assembly of nations, not as united a kingdom as our name suggests.

The UK is often characterised by a sense of tolerance, fair play and support for the underdog – values perhaps that will never make for footballing greatness, even if we can certainly shine with sporting prowess in the more eccentric diversity of the Olympics.  

The UK government has had, since 2011, a definition of “fundamental British values”, which are those of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. This encapsulation first appeared in 2011 alongside the government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy, designed to stop people being drawn into terrorism.  

Schools are now asked to promote these British core values, but they have had little success so far. A survey of secondary school children published last month showed that they were far more likely to choose ‘fish and chips’, ‘drinking tea’ and ‘celebrating the Queen’s birthday’. In a culturally diverse society, the concept of core British values, beloved perhaps of politicians, meant little or nothing to them, in contrast to ideas of Christian, or Muslim or humanitarian values.  

However, there is recent research from a dedicated non-profit, the Common Cause Foundation that offers a rich profile of the values in practice that people in the UK have. What emerges overall is that the UK has strong and positive values, but also, that this is not the story that we tell ourselves.  

The Common Cause report suggests that 74% of people (higher for women, higher for men and women in Wales and Northern Ireland, lower in London) tend to put values of compassion above values of self-interest.

Compassionate values include ‘broadmindedness’, ‘a world of beauty’, ‘a world at peace’, ‘equality’, ‘protecting the environment’, ‘helpfulness’, ‘forgiveness’, ‘honesty’ and ‘responsibility’. Values of self-interest include values of ‘wealth’, ‘social recognition’, ‘social status’, ‘authority’, ‘control’, ‘popularity’, ‘influence’ and ‘ambition’.  

But when it comes to their perception of other people and the values they hold, the reverse holds true – others are seen, unfairly perhaps, as putting self-interest higher than compassion. We risk as a result becoming a nation of private integrity, but public suspicion. The Common Cause team point the finger at politicians, media and economists who spread the message that most other people are out for themselves. The story that we tell of our values as a nation is upside down, whereas the reality is far more hopeful. 

So, if this is a time of great uncertainty, not just Brexit as we could add in environmental risk, climate change and migration into the picture, with the horse cantering off to we don’t know where, then it is not just the right time but an urgent task to start more of a national conversation on values.  

We have precedents. The philosopher and writer Iris Murdoch helped in the 1990s to pioneer public dialogue around some of the ethical challenges around new genetic technologies. That has now become a world-renowned programme of public engagement, Sciencewise, led by agencies such as Involve, that has helped the UK to develop the most forward thinking policy framework for new technologies, from genetics and nanotechnology to new challenges such as machine learning.

Further back, of course, questions of values are central to theatre, literature and art. The tussle between values and money, for example, is a timeless concern. 

For children, there are the spoilt brats in English, overindulged or overprivileged, like Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In the Netherlands, there is the equivalent term verwend nest, although, curiously, it applies to girls alone. In France, there are the enfants gâtés, the generation post Second World War that never had it so good. But we can all be ‘spoiled’. The fear that any of us puts possessions above people or money before God is something that each of the great faith traditions talks about, each with its own, enduring framework of insight and reflection to offer.  

Values are what make us who we are. They are the compass guiding everything we do – our choices and our actions. When we forget that compass, we take the wrong turn. It’s the same for us as individuals, as a nation and as a world. 

It is time to talk values. 


I am delighted to be launching my new book, Values: how to bring values to life in your business on World Values Day.
Values is published by Greenleaf and available on 

And, for family values, I’m also happy to say that the illustrations are by Frankie Mayo.

Workers and consumers on boards?

The proposal by the Prime Minister to have consumer and possibly worker representatives on the boards of British companies has had a fascinating reception. If it were a leftist suggestion, then it can be pigeonholed as an attack on the interests of investors. But it is not. It is an idea that has emerged as one of the ways in which markets can survive and thrive in an era of inequality.

In some quarters, the response has been silence, disbelief. In others, a hope that it goes away. I don’t believe that it needs to.

In the co-operative sector, we have ample experience of what to do and what not to do, the tips and the hints and the disciplines needed to make this work. At its heart, the power of the model is that you have independent non-executive directors, but they are independently informed about a key element of company culture and performance, rather than, as at present, largely independently ignorant – and reliant on flows of information from the centre.

At present, corporate governance as an information system, is still top down, centrally controlled. Of course, you need some control and sufficient coherence, but the alternative model is what the great Shann Turnbull calls ‘cybernetic governance’ drawi information from multiple stakeholders.

I have published a longer piece on the Prime Minister’s interest in mutuality on Huffington Post and today had a letter on the origins of all this, published in The Times.

Do it with care, but yes…bring it on!

A short history of values-based innovation

My book Values on values in business is out soon, published by Greenleaf.

The book focused on practical tools to bring values to life in an organisational setting and it is for all businesses. But looking back, I can also see that the history of the co-operative sector that I am in is a history of innovation on the basis of values. Here are seven that I think stand out.

1. Equality for women

From the beginnings, in the 1840s, one member, one vote rule also applied to women – at a time when women were not normally allowed to own property or vote. Only in the 1920s, 70 years later, were women allowed to vote in the UK. 

2.Access to credit

In 1854, Friedrich Raiffeisen decided to take on what he described as the “vampire” loan sharks, Credit unions now provide a genuine people’s bank for over 186 million people in 97 countries.

3. Shorter working hours 

The Coop Crumpsall Biscuit Factory became the first only 8 hour day works in Britain when it introduced limited working hours in 1901. Nearly a century ahead of its time, it wasn’t until 1998 that working hours in the UK were limited to 48 hours.

4. Workplace democracy

Mondragon, now the world’s largest worker co-operative, with the slogan of humanity at work, was founded in 1956 in Basque Spain. Every member, ultimately, has an equal vote.

5. Sustainable energy

In 1980, with oil prices rising, three families in Ny Solbjerg near Aarhus – the Lauritsens, Vangkildes and Sorensens – decided to form a co-op to install a 55kW wind turbine. Within two decades, co-operatives like theirs had made Denmark a world leader in renewable energy. 

6. Fair trade

In 1988, coffee farmers in Oaxaca, Mexico joined together in the co-operative UCIRI (Union de Comunidades Indígenas de la Región del Istmo) to launch the first ever certified fairtrade product, sold to consumers in the Netherlands under the label of Max Havelaar. Today, three quarters of all fair trade is produced by co-ops. 

7. The right to work

In 2001, workers in Argentina took over failed businesses as unemployment soared. When Argentina defaulted on its debts, unemployment rocketed to one in four of the population. As companies collapsed, workers responded by occupying factories and continuing to trade in the new form of worker co-operatives. 170 businesses, some with over 200 employees, were rescued in this way by their workers and 93% of these are still operating.

Values are how you see the world and values can inspire you to change it.

To change someone’s behaviour, start with their values – not yours

A teenage pregnancy changes the life chances for both mother and child over the short and long term and not surprisingly there are big efforts made by health professionals worldwide to cut back on their numbers.

The key is seen to be awareness, but the weakness of so much health education is that it starts from the worldview of the professional – which is rational and factual. It doesn’t start from the mindset and values of those who are being targeted.

The Lancet recently reported on just one such example, which in fact had the opposite effect of what was intended.

The idea behind the programme in Western Australia was simple. Give teenage girls in school ‘simulator dolls’ to take care of that cry and wet themselves. That should teach them how hard life is looking after a little one.

It is not a new idea. Around ninety countries worldwide have the same programme. But remarkably, few of those seem to have been tested to check whether in fact it works.

The study in Australia showed that there, in fact it did the opposite. Teenage girls that were targeted came out more likely to get pregnant, than less (36% more, compared to schools without the programme).

The intervention achieved what was intended in terms of understanding, which is to show that life might be hard with a little one, but it also triggered their values of caring, self worth and attachment by asking them to imagine caring for a baby. Their values won out.

There has been a movement in recent years of health education to learn lessons like this, through using the toolkit of social marketing. I was privileged to work with Dr Jeff French to set up the first UK social marketing effort with the NHS in England over ten years ago. The European Social Marketing Conference runs over the next few days, with a World Social Marketing Conference due in the USA in 2017.

It is not that a direct prompt on values is always right, when it comes to behaviour change, but if you don’t start from the values of those you are focusing on, then it is your values that fill the gap. And then, it is only you that is persuaded.


Values: how to bring values to life in your business is published in October 2016 by Greenleaf.

How to get practical on ethics: my new book on values in business is out soon

The idea that business is about money pure and simple has endured because it is an idea that is simple. That there might be other motivations, and ones more effective at helping people to work together, feels complex. So when it comes to values, the challenge is to get simple and practical. 

How do you chart the values at work in a business? How do you bring values to life? How do you recruit for values?

This is the focus of my new book, which is a short book (90 minute read) called Values: how to bring values to life in business. It covers a range of practical tools to make values count.

It will be published by Greenleaf – pre-orders up now on – next month, around the time of the first World Values Day.

A new financial instrument for co-operatives?

Following our collective efforts the UK Government has confirmed co-operative and community benefit society debt securities will be eligible for the new Innovative Finance ISA.

In the past few days our lobbying has prompted government officials to pause in their final drafting of the Innovative Finance ISA regulations to pay particular attention to society eligibility and set things straight. We are very pleased to have clear assurances that for the purposes of the new ISA the term ‘company’ can now be interpreted as including societies.

In summer 2015 HM Treasury consulted explicitly on whether or not to make society debt and equity eligible for the Innovative Finance ISA. We have consistently argued strongly in favour of debt securities being eligible. HM Treasury had never ruled this in or out, but it did omit any reference to society eligibility in its November 2015 consultation response and then referred only to including ‘companies and charities’ in its notes on the draft legislation.

While we don’t have a formal indication of a change in policy, we have been given an assurance that subtle changes to cash ISA rules in 2015 allow for an interpretation of ‘company’ that can be taken to include societies going forward – which is welcome news. [Please note though, this is not legal advice, simply an indication of how the law could be read].

The input to the consultation of so many co-operatives, has made a practical difference.

What happens next?

The ISA legislation will come into force as part of the Autumn Statement in November. It will then be for regulated financial institutions such as banks, building societies and larger credit unions, to explore whether or not developing a co-operative or wider social investment ISA is feasible. There are opportunities here, but they won’t happen overnight.

I am speaking at the International Summit of Co-operatives in October on our sector hopes and activities around co-op and mutual capital.

For now, a future opportunity is here.


What we can learn from Robert Owen

It is a pleasure today to talk at a Blue Plaque going up near Kings Cross in London to Robert Owen, the great social reformer and co-operative advocate of the early 19th century.

The man is historical, but his ideas remain contemporary, and ones that we can still learn from.

In the early nineteenth century, he cut the hours of his cotton mill workers from 17 hours a day to 10, and banned the employment of children. Over four years, the business made a profit of £160,000 and a return on capital of 5%.

Robert Owen was fascinated by the potential of a more co-operative culture. In 1812, he wrote the first of his “Essays On The Formation Of Character”. As he described it, character is a set of habits, behaviours and beliefs that are shaped by the environment in which we find ourselves and in which we have grown up.

Owen set out to make character visible. Black, blue, yellow and white were the daily colours assigned by Owen to workers in his pioneering mills at New Lanark. Black was bad behaviour, blue indifferent, yellow good and white was excellent – a shared and open form of feedback.

For children, Owen invented the world’s first workplace nursery, or crèche – the New Institution for the Formation of Character – which opened on January 1st, 1816, financed out of company profits. As soon as children could walk, they came to the creche and, at the age of three, they entered the infant school.

The teachers were specifically instructed to be kind and encouraging in order to instil self-confidence. If you encourage a co-operative culture, then you build the opportunity for participation and well-being.

“Any general character,” Owen commented, “from the best to the worst, from the most ignorant to the most enlightened, may be given to any community, even to the world at large, by the application of proper means.”

In an age of inequality, we can still learn from the ideas of Robert Owen.