Guest blog by Meike Beckford, Financial Advocacy Manager at Dosh

We have been thinking about our values in my organisation Dosh recently, and particularly how we act on them – doing and not just saying, particularly when it’s not easy. This comes from my MBA work on ethics and values which led to a project with the Dosh team to check on our shared understanding of our values, think about what makes it easy and difficult to act on them and looking at how we can practice speaking up and acting in line with our values the next time we are challenged.

This is something we all deal with both professionally and personally, whether it is being asked to by-pass standard checks and processes to rush something urgent through, or brush something under the carpet that doesn’t look so good. Equally, we have opportunities to do something to strengthen our values through new projects and everyday work, particularly in leadership roles.

Every day, we have to make judgements – we exercise practical wisdom. This means ‘wanting to do the right thing and figuring out the right way to do the right thing in a particular circumstance, with a particular person, at a particular time’ (Barry Schwartz1). This ideas comes from Aristotle and has been developed by many academics, management writers and others since. It says:

  • We need both emotion and logic/reason to make good decisions
  • We can’t have a rule or process for everything – we all need to exercise judgement and having too many rules can ‘deskill’ us and block people’s ability to think about ethical and moral considerations
  • We can practice and build this moral skill and we learn from experience
  • We each need to take personal responsibility for the ethical decisions we make
  • Some decisions are not clear, but sometimes we do know what we should do and the difficulty is actually doing it

There is some serious background to this, in studies that have looked at how some of the worst atrocities committed across the world were passively or actively accepted and allowed by many people who didn’t speak up. More recently, Mary Gentile has picked up this idea and asked what made the minority speak up and what can we learn to help us all build this skill?

She has created the concept of Giving Voice to Values (see this video and her website and book2 for much more on this), which we adopted to help us think about our own approaches. Here are the steps we followed to help us explore the topic within Dosh:

1) What are our values?

There’s no point in giving voice to something if you don’t know what that is, so we started by reviewing what we thought our organisational and personal values were, what the common ground was and how we wanted to act as an organisation.

For Dosh these centred on being person centred, putting people in control of their money and enabling them to achieve their goals

2) Reflecting on past experiences, enablers and disablers

We each looked at past experiences where we had and hadn’t acted on our values and thought in each case about what had helped us to, or blocked us from, speaking up. We gathered these together as our enablers and disablers. There were some similarities, but these are also personal to each individual, so it needed some personal reflection on what worked for each of us.

For example, for me an enabler is having a strong values-based, supportive culture around me, whereas a disabler is being rushed and put under pressure to make a decision immediately.

3) Practicing our response

Knowing what enables us to respond the way we want, we then discussed current situations we are facing and what arguments and responses we are likely to hear from others against acting in line with our values. This might be that we don’t have time to do things properly, or that we should be loyal to our team (and therefore not expose our mistakes). We can then use our knowledge of our enablers to create the right situation and approach and practice or ‘pre-script’ our responses: ‘when they say X, I will say Y’ and I will speak to them about it in this situation/environment. This is not about taking away people’s judgement or having a set response for everything, but helping people to be confident in saying what they want to say.

We discussed responses like ‘I understand this is urgent and I also need to make sure we keep X safe, so this is what we can do to move this forward…’

This is all about building up everyone’s skills in acting on our values, as we recognise that we each make decisions in our everyday work that can strengthen or undermine our values and ultimately shape our long-term culture and direction as an organisation. It is not down to one manager to make all the decisions or set out enough processes to cover every eventuality, but upskilling and building confidence so that everyone can drive forward, voice and live their and the organisation’s values now and in the future.

1 Barry Schwartz (2011) Practical wisdom and organizations. Research in Organizational Behavior, 31, 3-23.

2 Mary C Gentile (2010) Giving voice to values: how to speak your mind when you know what’s right. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press.