Celebrate values, effort AND outcomes

Thoughtful, strategic – and often wildly successful – organizations carefully craft their  culture. They think about the values, norms and behaviours they want to see and encourage them. They communicate values… often. They offer coaching. They incentivize and reward people who exemplify these behaviours.

So imagine how pleased I was when I attended my son’s school awards ceremony last IMG_0776week and saw how they are promoting values and behaviours. The night kicked off with awards related to how students approach their studies like curiosity and teamwork. There were awards for students who show awareness and interest in the global context and certificates for students who promote their faith, language and culture. (It’s a French catholic school in a predominantly English community).

My won the an award for “orientation in space and time.” This involves exploring personal histories; homes and journeys; turning points in humankind; discoveries; explorations and migrations of humankind; the relationships between, and the interconnectedness of, individuals and civilizations, from personal, local and global perspectives. WOW! Who knew the kid who’s a bear in the morning is a master of time and space? (He is enjoying a bit of ribbing on that front.)

Before the awards for highest grades in each subject, there were awards for students who exemplify the International Baccalaureate student profile:

  • Inquiring mindsAltruism
  • Knowledgeable
  • Thinkers
  • Communicators
  • Principled
  • Open-minded
  • Caring
  • Risk-takers
  • Balanced
  • Reflective


Picture a gymnasium full of junior-high and high-school kids cheering wildly for empathy and integrity!

It was amazing to hear the students cheer for one another. Picture a gym full of junior and high-school kids cheering wildly for empathy and integrity. Imagine if society valued teamwork, curiosity, reflexion, perseverance as much as we do wealth and celebrity. Think about how easy it would be to do something like this in your workplace.

Critics will argue that this is the equivalent of a participation ribbon for every kid, but these kids are nominated by their teachers for consistently modelling a specific aptitude or behaviour. Many kids are nominated but only a few receive the certificate. It’s a prime example of appreciative inquiry – identifying a positive behaviour to get more of it. (And, so what if we recognize something of value in every kid?)

In the workplace, you can think of it as inexpensive and effective risk-management. Not only do you encourage positive, productive behaviour, you reduce destructive behaviour. Wouldn’t Volkswagen be better off if they had shown more integrity? Wouldn’t the global financial crisis been averted – or at least mitigated- if Wall Street wasn’t obsessed with short term results or if it had thought broadly of the human and financial impacts of their deceit?  What does scandal cost? The ethics are as old as Aristotle but the integrated thinking and the systems approach is fairly new to business, and we need more of it.

It’s not an “either-or” proposition. In this model both positive behaviour AND achievement are recognized. The approach tells the kids early on that it’s not just the outcome that matters, but how you get there. It reminds me of Chris Hadfield’s book, An astronaut’s guide to life on earth. In it, Cmdr. Hadfield points out that temperament, teamwork and preparation matter. Many people are fit enough, smart enough, talented enough to be astronauts but do you want to live six months in space with a bunch of jerks? Do you think people behave optimally without reflexion, open-mindedness, empathy and communication?

In life, no one will ever ask you about your marks in grade Grade 11 chemistry. They will want to see how you applied that knowledge. They will notice your work ethic. They will want you to think broadly. Many people don’t have the best grades but are more adept at applying what they know or their approach brings out the best performance in a team. We need to recognize and celebrate those attributes.

Bravo les Chevaliers!

Published by Dominique O'Rourke

Public Affairs professional, City Councillor, MA Leadership graduate, problem solver and lifelong learner.

4 thoughts on “Celebrate values, effort AND outcomes

  1. You have enumerated many interesting ideas, Dominque! Certainly, people working together is better than people working apart. However, some catch words like positive and destructive behaviors really don’t take us anywhere. We must be quite careful with the words that we use for they will be our guides. And we must be scrupulously honest with ourselves and the acknowledge the forces that drive us and what our goals really are. Only then will we take a step towards more understanding and greater awareness.

    1. Hi Robert,
      First thank you so much for being a regular reader and for the feedback. I really appreciate it.
      When I wrote about positive and destructive behaviours, I thinking of “destructive behaviour” as harassment, unethical behaviour, gossip, back-stabbing, exclusion, etc. Those are negative for a team and for an organization. I’m thinking Enron, Volkswagen, BearSterns, etc. but also everyday bad behaviour. How would you describe those?

      I’m with you 100% on being careful about words we use. I’m also interested in hearing more about how we identify the forces that drive us in order to gain greater awareness. Please share more about that.
      Thanks again and have a wonderful day.

    2. Fascinating! Thanks Robert.
      You’re right about needing to target OE-. I just heard a podcast with Margaret Wheatley where she talks about all the soul destroying elements of our society and needing to acknowledge them in order to address them.

      Thank you so much for enriching this discussion.

  2. Hi Dominique,
    It is always a great pleasure to read your posts that usually offer some intriguing ideas. You gave me two difficult questions to answer and I will try to to do my best to answer them. The terms “harassment, gossip, and “back-stabbing” refer to specific human interactive behaviors, while “unethical behavior” is an abstract phrase, because the study of ethics is abstract and “exclusion” is a general term. The latter term forms the basis for Allan Kurzberg’s Fourth Postulate: All human interactive behavior may be described as the dynamics of inclusive and exclusive relationships. It is a universal set, because it contains every aspect of human interactive behavior.
    In the case of the companies you mention, corporate greed and power have allowed lying to gain credence. Kurzberg would see the behavior of these companies as part of his First Postulate: No creature on earth lies, prevaricates, or pretends more than a human being. He would argue that the above companies stand out on account of their size and power, but that one could expect a similar situation in smaller companies throughout the globe and that’s precisely what we do find.
    To identify the forces that drive us, we need to have an accurate definition of human being. Kurzberg redefined human beings as irrational beings that are mostly capable of rational thought. He derived his definition from his Second Postulate: The rational function of the human cortex developed quite late in human existence. It follows that all the time prior to rational thought, unreason or the irrational as exemplified in human emotions held sway. We can identify four such emotions: E+, E-, OE+, OE-. The first two represent positive and negative emotions, but not strong enough to overcome rational thought. The latter two represent “overwhelming emotions” that are so strong they will overturn reason. Here, I’m using reason as equivalent to rational thought. OE-, then, must be our target. It can be shown that OE- is greater than OE+, because in certain instances OE+ flips to OE-, but the contrary never occurs since OE- represents negative emotions that seek to debase, harm or destroy other humans. By far the most significant aspect of OE- is “the Other”. In fact, Kurzberg recognized this in his Third Postulate: Humans are Other-making machines. The other may be someone slightly different from ourselves, or other-making may try to justify bigotry, nationalism and genocide. It’s a question of degree. You can take any interactive human behavior and interpret it in terms of the four Os. That is the beauty of the theory. What is the best way to combat OE-? First, by acknowledging it and then by applying mathematical reasoning wherever possible. For example, I long for the day when ten-year-old boys and girls disprove Hitler’s assumptions in Mein Kampf as part of an introduction to mathematical reasoning and its universal importance in education. Then we as human beings will have taken a major step forward in our development.

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