12 Images of an effective learning environment

For quite some time, I have been thinking about the characteristics of an effective learning environment. My objective was to compile a list of ideas in response to the question “What makes a learning environment an effective one?”

Recently, I read the book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas by Seymour Papert. First published in 1980, this book includes Papert’s arguments in favor of using computers as a learning tool in an educational setting. Being an education theorist, Papert characterizes the essential properties of an effective educational system. I was amazed at how close the ideas presented by the author were to my experiences as an educator. Therefore, I thought it was time for me to present the twelve images that characterize an effective learning environment as seen by Papert and experienced by myself.

  1. In an effective learning environment, learning occurs naturally as a byproduct of the learners’ interactions with their surroundings, without the need of structured teaching (e.g. lectures, presentations), similar to the way a child learns to talk or walk. In such environments, learning occurs through embodied experiences that engage a full range of human sensitivities in an interactive and spontaneous way.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the educator focuses on creating personally meaningful and intellectually coherent learning experiences for the learners. In such environments, learning is not separate from reality. The learners are thereby not left alone in making sense of what they learn and are guided by the educators in their journeys of reconciling, accommodating and assimilating new knowledge within their existing intellectual structures.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the learners and educators both challenge themselves by venturing into the unknown and going into a space that is out of the boundaries of their comfort zones. They give themselves permission to fail and learn from their failures. In such environments, exploration, failure, and discovery are key ingredients of the learning process.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the learners make the newly acquired knowledge and ideas their own. They deconstruct what they learn into fundamental ideas, reshuffle and combine them in new and innovative ways and generate a personalized way of applying and communicating what they have learned.
  1. In an effective learning environment, theoretical knowledge is a means to amplify and expand the learners’ intuitive understanding of their surroundings. In such environments, not only does theoretical knowledge not oppose the intuitive insights of the learners, but it also serves as a mechanism through which the learners can enhance and refine their intuition, and subsequently their creative capacity.
  1. In an effective learning environment, interaction, communication and collaboration amongst the learners and between the learners and the educators are facilitated and enriched. In such environments dialogues are viewed as a free flow of meaning and knowledge is viewed as a means of creating harmony between the learners and their surroundings.
  1. In an effective learning environment, measuring learning provides an opportunity for more learning, rather than hampering it. Therefore, the learner’s understanding of a subject matter is not merely judged as “right” or “wrong” but considered, by the educator, as a powerful starting point and a foothold for designing further learning.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the learner and the educator’s roles are interchangeable. In such environments, learners learn from their peers, realizing that the educator’s role is not exclusive to the educator and that they themselves can be sources of inspiration when it comes to knowledge acquisition and development. Educators also realize that to be an educator is synonymous with being a lifelong learner.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the learners learn from the educators not by “what they say” but by “what they do”. In such an environment, the educators are the embodiment of the ideas that they want the learners to encounter, and they look sensitively for conflicts between what they preach and what they practice (i.e., their stated and revealed preferences).
  1. In an effective learning environment, both the learners and educators think about the ways they think and learn about the ways they learn. In such environments, every topic provides the learners and educators with an opportunity to become a better learner and thinker by reflecting upon their assumptions, mental models and cognitive heuristics and biases.
  1. In an effective learning environment, learning is an interdisciplinary undertaking. Meaning that, boundaries between different disciplines fade and that learners and educators are encouraged to transfer insights from one field of inquiry to another. In such environments, the focus is on creating connections between seemingly different ideas.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the fundamental assumptions underlying what constitutes an effective learning environment are continually challenged and critically reflected upon. In such environments, education is viewed as a fluid and ever-changing phenomenon that should dynamically adapt to cultural, pedagogical, scientific and technological developments.

I hope these 12 images can give you a bigger picture of an effective learning environment. While compiling this list, I quickly realized that each of these 12 images deserves a more in-depth treatment. Therefore, my intention is to elaborate on every point and exemplify it with instances and cases from my own learning design activities. So, stay tuned for the next entries in this series. Meanwhile, if you think some more ideas need to be added to this list, please do not hesitate to leave a comment. I would also be happy to know which of these images resonated most with you.

arash golnamAuthor: Dr. Arash Golnam, BSL Professor

Marco Piermartiri: a BSL Alumnus appointed COO of the Geneva Chamber of Commerce

marcoMarco Piermartiri, one of our EMBA Alumni, was recently appointed as Chief Operations Officer (COO) of the Geneva Chamber of Commerce, after an exciting career going from consultancy and entrepreneurship to telecom and digital transformation. Marco had already valuable touch-points with Chamber of Commerce, having collaborated with them as a Telecom and Digital transformation expert respectively in 2003 and in 2017. A professional marriage that was meant to happen?

Graduated from Business School Lausanne in 2000, Marco is a seasoned B2B and Digital transformation expert with a background in engineering who started his career with Swisscom when the company was still State-owned, climbing to the Director position of Enterprise Solutions in 1999.

Throughout his career, Marco covered executive roles as well as the role of entrepreneur: In 2005 he was Vice-President of Integrated Solutions (a local IT services company), selling the company and running the executive operations of the bigger buying firm, Business&Decision, where he managed to raise the numbers by three times (revenues, profits, collaborators) and to open subsidiaries in various cities throughout Switzerland. An important milestone in his career that set up the foundation for his own business consulting firm, ONDACO, which saw the light of the day in 2012.

Since a few weeks, a new chapter of his professional career has started, taking the lead on the business operations of the Chamber of Commerce in Geneva. The most exciting challenge is for him to transition from consulting to action, this new position will be a great way to provide tangible help to established companies, as well as recently launched enterprises and young entrepreneurs. Considering that the Geneva Chamber of Commerce is an absolutely independent and private economic association, although having a non-profit status, it actually operates as any private company does.

BSL congratulates Marco on this new adventure, being positive that once again he will keep our flag flying high.

Dani-Linkedin-300x300Author: Daniele Ticli, BSL Head of Careers and External Affairs

Dancing to the Rhythm of Knowledge

In the first year of my doctoral studies, I wrote an article and submitted it for publication in a conference. My article was rejected by the conference scientific committee. One of the reviewers wrote that the reason why my article was not accepted was that after reading it, he was not able to answer the two following questions: What do I know now? And, what can I do now?

That rejection and that anonymous reviewer taught me one of the most important lessons I learned during my doctoral study. Even now, ten years later, I tend to repeat these two questions, whenever I read something, have a dialogue with someone, watch a movie or attend a seminar. These two questions give me a reality check when it comes to assessing whether I have learned something and make me more alert as I am going through some new concepts and ideas. Why is that so? The first question, “what do I know now?” checks whether I have received some information or assimilated a new piece of processed data, that can help us understand a phenomenon better. The second question, “what can I do now?” is about knowledge. Knowledge has organizing power. Once we convert information to knowledge, we are prompted to take action, to trigger a change, to take measures to do something. It’s like when we hear music and we dance automatically!

As a learner, I have noticed that there are two caveats that are worth mentioning. First, I always bear in mind that the transformation from information to knowledge is not instantaneous. Once we put the seeds in an incubator, we should attend to them on a regular basis before they sprout. Therefore, I know I should keep repeating the second question, stimulating my brain to keep looking for practical implications. In the same way that it may take a few listens, before we fall in love with and dance to a piece of music, that we were initially not fond of. Second, knowledge can emanate from a combination of various sources of information, some of which may be tacit, and thereby not easily detectable. For instance, reading and memorizing poetry or mastering and using a mathematical technique, may not easily be traceable in the practical insights we develop, but they may still count as crucial steps towards the development of such insights. Thereby, if I do not see immediate practicality in the information I am exposed to, I know it does not mean I should reject it. Similarly, if I invest time in assimilating some concepts or ideas and yet I do not seem to be able to map them onto a concrete application, I worry not and the role they play can be subtler than what I can possibly imagine.

As an educator, I ask my students to ask themselves these two questions as they are going through their studies. More importantly, I also ask them to challenge me when they are unable to answer the two questions during my courses and when we go through the course material. It does not mean I should answer the two questions for them. Rather, as a learning designer, I should help them in their process of seeking answers to the two questions. They may find it difficult and may find the wrong answers, but this exercise can orient them to a more proactive approach towards learning, and help them realize they are the ones responsible for acquiring the knowledge they need to align themselves with what life expects from them.

I sometimes feel that learning in the current educational system is becoming synonymous with absorbing memorizable chunks of information for the mere purpose of answer questions in a final exam. To me, True education is about striving for acquiring knowledge. Effective learning occurs only when what we know can manifest itself in our thoughts and actions, that’s when we start dancing to the rhythm of knowledge. As educators or learning designers, our responsibility is to steer ourselves onto the path of becoming knowledge-oriented and then, help the learners in their journeys, first and foremost, by embodying the properties we wish to see in them. I hope after reading this short blog you can answer the following two questions: What do I know now? What can I do now?

Profile Pic_ArashAuthor: Dr. Arash Golnam, BSL Professor

Educators’ dilemma: is neoclassical economics consistent with the laws of physics?

As educators, our most important task is to help prepare our students to lead successful professional and personal lives, for the next 40+ years, until 2060 and well beyond. While much is unknown on this time scale, we now do understand the big picture, including fundamental human needs, as well as the material basis for satisfying them, especially around biodiversity and energy – the previous blog “Reflections on 2018: complexity, messiness, progress” provides a few illustrations.

So, while we cannot provide recipes valid for half a century, we certainly can help our students develop a way of thinking, even a worldview, which will prepare them for the challenges they will face.

This means first and foremost understanding human society and the economy in “real”, biophysical terms, including the underlying energy and material flows.

We could start with biophysical economics, a school of economics based on biological and physical resources, with a strong focus on energy, especially around food production, new energy sourcing, and the concept of EROI (energy return on (energy) invested). Biophysical economics has a long history, starting in the 1920s with Frederick Soddy (building on 19th-century insights, especially the laws of thermodynamics), with major contributions by Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen in the 1970s, and more recently by Charles A. S. Hall, Cutler Cleveland, and Robert Costanza. The Encyclopedia of Earth provides an excellent overview.

So far, this work has remained outside of mainstream economics. There are many reasons, including a much higher complexity of looking at underlying material and energy flows instead of money, and the fact that most leading practitioners, including all listed above, are not economists. It requires a fundamentally cross-discipline approach. At the same time, this is a big opportunity for teachers of other disciplines beyond economics to help expand learners’ perspective. I sincerely hope this gives rise to many fundamental reflections.

Biophysical economics is closely related to ecological economics, but differs in its focus on energy and entropy, compared to the latter’s focus on ecosystem services. Both are forms of strong sustainability, as opposed to environmental economics and similar approaches, which complement neoclassical economics with pricing externalities, but regard all forms of capital as interchangeable (for example, human misery or polluted water is OK, as long as sufficient economic value is created). Biophysical economics not at all related to econophysics, which applies methods (originally developed in physics) around stochastic processes and nonlinear dynamics to classical economics – to simplify market economics worldview, physics tools.

Notwithstanding its sophisticated mathematical toolbox, neoclassical economics considers itself (and is) a social science, focusing on markets and human behavior, mainly of consumers and managers. In the classical view, scarcity leads to higher prices, spurring technological innovation and substitution, allowing the economy to continue growing (forever).

Let me illustrate this disconnect with a few examples:

  • Absurd energy-related decisions: producing bioethanol (a biofuel) requires oil, and for every 100 joules (J) of oil, around 80 J of bioethanol are produced – a net energy loss of 20%, in addition to pollution, biodiversity loss, human labor, etc. In real terms, this makes absolutely no sense; with subsidies, in our distorted financial system, it might be profitable.
  • New energy sources: our growth society requires constant discovery of new energy with an EROI (energy return on invested) >11 (Fizaine and Court, 2016, “Energy expenditure, economic growth, and the minimum EROI of society”). Historically, oil had an EROI over 100, current oil sources are around 17 and falling; solar panels typically have an EROI of 4-8. There are currently no known new energy sources, broadly scalable in the coming decades, with the required EROI to maintain our growth economy.

revisiting the limits to growthSource: Hall and Day, 2009, “Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil”

  • Decoupling economic growth from energy use is unfortunately not happening. In fact, due to the rebound effect, energy efficiency often leads to an absolute increase in energy demand. For example, our consumption of energy for lighting has increased about 100’000 times over 300 years, or about 10’000 times per capita, in spite of an extraordinary increase in efficiency. The consumption of light itself increased a billion times.

All models are oversimplified and wrong; some are however useful. Unfortunately, the neoclassical economics model has outlived its usefulness. Consequently, many economists, managers, and political leaders make dangerous decisions not understanding the physical limits, or at least the practical limits to substitutability, scaling and deployment. The reason I believe the biophysical economics model will be much more useful is that it starts with the most fundamental constraints of all life: energy and entropy.

To answer the question in the title: with the notable exception of limits to material and energy consumption growth, neoclassical economics mostly stays within the laws of physics (without necessarily paying much attention to them), sadly ignoring the biosphere it depends on. Just as bad, it completely ignores human well-being beyond the idealized, rational, by now discredited “homo oeconomicus”. As such, it is no longer serving the society it is part of.

The way forward: while we know what we need to do, we don’t quite know how to get there in the relatively short time available, in a world of soon-to-be severely constrained energy and degrading-but-still-functioning ecosystem services.

As educators, we’ll succeed if we equip our students to experiment as (social) entrepreneurs and find effective solutions to human and environmental issues. Just as importantly, our students should feel empowered to shape the reality they live in, take proactive steps towards changing the rules of the game, vote and engage in politics, and serve as role models in their communities. Some of their projects could become the seeds of future human prosperity. Helping learners move beyond neoclassical economics will be a necessary first step. A deep awareness of the biophysical reality might be a good place to start. This is our challenge for all teachers and learners, in every discipline.

Sascha_NICK Author: Sascha Nick, BSL Professor

Reflecting on 2018: complexity, messiness, progress

December is an excellent time to reflect on the year, and 2018 requires more reflection than most. Wherever one looks, 2018 was messy, from politics (consider, for very different reasons, Brexit endgame, “gilets jaunes”, or Korean denuclearization) to how we deal with major issues: picture 30’000 COP24 delegates in Katowice, surrounded by coal mines and coal dust, struggling to put in practice the good intentions of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

2018 was a year of extraordinary progress of knowledgeTo illustrate:

In February, Steven Pinker set the tone with his well-researched book “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress”, demonstrating the spectacular improvement of human wellbeing on 15 dimensions, including health, safety, and happiness, using data to dispel common myths.

This was followed by one of the most important scientific publications ever, the IPCC 1.5°C report. For the first time, we know exactly what to do to limit warming to avoid the worst consequences (simplified: reduce CO2 emissions by 58% by 2030, replant forests).

 

Report October 2018

Source: IPCC 1.5°C Report, October 2018

Scientists from the University of Leeds scaled these limits to a per capita level in their paper “A good life for all within planetary boundaries” (Phosphorus 890 g, Nitrogen 8.9 kg, material footprint 7.2 t). They introduced a new indicator eHANPP (embodied human appropriation of net primary production), representing biomass harvested or killed for human use, with a suggested limit of 2.62 t per person per year.

Why don’t we act as needed? Knowing exactly what to do is only a first step, but it’s not very useful if we don’t act. So, we need to ask, why are most of what we do “business as usual”? Why do we keep collectively creating outcomes most of us don’t want, like environmental destruction, broken communities, lack of trust, financial crises, millions of refugees, malnutrition, or obesity? This includes individual, company and government action, often pulling in the same (wrong) direction.

Part of the answer lies in the way our socio-economic system has evolved, with its stocks, flows, buffers, positive and negative feedback loops, rules, parameters etc. A simplified example: debt payments require growth, which requires cheap energy, meaning burning fossil fuels, leading to pollution and many other problems.

A bigger part, however, is probably linked to the way we think about the economy: as an independent system, following its own mechanistic rules (remember supply and demand curves from Econ101), separate from the environment and partly detached from society. At its core is money, as a benchmark, behavior driver, store of value, in addition to being a means of exchange.

Without this cultural baggage, an independent observer would see a still beautiful planet with a threatened biosphere; closed material flows but open energy flows powered by the sun; a dominant, individually smart but collectively stupid species obsessed with power and money; a highly complex human society and civilization as a subset of the biosphere; an economy as a subset of society and sub-subset of the biosphere, completely dependent on ecosystem services it is busy undermining.

Outlook: Looking back as far as our data will allow, with Steven Pinker’s help, suggests hope. The progress of knowledge in 2018 reinforces this hope, in spite of the rising complexity of today’s issues. The next blog will examine how we as educators can contribute.

Sascha_NICKAuthor: Sascha Nick, BSL Professor

A successful entrepreneur: our alumnus Lorenzo Wiskerke

Lorenzo WiskerkeLorenzo Wiskerke completed his BBA at Business School Lausanne in 2006 and his MBA one year later. His sister Chayenne also did her BBA at BSL in 2010, and then joined Columbia University in New York to obtain her Master’s degree.

Lorenzo and Chayenne are members of a well-known family in the Netherlands, active in the onions’ business since 1933. The company was founded by Jacob Wiskerke, their great-grandfather, and is currently run by Chayenne.

An entrepreneurial spirit is obviously in the DNA of this family.

When Lorenzo was studying at BSL and his wife Loris Vitry-Trapman at Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, they identified a gap in Switzerland’s food supply: high quality, fresh fish at an affordable price.

That is the reason why, in 2012, Lorenzo started his own company Royal Fish: http://www.royalfish.ch/pages/fr/accueil.php

At the beginning, the company, based in Aclens (VD), imported fish directly from Dutch fishers, but now it also has suppliers in France, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Italy and Spain, each one specialized in one kind of fish.

The big asset of Royal Fish is the supply chain they were able to put in place. Just in time is the characteristic of it, guaranteeing the freshness of this highly perishable product. Concretely, the fish is delivered six times a week from Monday to Saturday, and customers can order fish until 5 p.m. for the next day!

The company mainly works with restaurants, hospitals, schools and catering companies such as Eldora.

It is rapidly growing (30 % annual growth rate last year), and currently employs eight people. It expects a turnover of 5’000’000 Swiss Francs for 2018.

If you want to hear Lorenzo talking about his studies at BSL and about this endeavor, you can use the following link:

https://soundcloud.com/business-school-lausanne/voices-of-bsl-podcast-lorenzo

BSL is particularly pride to count such successful entrepreneurs among its alumni.

Congratulations to Lorenzo and his wife, and our best wishes for a bright future!

Author: Philippe Du Pasquier, President of the Board

An exotic Internship between BSL & Sumba Hospitality Foundation

In 2017, Business School Lausanne (BSL) and Sumba Hospitality Foundation (SHF) in Indonesia co-created an Internship program tailor-made for BSL students called Sustainable Development Internship.

You may wonder, what is Sumba? And what do they do? So, let us share a brief presentation of this Foundation. SHF offers a vocational training in hospitality for Sumbanese underprivileged youth. The holistic education program provides students with general courses and enables them to graduate in Culinary, Food & Beverage Service, Housekeeping or Front office. To allow the students to apply and train their skills, SHF has opened ten luxury guest pavilions, a SPA as well as a restaurant & bar to the public. Education, environmental awareness and sustainability are the three most important principles of the foundation. It is in the belief of the foundation that tourism can be a positive force in poverty-stricken regions particularly when its community is involved in the process. The goal of the foundation is to assist in providing viable employment to Sumba’s young inhabitants and break the cycle of poverty while also protecting the environment and their culture.

A large part of the campus is dedicated to the growth and maintenance of a sustainable, organic farm, created with the precepts of the burgeoning field of permaculture in mind. Produce from the land are used in the restaurant and the students are taught current farming methods with guidelines to better cultivate their land. SHF aims to raise the students’ awareness of their environment. The school is powered entirely by solar energy allowing SHF to be completely off the grid and re-uses wastewater for irrigation.

One of our BSL students on Sumba Island, Morgan Manin, is doing his internship as part of his Capstone Project (Master of International Business); I took the opportunity to ask him via email for a preliminary description of his internship, to share with our community.

BSL internship

“Reading about SHF on the website and social media made me choose it to do my internship, as my values match perfectly with the foundation’s values and I believe that I will be learning a lot during my Sustainable Development Internship. After the first week, I have identified areas where I could be helpful and learn, which I can summarize with three main tasks and responsibilities. The first one is to analyze the financials at SHF and therefore create a budget for each department meaning the actual school, the administration, the hotel, sustainability and the F&B, including an indication of Capex by departments. I will also guide the SHF finance team towards greater transparency and define cost improvement initiatives.

The second main responsibility I have is to create a Triple Bottom Line Reporting (TBL). TBL is a progressive mode of reporting and seems suited to the SHF. Sustainability centric practices are deeply entrenched in the DNA of the SHF business model. Environmental and social responsibility sit at the core of daily practices and this alongside the true cost of these operationalized initiatives must be reported. I will then gather information to facilitate understanding around the social, environmental and economic practices of SHF. I will conduct research into TBL, using these understandings and research knowledge, with the aim to create a presentation that highlights sound reasoning and justifies or rejects TBL as a means of reporting at SHF. If TBL is found to be preferred mode of reporting, the presentation will include a step-by-step guide detailing a prescribed pathway toward the implementation of TBL reporting at SHF, and then create the strategy that details how to implement TBL as the reporting mechanism for SHF. In the event that SHF management decides to implement TBL as their primary mode of reporting, I will then begin the process of implementation.

To finish, I will be the IT ‘go-to’ person for the team, helping everyone out on Excel, Word, etc.

I will also consider improved ways of using IT for communication for the SHF team.

Before I arrived here, it was planned that I would have to formulate a business plan to be shared with others wanting to duplicate the model of the SHF. I will, therefore, formulate a business plan, constructed in such a way that it has the capacity to facilitate like-minded operators wanting to duplicate the SHF model.

In addition to my primary tasks and responsibilities, I will have ad-hoc tasks set by the Executive Director, I will take care of the students during their study hours and exams as well as shepherding them at night and being in charge of sport activities for the students; also, I will monitor Community English classes for young Sumbanese children living in the neighborhood.

I strongly believe that I will learn so much through this experience, being in a different environment, living in this community, having multiple tasks matching with what I have learned at BSL, and matching the BSL values”.

Morgan, we are all proud of you, we wish you a great experience and let’s see if we can come visit you at some point on that amazing island!

Dani-Linkedin-300x300Author: Daniele Ticli, BSL Head of Careers and External Affairs

Five steps to make Company Value Statements work

A friend of mine said recently to me:

“I never understood why companies publish value statements. I cannot imagine that this has any effect.”

If I look at many corporate values statements I have to admit that he is right: empty word bubbles on glossy paper, that present an organization that does not exist in reality. Cliché values like teamwork and integrity are overused and are not get specified what they really mean for that given company. In consequence values statements like this cannot create any emotional appeal. And finally, very often nothing happens in the company after the value statement is published. It stays a dead piece of paper with no link to real-life behavior.

What a pity! What a waste of time and energy! I think this situation can be explained by the fact that companies tend to underestimate the complexity of managing values in a credible way and overestimate the power of publishing policies and written statements.

There are tons of studies that show that companies with a strong values-based culture are more successful because connecting your people to a purpose that goes beyond the profit motive is extremely powerful and motivating. Humans want to be part of something that is bigger than themselves, where they can have impact, appreciation and pursue common positive goals. Values can be like wings that lift us to do amazing things together.

So what do you need to do to avoid the 4 apocalyptic riders of bad value statements?

The 4 apocalyptic  riders of value statements:

  • Too general
  • Not authentic
  • No emotional appeal
  • No link to behavior

1. Make values specific to your company

The first step towards a values statement that works is putting extra effort into the choice and wording of values in order to develop values that are specific for the respective company.

Instead of simply picking the usual suspects of over-used values like the above (excellence, integrity, and communication) or the equally commonplace client orientation, teamwork or trust, you need to find out what really defines the culture of your organization. Choosing client orientation, teamwork and trust is the lazy way out. Nobody can be against them. All companies need client orientation, teamwork, and trust because without them they would soon be out of business.

You need to do some more heavy thinking and find out how exactly e.g. do you serve your customers. How do you do it differently than your competition? What is unique about a clients’ experience with you?

A good example of specific values comes from Ikea. Their values are: Humbleness and willpower, leadership by example, daring to be different, togetherness and enthusiasm, cost consciousness, constant desire for renewal and accept and delegate responsibility. They have defined values that really fit their culture and could not be used by almost any other company.

2. Only authentic values are credible

The second step towards good value statements is ensuring that they are authentic. This is best achieved by developing them in a combination of a top-down and bottom-up approach. This helps to avoid the common pitfall of coming up with a list of unauthentic and unrealistic values that reflect the wishful thinking of top- management. In fact, it is often hard for the people at the top to know what the culture and climate of the rest of the company look like. In general things tend to look rosier from the top.

Does that mean you should start with a couple of employee focus groups to come up with your new company values? That depends on your situation and your corporate culture. The danger of starting with a bottom-up development is the fact that you create expectations with coworkers that might get disappointed by the top management.

When I work with clients on value statements I usually like to start with a first input from the top management that is then specified and modified by a series of bottom-up workshops. In these workshops, we discuss questions like:

“What do this values really mean to us?”

“Could we do without this value?”

“What are positive stories about this value?”

“What do we still need to do to realize this value?”

With the material from these workshops, it is much easier to come up with a first draft for a value statement that is both authentic and specific. In addition, you gain employee buy-in from the very beginning.

3. Aim for the hearts

The third step toward good and credible value statements is making them emotionally appealing. The Bavarian Bank Sparda is a thought-provoking example of how to do this in a courageous and unusual way. Unlike most companies, they did not initiate their values management process with a top-down process but with a focus on the individual coworker. The banks visionary and charismatic CEO, Helmut Lind, Sparda wanted to change the bank by shifting everybody’s attention to the strengths of every coworker.

On a voluntary basis, coworkers filled out an online questionnaire and participated in workshops that helped them identify their natural talents. This created an enormous emotional traction, credibility, and trust because suddenly the men and women in the bank felt seen in their own special characteristical strengths. A deep desire that every human has. It also became much easier to appreciate diversity, because the value of difference was made transparent in the workshops.

I am deeply impressed by this approach that really starts with the people in the company. On the basis of this appreciative process that emphasized the different strength of coworkers the next step was to look for agreement and unity: What should be the values that we all could agree to for our company?

Helmut Lind had the courage to give up his leadership control and put his trust into the collective intelligence of his people by giving them all a say in the development of the banks value statement. The fact that an amazing number of 74% of all coworkers volunteered to participate in the process, shows the high level of engagement the strength-focus process had created.

The values that were the result of this process were robust, credible and emotionally appealing. They were strong enough to enable the bank to decide not to invest in e.g. in risky speculations into currencies or food because it contradicted their value of justice and sustainability. A contested strategy before the financial crises of 2008, a wise decision afterward. And while the banking sector, in general, did not do very well after 2008, Sparda Bank continued to be successful.

4. Link values to behavior

The fourth step towards a successful value statement is making a systematical and constant link to behavior and the management’s relentlessly communication about the values.  We find a positive example of the constant implementation and communication of company values at the hotel chain Ritz-Carlton.
Their 12 service values all start with “I” which expresses personal responsibility and they are all very action oriented and specific for the hospitality business:

Service Values: I Am Proud To Be Ritz-Carlton

  1. I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life.
  2. I am always responsive to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.
  3. I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests.
  4. I understand my role in achieving the Key Success Factors, embracing Community Footprints and creating The Ritz-Carlton Mystique.
  5. I continuously seek opportunities to innovate and improve The Ritz-Carlton experience.
  6. I own and immediately resolve guest problems.
  7. I create a work environment of teamwork and lateral service so that the needs of our guests and each other are met.
  8. I have the opportunity to continuously learn and grow.
  9. I am involved in the planning of the work that affects me.
  10. I am proud of my professional appearance, language and behavior.
  11. I protect the privacy and security of our guests, my fellow employees and the company’s confidential information and assets.
  12. I am responsible for uncompromising levels of cleanliness and creating a safe and accident-free environment.

Source: http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/about/gold-standards

But their implementation and communication effort does not stop here: already when recruiting new employees the values fit is tested. Once hired every new employee gets trained on these values for two days and has to present them by heart in front of their colleagues. In order to integrate the service values in the day-to-day work every morning in every Ritz-Carlton Hotel around the world, a 15-minute work meeting takes place: the round-up. During this meeting the priorities of the day get communicated, the service values get discussed and positive “wow” stories of exceptional examples of customer service are shared. This is the Ritz-Carlton way of using the emotional power of storytelling.

They also go one important step further: They empower their employees to deliver great service by granting every employee a discretionary spending of $2,000 (per incident) to satisfy a customer.

Sounds a bit extreme? Maybe… But Ritz-Carlton seems to be very successful with this highly structured approach for creating a values-oriented corporate culture: Employee turnover is at a very low – 18% versus the industry average of 158%.

5. Leaders must relentlessly communicate and implement values

The fifth and final step towards an effective value statement is making everybody – and especially leaders – accountable for the consistent implementation and communication of values.  The main responsibility for making a values statement fly, lies with managers, of course.

An inspiring example comes again from the CEO of Sparda Bank, Helmut Lind (yes, I admit it, I am a fan….). Since one of the company values is mindfulness, he is giving mindfulness seminars to his coworkers on 24 days every year! A great example of how you can continuously show your coworkers that you are serious about your company values.

Unfortunately, often the leadership of a company comes up with some fancy words and then expect that somehow magically their coworkers will adopt these values and use them as a guideline for their behavior, while top managers hide in the shadow. This is a very efficient way to quickly lose coworkers buy-in into the company values.

Somehow leaders seem to forget too easily that they are under constant observation by their coworkers. If their coworkers do not see that their managers fully embrace the companies values, role-model them continuously, talk about them frequently and convincingly, everybody will forget about the values and follow the cues that the leaders’ actual behavior shows them.

As always also in value management actions speak louder than words. You cannot expect that your coworkers will embrace the value of reliability if you are e.g. notoriously late for meetings.

Furthermore, leaders need to step in if their coworkers disregard company values.  If one of your company values is “Appreciation” and you have a manager who constantly mistreats his coworkers you have to take action, even if this abusive manager happens to be economically successful or a friend of your boss. But holding others accountable for company values and role-modeling them should not only be done by managers but by everyone in the organization.

Summary

In conclusion, even though value statements at the first glance seem to belong in the soft, fluffy and everybody-knows-how-do-it category of management tools, they require in fact rigorous thinking, honest soul-searching, and consistent implementation and communication.

Everybody can come up with a list of nice sounding company values. But if a value statement is not specific to the companies culture, business model and strategy the value statement will not create positive effects like orientation and motivation for employees.

If value statements are not authentic, they will not be credible and create more harm than good. At best, they will be quickly forgotten.

If company values are not emotionally appealing they will not win peoples’ hearts – which actually is the core aim of a value statement.

If company values are not constantly communicated and linked to behavior, nobody will take them seriously.

If managers are not shining examples of living and enforcing the company values, nobody else will do so.

So, yes, you should absolutely have company values and if done correctly your company will profit enormously from such a process, but you have to know that you will open a Pandora’s box if you do not do it with care, conviction, and authenticity.

Related links:

https://culture-officer.fr/5332

https://www.userlike.com/de/blog/unternehmenswerte

https://rctom.hbs.org/submission/the-ritz-carlton-ladies-and-gentlemen-serving-ladies-and-gentlemen/

https://enorm-magazin.de/ein-banker-geht-aufs-ganze

https://www.ecogood.org/de/gemeinwohl-bilanz/unternehmen/portrats-sparda-bank-muenchen-eg/

Prof.-Bettina-PalazzoAuthor: Dr. Bettina Palazzo, BSL Professor

Learning Design for Millennials Measuring learning: are final exams relics of the past?

One of my father’s recurring nightmares is sitting a geometry exam. He has told me about it several times. I also have similar nightmares, very recently I dreamed the final exams period had started and I was not ready. Even when I woke up later, I could still feel the tension in my body! The gap between my father, myself and my students spans across four generations. I believe there are certain aspects of the educational system that have been taken as given for long, we neither question them nor try to change them. Final exams are one of them. “The thought of a final exam still gives me and my father nightmares, and I have not seen many students who are fond of the idea, neither have I seen a teacher who is keen on correcting exam papers, so how come they are still around?” I thought to myself a few years ago. I had always been reflecting on the effectiveness of final exams as a means of evaluation and finally decided not to give final exams anymore in the courses I teach. “But, how do you manage to measure learning and grade the students?” you may wonder.

I will give you a very recent example. This fall, I taught a course on Systems Thinking at Business School Lausanne, where the students did not have to take a final exam. Instead, they collectively created a blog that summarized and synthesized the most important lessons they had learned from taking the course. You can find their blog here https://bit.ly/2K0KRen.

BSL students

40% of the students’ grade came from the work they did on the blog and every single one of them received the maximum grade here. I will now outline here why I was convinced they all deserved it.

They spent much more time on creating the blog than they would have spent on preparing for the final exam. I asked them to create an activity log that captured what everyone did and how much time they spent doing it. As this was a publicly shared document and everyone including myself had access to it, there was no chance of free riding. The moment someone claimed they have completed a task, but was, in fact, incomplete or was done by someone else, others would have reacted to it. Towards the end of their work, we collectively decided it would not be necessary to keep track of activities as everyone thought the contributions were equal.

A friend of mine who was part of a rowing team, once told me that a competition was approaching and her team had to prepare for it. The team met at 5 a.m. every other day for six months. “There was no way to stay in bed and ignore the alarm. My other seven team members would be there waiting for me,” she said. Perhaps, this was something every member of the team was thinking and it was difficult for all of them to get up regularly at that early hour for such a long time, but the team spirit made them get up on those mornings and put in that effort. She later said that they won the championship that year and she regarded this as one of her best experiences. A similar situation happened in the case of my young bloggers. Almost all my 17 students met outside class hours, sometimes on days, they did not have any courses at Business School. They did not want to disappoint their friends. They all managed to put in the effort. At the end of the day, some ended up doing more than others, but those who did less did much more than they would have otherwise done, had they been faced with a final exam.

Teaching is the best way to learn. I made it clear that the blog should be written for those who were completely new to systems thinking, with no technical background. Achieving this meant that learning the course content became a secondary challenge. As a guitar player, once I heard a valuable advice that if I am not able to play a part, I should try playing something that is a bit more complicated, even if I keep on failing at it. After a while when I go back to the original challenge, much to my surprise, it is not a challenge anymore. The same thing happened with my students. There are so many ways that the way they presented the content in their blog can be improved, but here the blog was not an end, it was a means, a transitional object, and a vehicle for learning the course materials.

In their journey to create the blog, they developed various soft skills, such as working in teams, writing, creating short tutorials, project management, etc. Based on my experience, I have realized that the best way of designing for learning soft skills is as a by-product and in an emergent way. Such skills are not best transferred in a direct and intentional fashion. They should emerge as a result of carrying out other tasks. In addition, my course was the first occasion for many of these students to meet. The blog they created provided an opportunity for them to get to know one another and made them closer as classmates. Their collective effort resulted in the creation of cohesion among them as a class. It made the whole class a very well-functioning, self-organizing team.

In retrospect, there was no better way I could have directed them towards learning and internalizing systems thinking concepts than having them create the blog. There were a few technicalities involved in how this happened.
– I gave them the choice between creating the blog and doing the final exam. I could clearly see that anything that exempts them from doing the final exam would be a joy for them. In other words, in their view, nothing can be worse than a final exam and avoiding final exam served as a good incentive for them to create the blog.
– I told them that we can skip the final exam only if they do a great job with the blog. I even told them that their work will be evaluated by how many readers they can attract to the blog.
– I followed their progress on a continuous basis, tracked the changes they made and met with them outside course hours to give them feedback to improve their work. I wanted them to feel that what they are doing is important to me.
– Another acceptance condition I put forth was that everyone should know all the contents of the blogs since it would not make sense if an author is not aware of the contents of what he/she has created.

My final question for all learners and learning designers: are final exams relics of the past? What other components of the current educational system can be replaced, modified or improved?

Stay tuned for the next blogs in this series and Keep on Learning!

Learning Design for Millennials is a blog series capturing Arash’s experience as a learner and an educator.

Profile Pic_ArashAuthor: Dr. Arash Golnam, BSL Professor

 

Four Reasons why Corporate Value Statements don’t work

« Excellence », « integrity » and « communication » These seem to be the most popular buzzwords in corporate value statements.

I roll my eyes as soon as I see these values anywhere. Why? I will give you four reasons why they make me nervous:

1. One size does not fit all

First of all, values like excellence, integrity, and communication are way too generic. They could be adopted by any organization. Who would be against excellence, integrity, and communication? But are they really specific for the company and its culture or business model? Probably not! Excellence can mean many things to different people. It certainly makes a difference what we mean by excellence whether you are working in a bank or a hospital.
Integrity? It means that you always stick to your moral principles no matter what the benefit might be if you break the rules. This value, too, needs a lot of definition and soul searching before a group of people like a company can agree what it really means to them: When is a gift a bribe? How do we deal with confidential information?  Can I be friends with a supplier? Etc.

Pic Blog Corporate Values prt1 Yes, way too often value statement are empty word bubbles! Please avoid that. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash 

 

2. The true colors are always shining through

Second, often companies succumb to the temptation to choose values that sound appealing but are too far away from their corporate reality and somehow hoping that the simple act of proclaiming that value it will become a reality in the organization. For example, when companies put “communication” in their value chart they wish to express with this value, which is not even a value but an activity, that they want everyone in the organization to cooperate effectively and openly with as little political power play as possible. Wishful thinking in many cases!  Of course, the people in the company know this and react with cynicism.

You cannot declare that your company cherishes collaboration, open communication, and teamwork when in reality your corporate culture is driven by fierce internal competition, politics and monetary incentives only. What we need is an inside-out approach. You have to do your internal cultural homework before you go into the world and brag about what a wonderful company you think you are.

Values statement will never work, if they are only the icing on the cake, they have to be the very foundation of a corporate culture. Within the icing-on-the-cake approach, the top management comes together and agrees on some fancy sounding words that are then communicated to the lower ranks. This does not work. It is like putting on makeup without washing your face. Or like learning some moves and gestures to appear more self-assured without doing the hard internal work of personal development.

France Telecom had to learn this the hard way in 2008, when they got hit by a series of over 30 employee suicides: victims stabbed themselves in the middle of company meetings, jumped out of the window at work and left goodbye letters that clearly stated that they killed themselves because of the pressures and fears at work. At that time France Telecom was in a difficult transition from a state-owned company to a player in the highly competitive and dynamic international telcom market and could not fire employees with a public servant status. Therefore, CEO Didier Lombard had introduced a merciless shake-out project that aimed at demoralizing employees in order to make them leave the company “voluntarily”.  As a reaction to the suicide series, Lombard said that this “fashion” of suicide should stop and that the media coverage created an effect of contagion. The waves of public outrage went high, Lombard had to leave and is still today on trial for harassment. Of course, at the same time, France Telecom had a value statement that said that the well-being of their employees was very important to them.

It is clear that after a disaster like that it will be very, very hard to ever make coworkers believe in the beautiful words of a value statement again. This is one point that is often ignored when companies initiate a value management project: If you screw it up, credibility is lost for a very long time, if not forever. At the same time, it is true that values can and should be aspirational. You can use values as part of a change program. But if you do that you have to make clear that you know that you are not quite there yet and prove that you have measures like training, organizational redesign or new performance standards in place to get there.

3. No Emotional appeal

Third, if values are too generic and unrealistic they do not create any genuine emotional response or connection for the men and women in a company who know the true colors of their organization all too well.  Of course, client orientation is important, but this is not a value that would deeply resonate with the hearts of employees. This is nothing that makes people get out of bed in the morning and go to work with joy and anticipation.

How can you make corporate values emotionally appealing? Not easy, but it helps to always start with a motivating overall purpose of the company that goes beyond the profit motive. Humans always yearn for meaning in their life. As philosopher and Holocaust survivor Viktor Fraenkel famously put it: “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

This human desire for meaning is nicely illustrated by Harish Manwani’s (COO of Unilever) TED talk in which he tells the story of his first day at the company where his boss asked him why he was there. Manwani answered: “To sell lots of soap!” and his boss said: “No, to change peoples lives!”, because the original purpose of Unilever was to improve hygiene in order to help prevent contagious diseases. Clearly changing peoples lives is more emotionally appealing than selling lots of soap, right?

4. No link to everyday behavior

Forth, very often values statements are not linked to behavior. They get developed, glossy brochures rolled out, employees (maybe) read them, laugh bitterly because they are so unrealistic and cheesy and then they forget them because nothing happens that would link these values with the behavior of managers and employees. The mere proclamation of value buzz words will never, never, never influence people’s behavior. How people in an organization actually behave is the ultimate proof to the value pudding. Without this link to behavior, a value statement loses all credibility and disappoints all expectations that unavoidably come up when a company opens the value Pandora’s box.

And by the way, these three values, excellence, integrity, and communication were the corporate values of Enron. And we all know how this ended: In jail, bankruptcy, and shattered hopes. Somehow Enron had managed to win prizes for their value statement, but it definitely did not keep their top management from cooking the books and inciting their employees to cut-throat business behavior with the help of an inhumane incentive system.

In a nutshell, ever so often value statements do not go beyond orgies of humanistic prose in shiny brochures that nobody can take seriously. In extreme cases, they are a more or less random collection of buzzwords sound like this hilarious song by Weird Al: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyV_UG60dD4

On the other side, of course, values are important for companies in our highly volatile, complex and ambiguous times. Old-school management that works with order and command is too rigid for this new fast-moving world. The younger generation of corporate coworkers is looking for more freedom, more fun, more autonomy and more purpose in their jobs. Here a corporate culture that is driven by values and a purpose that goes beyond simple profit maximization creates a positive appeal for future coworkers, higher levels of motivation with current coworkers and a more inspiring and more flexible way of decision making. Ideally, instead of applying rigid rulebooks, controls and processes, coworkers decide on the basis of common values.

So how can you come up with a value statement that will actually have these positive effects instead of creating cynicism and ridicule?

Stay tuned for my next blog post and on the five steps to make the value statements work.

Prof.-Bettina-PalazzoAuthor: Dr. Bettina Palazzo, BSL Professor