Monday, October 22, 2012

Values as ‘crap acronyms’?

I was on a conference panel last week, when someone flaunted their ‘values’ approach to training. Now whenever values and training collide inside the ‘round and round the table’ Hadron collider of HR, the net result is usually a ‘crap acronym’.
Bacronyms: values created to fit word
Chances are that some wag in HR or training has shoehorned some abstract nouns into a word that sounds vaguely positive, completely losing sight of the original intention. Are they telling me that their values ‘just happened to fall into this acronym’? Actually, what happens is that at least some of the values emerge from the acronym.
How about this for banality from a Cheshire voluntary group: FLUID: Freedom 2 Love Ur Identity. Or another real example of a crap acronym: VALUE: This HR person went online as she could only think of Value Added….. and wanted others to fill it out! They did, and she was delighted with, Value Added Local, User friendly Experience. What a load of guff. When values are created to fit a word you want to say – shove your course….
Using middle, lower case letter in acronym
PEOPLE: Positive Spirit and Fun, HonEsty and Integrity, Opportunties Based on Merit, Putting the Team first, Lasting value for Clients and People, Excellence through Professionlism. One overlong, impossible to remember acronym with eleven nouns, and I love the way they have to use the ‘E’ in the middle of HonEsty to make it work! This, by the way, is from an HR consultancy.
AAAA (Association Against Acronym Abuse)
It’s not that I don’t like acronyms (Abbreviated Coded Rendition Of Name Yielding Meaning). They’re great as memorable cues. For example, I rather like ABC (Airways, Breathing, Circulation) in first aid and the customer care acronym GREAT, as an aide memoire, where five simple things can be recalled on the job:
Greet all customers & make them feel comfortable
Respect cultural & other personal differences
Evaluate how your customers want to be served
Adjust your approach to match your customer's needs
Thank your customers for their business.
I also have a soft spot for funny acronyms, such as ALITALIA (Airplane Lands In Turin And Luggage In Ancona), BAAPS (British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeon) unbelievably a real organisation and DIMWIT (Don't Interrupt Me While I'm Talking).
…it’s just that I’m a fully paid up member of AAAA, the Association Against Acronym Abuse.
This type of ‘affective’ training is delivered by sincere people who don’t know the slightest thing about how people learn, so we get poor presentation-driven pedagogy. Values need to be believed and felt emotionally. You need pretty sophisticated experiential training, through scenarios or fist-person-thinker simulations to do this well. It can be done and one of the best I’ve seen was for Apple, which was seriously scenario-led.
Injecting values into an organisation is hard and most often fails. It failed in the banks (catastrophically), it failed with politicians (expenses, morals, snobbery etc.), it failed in journalism (watch Levinson). I have a confession, I’ve delivered a fair number of these programmes into banks and similar organisations. They’re always the same, some fatuous acronym and values that stand no chance of widespread adoption through training. Why? You can’t teach values from a flipchart of PowerPoint. The acronym is usually a flipchart and PowerPoint gimmick. A list of abstract nouns is not a list of values. People see through the artificiality of this stuff as it doesn’t relate to them personally.


Charles Jennings said...

Excellent post, Donald.

I have no idea how you 'train' values in organisations other than by helping people 'feel and live' them.

On the funny acronyms (Australian, of course), one of the best value-based organisations I've ever known was B.U.G.A.-U.P.(Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions) - a movement focused on'culture jamming' and 'subvertising' the tobacco and alcohol industries

GinaFred said...

Very much enjoyed your post.

I am involved currently in a project with an unfortunate acronym: Curriculum Review for Academics Project. I used that phrase in an initial discussion and was somewhat chagrined (but mostly amused) when I later saw it on a presentation.

Where can we join the AAAA?

Unknown said...

Thanks for your post, I enjoyed it a lot.

ALITALIA? I always thought it stands for Always Late In Takeoff, Always Late In Arrival ;-)

mvallance1234 said...

How about
Centre for Research And Pedagogy!

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