Raising the standard

May 10, 2017

 

How do you raise the bar?  Regulators, governments, the press and the people are expecting higher standards of those in positions of authority and power, both in government and in business.

 

Arguably they are demanding the same standards they always have, and it’s just that poor adherence to these standards has been exposed and associated institutions and sectors have lost the trust of those they serve. Alternatively, it can be argued that the standards themselves were not correctly codified and applied. Either way, we can all recognise the desire to ask for better from those who hold sway over us as individuals and society

 

At the heart there are two basic aspects to raising standards – the capacity to act to a required level in both technical and behavioural spheres.

 

The easiest of these are the technical standards. While the application of technical skills may sometimes be hard due to their complexity, conceptualising a common route to recognising how technical tasks are achieved is easier to do. We have built professional bodies who accredit individuals to an appropriate level of competence, organisations are subject to processes and rules which mean tasks have to be accomplished in a certain way, sectors create common approaches to getting the job done. We enhance our technical capacity by learning, training and practicing – and by all learning to a similar template.

 

The behavioural sphere, encompassing cultural, ethical and moral actions – these are seen as being harder.  Surely there is too much diversity, too much humanity, to be able to create and enhance behavioural standards in a systemised way?

 

Or maybe if we spent as much time thinking about developing behavioural skills as we do technical ones, would we recognise that there is as much potential to create a common standard, which can then be continually improved? This is what we have done with technical skills – surely the same principles of learning, training and practicing can apply here?

 

One institution which demands high behavioural and ethical standards is the British Army.  The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst is held up as the one of the pillars of the moral compass of the British Army.  It teaches people to “do the right thing on a difficult day”.

 

The core of RMAS is understanding what is expected of you both technically and morally, and remarkably in a year-long Officer training programme 10 weeks are spent on technical aspects (running, jumping, shooting) and the remaining 42 are spent on behaviours (leadership, critical thinking, decision making). They have recognised where the weaknesses lie – and it’s not in the “what” of Officer’s roles, it’s in the “how” and the “why”.

 

RMAS accomplishers this through training, scenarios, challenges – the usual toolkit of education and development – but underpinning all of this is an understanding that behaviours should never slip: to properly embed a way of being and doing, that behaviour applies everywhere, and they have found a way to inculcate this in a diverse environment.

 

So, acknowledging that we can develop behavioural skills and competencies, how do we translate these into standards which raise up commercial and public activity?

 

Regulations are one route into this – the shift from rules-based to conduct-based regulation in the financial services sector in many parts of the world has seen an effort to moderate common behaviours across the industry. Some high profile actions, such as the loss of licence to operate in London for one individual who had consistently avoided train fares, reflect some of the perspective demonstrated at Sandhurst.

 

But top down change is only one aspect – it needs to be met with a grassroots shift led by those who are perceived as needing to improve their standards. Returning to the financial services industry, the imperative is for firms and individuals to demonstrate their trustworthiness through actively committing to investing in the behaviours, ethics and moral choices which their customers are looking for.

 

In time, these can become professional standards which are codified and translated into certified accomplishments, but to start it requires individual firms to recognise that more is needed and to build a competitive advantage through demonstrating their own ambition to raise standards though genuine implementation of ways of thinking, doing and behaving which reflect “doing the right thing on a difficult day.”

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