This week saw Gary Walker, Former Lincolnshire NHS Chief Exec. do what many would say was 'right', over what was culturally conditioned when he became a whistle blower exposing NHS gagging policies. Specifically the one he chose to break forbidding him from publicly discussing the conditions surrounding his departure / removal from his post.
Broadly speaking, when Mr. Walker raised concerns over the behaviours that would be required if arbitrary targets set by the Department for Health were to be achieved, rather than being heard, he was dismissed.
In the days that followed this revelation, we heard various voices, including Health Secretary 'Jeremy Hunt' talk about 'Culture' and 'Culture Change' in various places including the Today Program.
The most refreshing aspect of the dialogue was hearing the health secretary declare the term 'Culture change' as overused. I would go further and say it is also incredibly misunderstood.
It took the best part of 10yrs studying psychology, philosophy & the latest advances in neuroscience to come up with a definition of culture I was content with. Broadly speaking it goes "The shared and transient values, beliefs and attitudes of a group of people".
The key word is 'Belief' in that definition. i.e. Belief is a catch-all term used to describe the neural construct generated through Bio-Survival, Emo-Territorial, Semantic and Socio-sexual imprinting phases caused by our respective EEE (Emotional Environmental Experience).
What those in power and in the media still consistently fail to acknowledge whenever faced with one of these situations is that behaviours are a by-product of our fundamental beliefs..... and typically what our EEE determines to be our belief in what is 'Good'.
What is defined as good relative to our belief becomes our values, which in turn inform and influence our emotional reactions to variable conditions and thus our attitudes. It is upon this base, provided from our first breath and throughout life, that our reactions are determined.
When our 'leaders' set targets, they systematically fail to consider these depths, yet loosely discuss 'culture change' as if this definition is understood or considered. In so doing they fail to understand or truly address change, as they fail to address the generation and perpetuation of beliefs.
Where the targets set are relative to fiscal considerations, due to our belief in what is 'Good' from a 'business' point of view, i.e. what is profitable, we often and regularly create conditions that undermine people and thus, organisational performance.
The pressure to conform to what is popularly accepted as 'good', especially by those in positions of power is significant. It is for this reason Gary Walker needs to be respected for publicly saying that target driven behaviours are not conducive to the outcomes required in practice.
This disconnect between fiscal performance in the form of targets and the actual outcomes realised in practice is a result of our beliefs in the perpetual growth required by our Keynesian economic model.
As Sir David Attenborough said in his RSA address recently, perpetual growth on a physically finite planet only makes sense to madmen and economists, yet it pervades the mindset of our entire existence from our earliest exposure to life seeing targets damage education, business and ultimately society.
We are pre-conditioned to believe in economic growth .... this 'belief' is at root of our culture, making the only real way to realise 'culture change', to change the root cause of such beliefs ... i.e. to ensure our politicians, public and private sector leaders challenge the principle of 'Keynesian Economics' as it impacts the values,beliefs and attitudes of people.
It is profitable performance for growth as a neurological construct that sits behind the actions reported by Gary Walker, that sits behind Libor fixing and other performance targets that ultimately lead to failure.
We will continue to see and hear the term culture change used without depth or understanding and continue to see misplaced targets lead to large scale performance failures until we alter our belief in what is 'good' and change our economic principles from those of growth to one of sustainability.
I suspect we won't see this filter out into the general public or into the approach taken by leadership until a deeper understanding of Psychology and neuroscience filters into the national curriculum and thus into the mindsets of all.
For now, all we can say is 'Well done Mr Walker'.