The term ‘Values’ often features in organisational marketing and company reporting literature but its use is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. This is that values are always expressed as if they are positive whereas they are, in themselves, actually neutral and should be considered in a more active way as what we are valuing. Examples of typical values, often seen declared inside organisations, include:
- Maximising Customer Care and/or Satisfaction
- Service Quality
On the other hand, we don’t usually see words like:
appearing very often, even though it’s evident that some corporate behaviour is driven by one or more of these criteria!
When organisations run team days to agree the values of the business they inevitably produce a list of aspirational criteria. In other words, the values that they would like to appear to have at the core of their activities. Most then go on to describe the specific behaviours that would demonstrate that someone is meeting the required standard in their performance management and appraisal systems. The key element that is missing from these types of process is a realisation and acceptance that there is a set of values already in operation (usually described as “the culture”) which will be generating the behaviours currently experienced, and the consequent results (especially those that are considered to be counter-productive in some way)
The reason for this is quite simple: Even though they might deny it if challenged, there will be some (often unconscious) benefit being gained from doing what they do: otherwise they would be doing something different. This can be quite difficult for leaders to identify and influence but, if handled successfully, will make a fundamental difference in raising morale and maximising performance.
Values can be defined in a number of ways. They are…
- What’s important to us
- What we drive towards or move away from
- What we’re prepared to invest time, energy, money and other resources in to achieve … or to avoid.
As you’ll see immediately, these definitions avoid a judgment about their positive or negative connotations and are very much linked to both individual and group motivation strategies. Ultimately, values determine what actions we take in a particular situation: so observable behaviours provide massive clues to the underlying values that drive them.
The first step in increasing your confidence in identifying and utilising values is to recognize the profound difference between Espoused Values and Values in Action. This distinction was described by Chris Argyris and Donald Schön back in 1974 when they proposed that our actions are driven by internal mental maps that are usually outside of our conscious awareness. In simple terms …
- Espoused Values are what we say are important to us
- Values in Action (sometimes known as Values in Operation) are those values that must be in place to explain what we actually do.
In other words, Espoused Values are what we would like to think are the values we operate by – but Values in Action are the real ones that drive us (and the evidence for this is in our real, observable, behaviour).
The opportunity for significant and sustainable change starts with understanding that unless the individual or team gets at least the same advantage from the adoption of the new behaviour or attitude, they will continue to act in the old way, even though they may suffer apparently negative consequences. Our proposed method is simple in concept but does require skill, and often some courage, in implementing the steps:
- Identify the specific unwanted behaviour or attitude.
- Ask yourself “What value or values must be in operation to cause this attitude and/or behaviour to be the current (default) course of action for this individual or team?” The answer will often be things like power, control, risk avoidance, comfort and self-protection.
- Once these values are identified, consider how you can enable that person or group to get at least that same level of satisfaction, but without the need to display the current approach?
The test for a successful outcome from this process is that the new behaviour is adopted and becomes “normal”.
Evolving Values Systems
Understanding how certain people and organisations come to do what they do is central to increasing personal authenticity, influence and impact. The most comprehensive and practical model that we have yet seen that helps develop confidence and skill in this area was developed over many years by Dr Clare Graves (1914-1986).