Friday, August 16, 2013

Some Reflections on Values

Here's a short quiz: Match the company to its corporate values:
  • Companies: IBM, Toyota, Enron
  • Values:
    • A. Communication, Respect, Integrity, Excellence
    • B. Challenge, Continuous Improvement, Go and See, Respect, Teamwork
    • C. Client success, Meaningful Innovation, Trust and personal responsibility
[Answers are at the bottom of the post.]

At first blush they all sound pretty good.  After all, who doesn't love a manifesto, motherhood statements, and apple pie?

Systems of Values

In exploring examples of systems of values one might also examine
  • Religious creeds: the 10 commandments, the Golden Rule, etc.
  • Practical philosophies: the Agile manifesto, Scrum values, XP values
  • Insights: e.g. Seligman on Happiness
  • Your child's school's values
  • Your personal values
It seems to me that value statements present us with at least three challenges:
  1. Explicit values vs tacit values
  2. The sheer quantity of possible values
  3. What to do in the presence of conflicting values

1. Explicit vs tacit values

The war between appearance and substance, perception and reality is ongoing.  At their best explicit values can capture and promote positive ends by conserving what is good and guiding aspirations to do better.  At their worst explicit values devolve to propaganda, or as we say nowadays "spin".

Actions speak louder than words: An interesting exercise is matching actions to explicit values and taking the leftovers and framing tacit values that they match.

2. So many values ...

Consider needs:

In the face of so many possible and overlapping values consider starting with a lists of needs and selecting a small number that are personally relevant and reasonably independent.  The aforementioned needs have the following headings: connection, physical well-being, honesty, play, peace, autonomy, meaning.  The journey from a need to an espoused value is from necessity or desire to intended action.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs -- in ascending order: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, self-actualization -- is another categorization worth examining.

Self-Determination Theory identifies Competence, Relatedness and Autonomy as key.  Dan Pink subs in Purpose for Relatedness and rebrands Competence to claim Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose as the keys to intrinsic motivation.

Some other interesting examples:

Tim Gallwey and co. explore the relationships between Performance, Learning and Enjoyment -- the vertices of the "PLE triangle" -- in The Inner Game of Stress. Organizations typically obsess over Performance (the obvious, outward objective) over the other two (internal, enabling objectives).  If performance is poor (or feels empty), try focussing on learning and/or enjoyment for a while. Performance may well improve as a consequence.

At Kaizen camp Melbourne 2013 Ian MacDonald's System Leadership Theory was touched on.  In MacDonald's schema: trust, fairness, honesty, dignity, courage, and love are identified as core values that manifest in different ways depending on the work culture of an organization.

Mix and match
I've identified some categories that I find useful for comparing systems of values:
  • Ethics: Without ethics, who are we?
  • Purpose: What am I trying to achieve?  Why does the organization exist?  What distinguishes it? 
  • Performance: How am I /we doing?  Can we survive?  Can we excel?
  • Learning: How do we improve and get better, especially in the face of threat and/or competition?
  • Safety and enjoyment: Without safety, enjoyment, connection and fulfilment it will be difficult to thrive and survive long-term. [Oft-stated, sadly oft-ignored.] 
If an organization doesn't value all of these in some shape or form, that's going to leave a significant weakness.

3. Values Conflicts

Values Conflicts were the main subject of discussion in the values session at Kaizen Camp.  Discussion of examples suggested that values-conflicts may be over-diagnosed and clashes of competing self-interest under-diagnosed.

Nevertheless, the following commandments ;-) were suggested as guides to dealing with values conflicts:
  1. Thou shalt not prostitute your values.
  2. Thou shalt not retreat into learned helplessness.
  3. Thou shalt understand alternative points of view.
  4. Thou shalt understand operational imperatives.
  5. In a difficult situation, thou shalt look for ways to achieve the deeper aim, while honouring your values.
  6. Thou shalt not set up systems that reinforce bad behaviour.
The first five commandments boil down to understanding and sticking to your own values, while striving to understand other perspectives and systemic factors, and employing creativity to find win-wins. The last item is preventative.

The Value of Values

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.

― Gandhi
Quiz answer key: A = Enron, B = Toyota, C = IBM

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