Ranting on values

My good friend Tony Goodson is in rant mode. I love it when he does this, it always gets me thinking. He’s having a go at values statements.

I am sick of corporates (and anyone else for the at matter) coming out with a set of Values. This values thing will be gone in 10 years time just another passing fad. It took me a bit of time with this, to see that Emperor has no clothes, but that’s exactly what it is. Almost every large corporate, good or evil, has a set of Values on its website, which just goes to show how useless values are.

Let’s get real here. Individual people have values. That’s about all you can say on values. Even the individual with values doesn’t for most of the time use those values much. We are creatures of habit and expediency, so when I get up in the morning, I don’t think to myself, “Ah yes, we’ll have a bit of Integrity today, Tony.” No, I go to the toilet, I scratch myself, I have a shower, and then breakfast.

We’re being led on this guilt trip by a lot of consultants telling us about values. And the best test of people who espouse these values, is to find out how much they live their values and adhere to what they preach. Interesting isn’t it that it seems most people who espouse “Values”, don’t usually practise what they preach.

I guess that most of us have become fairly cynical about mission statements and lists of values. Often they are just nice fantasies that don’t really correspond to reality.

On the other hand, I’ve been working with a client who lists their values and works with them and I’ve been impressed. I think what they get right is to think of their values as inspiration not legislation. They don’t specify exactly what the values mean, instead they offer employees a range of different people’s interpretations and get them to think of their own.

So they don’t instruct them on what, eg, trust means – instead they get them to think what it means to them. And then they encourage conversation about where they see it and where they don’t in the organisation. Instead of setting up a pious ideal, they set up a debate.

This is not a debate at the end of which someone produces definitive answers, it’s a continuing dialogue. The values become pegs for fierce conversations. Thus they have an impact – because the management have eased off on control and invested a bit of faith in their people. Do the values capture the essence of the organisation? No, that’s not the point. Do they support a culture in which positive values emerge – Yes, my own experience is that in this case they do. Done the other way, I think values statements are the sort of BS Tony nails in his blog.

2 thoughts on “Ranting on values

  1. Robert Paterson

    I do think that organizations do have values but not in the way that they are evolved in a two day consulting workshop where they pick who they would like to be.

    Another way of finding the values is to investigate how the organization actually behaves in practice – add this into the behaviour of the CEO and the executive team and you have a reasonably accurate sense of where you work and how things are done.

    In this case the real values would look quite different in most organizations from the aspired values – but at least they would reflect reality.

    Reply
  2. Johnnie Moore

    Robert: Yes, and I suspect that presented with a list of the “actual” values practised, the management might feel more motivated to change than if they hide behind an ideal! John

    Reply

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