” Are Values of any Value?”

Our third provocative article from Ian Taylor who was our  spotlight for March.

In this article Ian once again challenges the status quo, and I for one can’t help agreeing with him! Please blog your comments to start discussions

Are Values of any Value ?

You often see them on the walls of offices. Motivational posters with words like “openness”, “ integrity”, and  “innovation” . Teamwork reads one “Whether we play a large or small role, by working together we achieve our objectives.”  They aim to  capture the essence of the organization, the way we do things around here,  what’s important and valued .

The trend was started in the 80’s with books like in Search of Excellence by Tom Peters . What was important suggested these researchers, the differentiator between the excellent and the mediocre, was the culture of the organisation and central to culture is the idea of values captured in along with heroes legends slogans stories and symbols .

Since then earnest HR professionals in search of the holy grail of the next big idea have enthusiastically embraced this idea ; getting the right values will set us on the road to inevitable success. The culture drives the performance .

In some organizations managers are now asked to assess staff against the core values rather than skills or competencies and  recruiters are enjoined to get hard evidence that applicants can “live our core values” . HR professionals struggle to explain to over worked managers what the values actually mean in everyday,  on the ground, terms  and how they might actually make their lives easier rather than more pressured. Unfortunately the values movement has some major flaws;

They all look the same so fail to become a differentiator . No one would dispute that organizations have values.  Ask  the average person in the average company, if such a thing exists, about what gets rewarded or encouraged where she or he works  and you’re more likely to  hear  “politics”, “back stabbing”, “self promotion” “aggression”  a lot more than the fluffy, politically correct, phrases on the posters and screen savers.  The idea that values can be transplanted into an organization in the same way as a logo or uniform can be changed is fairly ludicrous. Values are developed from early childhood through a variety of role models and other influences. Look at  how people or indeed organizations behave particularly in conflict  and you’ll soon get an idea of their values

Some values are very badly written and are more the product of the marketing and branding people than a reflection of what really goes on in many organizations. Are “attention to detail” or “customer focus” really be values or are they more accurately skills or abilities?

The culture research was fundamentally flawed in the first place. It was susceptible to the Halo Effect. Put simply  if the organization is profitable and successful we infer a positive open innovative culture. If it fails the same culture becomes described as static and slow. In other word the success or otherwise determines how the culture is described . It’s what psychologists call direction of causality . The fact that two concepts occur together doesn’t follow that one caused the other

So what’s the message here? Where’s the harm in trying to encourage honesty and openness ? Well at its worst it really treats  employees as gullible and naive, that they’ll buy any idea presented to them . People aren’t that dumb. Resistance comes in the form of cynicism and frustration with yet another HR initiative. Perhaps that’s why demotivational posters such as those at despair.com are more appreciated.  “Flattery; If you want to get to the top be prepared to kiss a lot of the bottom.”

Ian Taylor is a chartered occupational psychologist with 18 years experience of working in the UAE. He can be contacted on 00971(0) 505520837 or ian_taylor35@yahoo.com

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