Saturday, 3 November 2012

Business Values - do they exist?

I read a tweet about value's led leadership this morning - and whilst I don't know what the tweeters mean by the term it had me thinking. After all - every leadership action comes from a value - the problem is sometimes these actions and the arising outcomes from them are not what we'd want them to be. For example the bankers back in the noughties were making decisions based on their, and possibly even the organisation's, values. Unfortunately the value hierarchy they were operating with led to the worldwide crisis - in other words not values we'd all support!

I wrote a blog back in 2011 about whether I think organisations can even have values and share it again here.

Values are what drive all our behaviours. What values aren’t - are things we decide or even choose to have ie they’re not conscious they’re unconscious. See last week's blog for more on personal values.

The challenge is can we translate personal values into business values? I know many organisations have published values statements but I wonder can we really suggest the current values statements used by most organisations are the same or even similar to our personal and unconscious values? And therefore should we be even calling them such? I’d suggest not - for a number of reasons:
  • When eliciting personal values we start with an individual’s behaviour to understand the value(s) driving that behaviour. Business values seem to work the other way round and simply become aspirational choices rather than something that reflects or explains current actions. 
  • Personal values cover ALL our actions. Many business values seem to concentrate on the ‘softer’ aspirational values and forget about the ‘harder’ values that would inform for example the strategic direction, profitability or pricing choices made. 
  • Even if people have the same core value, what behaviours they judge to be acceptable or unacceptable will differ greatly. Why else, for example, are there numerous linkedin group discussions exploring what integrity or honesty mean. Business values statements are therefore useless without a statement of behaviour to identify what the values looks like for that organisation. 
  • Because they’re our personal values it’s automatic for us to behave in ways that support them. Unless our values are aligned with an organisation’s it’s likely we may find taking on its values and associated behaviours difficult. If they’re in conflict with our own even more so. I certainly don’t see much evidence of values based alignment in interviews or restructuring when new or updated values statements are published.
  • Making any changes to our personal values and/or their hierarchy (ie their relationship to each other) is not easy. Yet many organisations’ management teams seem to issue a new and improved values statement every few years and assume it’ll work.
Which all means I’d much prefer we found a different term for all those business values statements and yes even for values led leadership. After attending a session with Alisoun Mackenzie this morning on heart centered leadership I wonder if that's what we should be aspiring for?

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Sowing the seeds for purchasing behaviour aligned with business values heart centered leadership

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