This question posed in a discussion forum made us pause and think:
“Bosses think their firms are caring and “values-driven.” Their minions disagree. I think it’s hard from top-down, policy-driven firms to switch to values-driven because even the values are enforced top-down and bosses who have never listened carefully to their employees don’t suddenly start to do so – thus, they never know if their values have caught on or not. What do you think?”
Firstly we need to define Values – We will use it in this post in its economic sense, such as Economic Value Added, meaning that both value creation, return and risk evaluation is as such is ‘built into the value based system’.
Most corporate managers / leaders would probably understand values in terms of two different contexts:
- Values as guiding principles, morals, a ‘code to live by’, etc., shaping behaviours and norms
- Value in terms of the standard Du Pont analysis – Return on Investment (ROI) calculation methodology.
The third (and probably not last) way of viewing the values question is the economic value added approach, capturing:
- Economic Profit (including risk)
- Guiding principles and behaviours – the bottom up doing the right thing all the time view
Turning to values as a guiding principle, these are the ‘feel-good’ words and phrases we stick on corporate office walls, the intra- and internet “connecting” people inside and outside the organisation to the “emotional-side” and binding them together.
This is the way we believe the Value question has been posed.
Here we have the problem of the ‘generals in the tents’ versus the ‘generals in the trenches’ scenario.
The generals in the tents believe what their eyes and ears are telling tell. “People look and sound happy, so they MUST be happy”.
The generals in the trenches believe what they ‘feel’ and experience everyday in their leadership roles amongst the ‘troops’ and employees they serve with are the real true values of the organisation.
This is where a disconnect manifests itself. The two types do not see eye to eye or understand each other. Charts, reports, statements, observations, facts separate the general in the tents from the raw emotions, feelings, qualitative experiences and ‘Values’ of the general in the trenches.
When they meet to talk, the language and behaviours each other uses and displays are different. They don’t understand each other and each side leaves the conversation with a sense of an ‘unaccomplished mission’ and frustration.
To conclude and draw this ‘Values’ post together:
Right from the off, there is potentially a misunderstanding as to what is exactly meant by Values. The corporate leadership may think, warm ‘fuzziness’ or hard numbers and return on investment, yet the employees and middle management layer think, “squeeze some more, but keep on smiling, here they go talking about values again and all I want is some certainty and job security…”
Finally, there has to be the recognition that culture and culture creation in organisations is not easy. (We are not even talking cultural change here yet).
If it was, then it would obviously not be a problem. There are many more factors and dynamics at play, so hopefully your question sets off an interesting discussion.