The Value of Values - Part I

This is a bit of a brain dump really on the issue of values.

I’ve read a few articles/blogs on the same topic recently and I wanted to put down my thoughts on paper, mainly because the process of writing helps me think things through, but also to perhaps gain some additional insight from others as this is by no means a ‘finished’ piece.

This piece is written from the perspective of working predominantly with individuals who have brought the issue of their own values to the coaching process; where their needs potentially were not being met by their organisations or where their values are driving specific behaviours which might/might not be congruent with their overarching goals.

A few comments about what I’ve noticed when working with values and individual clients:

1.     When we are operating from our values base, we might be doing so unconsciously and is at the same time integral to ‘who we are’ - our identity.

2.     Operating outside one’s values base is difficult (most of the time) as it rocks the very foundation of who we deem ourselves to be (i.e. identity/self perception).

3.     Values are set at an early age; but mental models developed at a young age can be limiting as well as supportive of personal progress – they are not the whole ‘truth’.

4.     Organisations have values (articulated or not, lived or not) that are deemed to be the rules of the game/how we do things round here and are often the foundation of norms of behaviour.

5.     People leave organisations often because of their values ( i.e. their needs are not being met or feel that the way we do things round here is not the way for me) without exploring this view of reality in-depth.

6.     Values are basically clusters of beliefs, and without spending time analysing these beliefs, individuals and groups could potentially be at odds, despite having the same values.

7.     Some values are significantly related to variations in socioeconomic status, age, gender, race, religion and lifestyle (according to Rokeach: Values Survey 1979) and therefore could be deemed to not be inclusive. Should organisations be ‘belief testing’ their values from this perspective?

Which led me onto a host of questions:

If individual values are part of our identity/belief system; when do we get time to examine their relevancy for us individually and how they impact from a relational point of view?

Given how hard it is to articulate our individual values anyway, why are we so wedded to the idea of values in organisations? Is the language of ‘values’ getting in the way?

Are they fit for purpose in organisations where inclusivity and diversity (of thinking as well as traditional modes) are purported to being important?

If you are looking to move on from one organisation (not necessarily because of values) then how do you ensure that the organisation you join will fit in relation to your value base? How important should this be if we need to get better at understanding and appreciating differences in beliefs and that beliefs are not in fact truth?

Are some values deemed more acceptable than others when we are looking at organisational values? Who gets to say which values are the ‘right’ ones and others less so?

Are values another example of cognitive bias?

What are values? (a bit of research)

“A value is an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct” and

“Work values are those that individuals believe should be satisfied as a result of their participation in the work role” (Dudeck, 2004).

Values have their source in basic human needs, beliefs, and in societal demands. I won’t be covering basic human needs (see Maslow and other motivational psychologists) but it is worth noting particularly in a work context. Values are deemed to be relatively stable over time but not unchanging; they serve as a criteria or framework against which can ‘test’ our experiences.

Rokeach said, in his study “The Nature of Human Values” (1973) , that in relation to values there are three types of belief (i.e. what is it that we’re testing) that underpin them:

1)     Existential beliefs – ones that are capable of being true/false

2)     Evaluative beliefs – judged to be good/bad

3)     Prescriptive/Proscriptive – means/ends judged to be desirable or undesirable

Shealy added another dimension to this – Congruency whether a belief is experienced as consistent/inconsistent with other beliefs (2016).

Shalom Shwartz (2012) built on the work of Rokeach and earlier values researchers and created 10 values types which he considered to be universal because they are grounded in universal human needs (eg. Survival needs (individual and group), biological needs, relatedness/social interaction needs):

Schwarz 10 Value Types

1.     Power

2.     Achievement

3.     Hedonism

4.     Stimulation

5.     Self-direction

6.     Universalism (protection/understanding of people and nature)

7.     Benevolence

8.     Tradition

9.     Conformity

10.  Security

Of course at a more basic human needs level we could look to Ryan and Deci and their model of Competence, Autonomy and Relatedness from which these values could derive.

Values are essentially grounded in beliefs – but where do beliefs come from?  I won’t go down that rabbit hole for the purposes of this piece but suffice to say this is a highly complex human process and whilst we all understand we have values, we know less about how they arise and are embedded. If we are to understand values, we ought not to examine or assert for them in isolation.

I love this quote from Dr Craig Shealy (“Making Sense of Beliefs and Values” 2016): “We have no choice to believe () from the moment we are born () we assume we are learning facts () we are not () are are simply being told what to believe” p25.  I call this the Rule Book. We have a resistance about changing our rules and will do anything to protect this view of self, even when it’s not congruent with our own goals, mainly because to do so would threaten our sense of self.

Given that values are the source of our motivation, decision making and that most problems arise from differences in values, why do we not spend more time reflecting on them individually and in work groups?

In summary, values are useful ways of negotiating the world, they protect/build our sense of self/our sense of identity. BUT: If we focus all our efforts on ‘aggregated beliefs’ (ie values) we run the risk of over simplifying what are highly complex human interactions that occur at a belief level. This seems like an important point for individuals, leaders, organisational developers and others interested in the field of human motivation and business success.

What next?

I will be exploring individual and organisational values in later blogs so please tune in again if this has piqued your interest.

As ever, I will be delighted to receive comments and insights.