Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Organization's Values analysis and its challanges

Thank you, everyone, for your contributions to Discussion Topic #3 on Values. I enjoyed reading your responses. These were some of the questions which your reflections helped me think about.

1) What is the value of values?
Sophan's Wikipedia friend said values were "the principles, standards, or quality which guide human actions." Guide is a key word. Ultimately, it is up to us to embody the values we define as important (see Linda's PREL story on the "Webinar", Hoa's photos of the community garden linked to UH values). If we fail, as Cerell observed, people notice. If you repeatedly disconnect from the core values of an organization, according to Chuck Jones of Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH), it is time to leave, before you are asked to. Equally, companies hold employees accountable to their core values through positive performance (rewards, promotion, recognition). Values underlie and drive mission and purpose. They bring people together and unite them around a common cause. They provide meaning (and leaders manage meaning).

2) Some organizations do not have formal values. Is this a problem?
Not necessarily. Many successful organizations do not have a values list or chart, including some that you are working for (Laurel, Thuan, Thidarat, Odno, for example). However, these are all new organizations (anything from 2-8 years old). It takes time to refine the vision and mission of an organization and for core values to emerge. It requires clarification of purpose, understanding of success, and experience (often failure). When BAH surveyed 360 successful companies in 30 countries, they found 89% of them had formal value statements. (Rathana: generally these are short lists simply to identify and proritize what is truly important.)

I'm struck by the fact that the EWC (which is 47 years old) does not have a values chart, yet Cerell did an excellent job "reading" the values here: appreciation and understanding, respect and tolerance, exchange and dialogue, collaboration and cooperation, scholarship, service. The last value (service) was the only one I paused to think about. We have introduced new service learning projects recently, and many people throughout the organization value service, but I don't know if this is a core value of the Center. Perhaps it should be, if we follow the Public Admin's advice (cited by Sophan) that "public service is the rent you pay for occupying space on earth." I thought all of you who interpreted the values of your organization (when not formally listed) were insightful (see, for example, Rathana on the PoliSci department at UH). This is less easy than it might first appear. I would encourage you to ask your boss/head of department if s/he thinks you are right. It could lead to an interesting conversation. For example, at PREL (Paulina, Linda), I wondered what are the core values implicitly underlying the principles established in your vision [value suggestions added in brackets]:
· All children can learn. [Inclusiveness? Access?]
· It is essential to educate the whole child. [Holism?]
· Education is a dynamic partnership. [Collaboration?]
· Cultural diversity is to be valued and promoted. [Diversity?
But what about the backlash against multiculturalism ... ?]

3) When are values most valuable?
I was struck by Pinky Thompson's (Nainoa's father) comments, which Kyoko shared: After the tragic death of Eddie Aikau, Pinky said to the traumatized members of PVS:"The only thing that can bring you back together is to have a common set of values that are so powerful that you agree and you hold on….That set of values will have to define who you are, what your sense of purpose is, your duty, your commitment ... and hold on to that…." In this case, Pinky proposed: "this community should never ever be defined by geography or boundary of geography, or boundary of race…. this community needs to be simply about people who agree with this value, people that will come to learn, come to work, and come to give back. These are the people you need to re-build your community."

In other words, in a time of extreme adversity, a powerful set of shared values helped to bring the community back together and carry on. Without this, PVS would have collapsed.

4) To what extent should my values be challenged in the workplace?
This question struck me the most forcefully when reading your responses. Many of you seemed comfortable with your organization's values and while I was initially happy to hear this, it left a lingering concern. I have learned the most when my values have been stretched or challenged in a positive way. Living in Japan I was culturally challenged in a stimulating, educational manner by different value systems. To what extent is tension helpful, even necessary for growth? (See Christina on EWC Sports Summit, Cerell on work ethic, Bulgan on professionalism).

A good example is Phuong Anh at Credit Suisse in Singapore, which has 12 values (6 ethical, 6 performance). PA's tension, perhaps conflict, is the profit-driven/visibility approach of the company to philanthropy versus her own sustainability approach favored by non-profits. Or put another way, fulfilling a task versus what she thinks is right and should be done. This is an important conversation with self and might influence future career decisions. I was struck by the fact that Credit Suisse lists "risk culture" as one of its six performance values. This is bold. It also requires a culture of support. If you encourage risk, calculated of course, you must support staff when they fail. I am curious to what extent CS genuinely advocates risk and, if it does, if it provides a culture of support in response to failure? The APLP values innovation (which includes risk).

Another excellent example was Pauline talking about showing "respect" in Chuuk as opposed to Hawaii. I have observed this behavior with all our APLP participants from Chuuk. This is a gender-based value (the role of women in society), which I imagine Thuan's, Odno's and Thidarat's organizations would reject as, from their perspective, it would challenge their core value of gender equality. Without revisiting the issues of cultural relativism and ethnocentrism here, what is an appropriate response to Pauline? Again, important conversation. Cultural change (see Thuan on how giving women access to finance is not enough) can take generations.

5) Do personal values change?
In my opinion, absolutely. In response to circumstances and experience at different points in your life, as you evolve, learn and mature. Read the brilliant autobiography of Malcolm X as he redefines himself on several occasions. Ivee suggests the essence of core values never changes, but values continuously take shape and are redefined as she changes ... As we discussed during the visioning/PAP work last semester, conflict between couples often takes place not because core values are different (often they are the same), but because the order or hierarchy is different, and thus the sense of priorities.

Thank you again. I enjoyed this and learned a lot. I've attached Chuck Jones' BAH PowerPoint lecture in case any of you wish to revisit this. And Sophan, Winston Churchill is not American! Respect my culture!


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