To paraphrase an old cliche, 95% of humans involved in strategic decision making are influenced by personal values, the other 5% are lying about it. There’s no such thing as purely rational strategic decision making when humans are part of the process. Whether strategic decision making occurs individually or as a group, personal values play a pivotal role.
What do we really mean when we use the term ‘values’?
‘Values’ can be a loaded word and take on many meanings. Here are five possible ways we might think of ‘values’:
- Moral – A distinction between right or wrong in conduct?
- Value – The intrinsic worth, more or less desirable, worthy of esteem, social principles?
- Virtue – An attribute of moral excellence, effective power, force, efficacy?
- Principle – A fundamental truth, rule of conduct?
- Ethics – An ideal, especially with a professional, an elaborated code or standard?
For most of us, I believe that ‘values’ reflect a mixture of these terms. It’s what a person feels is important to them. So, if it’s something a person feels, then emotions can and do enter the strategic decision making dialog. When? Perhaps when there’s either an underlying conflict between two opposing values or when there’s a perception that the dialog has insulted, diminished, or disregarded someone’s sense of values. Values are what fuels an individual’s sense about what they care deeply and are passionate about.
Imagine a strategic decision making scenario where a team considers whether to launch a new project. Does everyone on the team share similar values? Probably not. Where do individuals get their values from?
Sources of Values
- Role Based Values – People adopt roles. Those roles come with behavioral expectations. Certain roles imply certain values. Sales roles will be concerned with selling and meeting client demand. Accounting roles will be concerned about tracking all revenues and expenses. R&D roles will be concerned about inventing or innovating a new product or service. Manufacturing roles will be concerned about getting the necessary resources to meet production quotas. These values are directly linked to functional roles. Job function is not the only source of role based values. In a previous article, I reviewed other roles a person might play by virtue of being a member on a team. With additional roles, comes additional role based values. So clearly, a person can be operating in multiple roles simultaneously with multiple role based values.
- Organizational Values – The organization wants and expects its members to share a common core set of values that establishes the standard by which its members will operate. What are those values? It’s pretty safe to say that the list of shared organizational values is probably larger than what’s pasted on the walls of corporate boardrooms. For example, the mantra of growth can be a strong, but unspoken value that shapes the operation and decision making of teams within the organization. How much do these unexplored and possibly un-articulated organizational values play in organization, team, and individual decision making?
- Ethno/Cultural/Religious Values – Everyone is a member of different types of social groups that represent different cultures. These values are imbued and well established in the social community’s members from early childhood. These values can serve as a powerful binding mechanism to establish that sense of social culture. They are not easily subdued, ignored, or refuted when they clash with other values.
- Generational Values – My grandmother grew up in the Great Depression. Her sense of values for things like money are probably vastly different than a young person who grew up during the heydays of the Internet bubble era. Some values are going to be based on shared experience that other, younger generations have not experienced and vice-versa. My children never knew a world without computer technology, the internet, and social networking. What kind of values are they going to bring to a team with a mixture of younger and older members?
- Personal Values – Aside from all other sources of values, there’s still something that makes you unique. We are the embodiment of a lifetime of experiences. Surely those experiences will have an effect on our set of values. In fact, perhaps our sense and source of strength and power in our chosen job or profession can only manifest when the values demanded from a role are highly aligned to the combination of our personal values, our generational values, and our Ethno/Cultural/Religious values.
With so many sources for values, an individual is bound to have overlapping and unique values from these various sources. A team with several individuals will, consequently, have a rich and diverse mixture of values from sources that are common and sources that are unique to its members.
How Values Impact the Strategic Decision Making Dialog?
So given this rich context, how might a team member’s set of values influence the various parts of strategic decision making including:
- Their feelings about the goal or problem?
- Their feelings about what alternatives to explore?
- Their feelings about what criteria used to evaluate alternatives?
- Their feelings about the relative importance of these decision criteria?
- Their feelings about method of decision making (from autocratic to unanimity)?
With such a melting pot of values swimming around each team member, think about how these values might impact how groups come together to make strategic decisions for something guaranteed to generate conflict. For example, the conflict that can arise for strategic decision making to allocate and prioritize scarce resources in a budget. How does a team function productively if there isn’t any sense of understanding of both shared and unshared values? Are the published values preached by the organization sufficient to ensure a functional strategic decision making team? I believe that the answer to this is “no”.
Unless teams first invest the time to explore the values that are important and meaningful to its members, there won’t be a shared sense of understanding, trust, and candor. It’s not enough to simply parrot the published values of the organization. It is only through continued dialog, a dialog that explores, uncovers, and articulates values, that teams can begin to sort out areas of common,shared values and areas of unique, unshared values. Group dynamics theory tells us that teams move through several distinct stages. I believe that the one of the forces that drives this cycle revolves around articulation (or lack of) values.
- In the Forming stage, members suppress their personal values that influence their interaction and participation.
- In the Storming stage, the team undergoes conflict. Members don’t understand ‘motives’ or where the other person is coming from because they haven’t sufficiently explored each other’s personal values.
- In the Norming stage, the team begins to explore, uncover and articulate each member’s personal values. While there will not be complete alignment, members will share common values and have a better understanding of their teammates based on their understanding of their unique values.
- In the Performing stage, the team can function at a high level of productivity because members are free to express their thoughts and know other members understand how each member’s values influences their thoughts arguments and positions on the matters.
Teams will never be composed of members with exactly the same set of values. Actually, without some differences in values, one has to wonder how any differences or constructive conflict can exist on a team. If every team member shares too many identical values, then the team is likely to suffer from groupthink that results in strategic decision making. On the other hand, a team comprised of members with unique and possibly opposing personal values will likely suffer from constant combative dialog because no common ground can be achieved. So clearly, a well functioning team needs some balance of common shared values, and distinctive individual values.
Treating Values Like Data in Strategic Decision Making Dialog
If we take a step back, we can see that personal values are just another source of data to explore in the strategic decision making dialog. Seeking to understand similarities and differences, within the context of a data driven dialog is one means to make the dialog more objective and less personal. What values are most prevalent on the team? Are there unexplored organizational values that should be brought to the surface? It’s all data…..harvest it and leverage it!
Need help? Contact Valerisys Consulting today. Let us help you conduct a data driven dialog to improve business decisions.