Most everything we do, if not everything, is guided by some principle. Whether we know what that guiding principle is or not, doesn’t stop it from guiding our actions. On a street, we have guardrails to help us stay on the road or lines to stay in our lane. We have incentives at work to guide us toward specific activities. We say nice things to someone because it is part of our culture. These are all values.
The task of identifying your values is an ever-present task, in all cultures, at all times. Because they can be different for each of us, and they can change. I recommend a few recent books exploring this topic.
Professor Manuel Guillén develops a robust map for motivations, providing a matrix of extrinsic, intrinsic, transcendent, and religious motivations, each with forms that address the useful, pleasant, moral, and spiritual good. This roadmap guides how you can explore your set of values, in different contexts. For example, which values most influence thinking about a meaningful job versus a meaningful career or a meaningful calling? Motivations in Organizations connects each of these values to a history of where people have developed their understanding of that specific value, as well as exercises for applying this to your life today.
Economist Mark Carney explores different ways of looking at values, from the political to the economic, from finance to philosophy, disentangling what we mean when we say something has value or our values. “Values represent the principles or standards of behaviour; they are judgements of what is important in lfe…Value is the regard that something is held to deserve–the importance, worth or usefulness of something. Both value and values are judgements. And therein lies the rub” (p4). He applies his exploration of value(s) to three major, current crises: credit; COVID; and climate, seeing them as crises of values. How people respond to these crises “could begin to recast the relationship between values and value.” Having served as the governor of the Bank of England, Carney brings depth and precision to his assessment of the values driving the value(s) crises.
Professors Bertini and Koenigsberg look at value and values from the business perspective, exploring the importance of understanding another’s values to know how to generate value for them, which ultimately generates value for the business. Instead of focusing mainly on the outputs of the activities you do in an organization–the means–they argue for also focusing on the actual outcomes generated for the customer–the ends. Customers want nutrition, not groceries. They want better health, not more medical care. This book highlights advances in technology that let you know how and where your customers are using your products and services, and how well they are performing. With this information, you can turn your “means” products into “ends” services. The key added element here is actively getting the other’s feedback, to understand what they actually value, and not just what you think they should value. For many groups, this is a radically different approach. The books shows how some organizations have implemented structures and processes that allow them to make this shift.
Paul Polman and Andrew Winston ask a broader question. How would one need to understand their ecosystem to be able to inquire into the values of many different stakeholders? Is it possible to develop a strategy that creates value for multiple stakeholders at the same time? Leaving them better off than they started? They argue that “five core principles that center on responsibility will take company performance to a new level…(which when) fully embraced separate the net positive companies from the merely well-run and well-meaning businesses. (1) Ownership of all impacts and consequences, intended or not. (2) Operating for the long-term benefit of business and society. (3) Creating positive returns for all stakeholders. (4) Driving shareholder value as a result, not a goal. (5) Partnering to drive systemic change. Five guiding principles, with plenty of examples of how Polman tried to implement them while CEO of Unilever.
Four recent books on values that generate value, for individuals and for organizations today. Well written, clear, and relevant today.