Values offer orientation – too many values confuse and create arbitrariness. Today you will learn how to play the keyboard of values.

Then values are no longer the subject of a soft skill culture for nice speeches and colourful graphics on the website. Instead, values will become a strategic issue, creating clarity and understanding, especially in times of uncertainty. This first of three parts is about ‘values in the plural’. And about expectations of the digital transformation and the individual values associated with it.

A ‘valuable’ example to start with

It is important to Hannah Meier to be able to work self-determined and as independently as possible. This enables her to discover and work on many new things. Tim Schreier prefers to carry out routine tasks in clear and delimited areas. This gives him the peace and quiet to concentrate on one thing at a time. The two seem to have very different working motives, perhaps due to personal type preferences. But do they also have different values? Values, understood as those qualities of a decision or a thing that a person considers desirable, good, right? That could be: Curiosity and autonomy in Hannah, determination and perseverance in Tim. Or how about professionalism and quality awareness in both?

Let’s agree on one thing: they have both different and corresponding values. The question then arises as to what values the organisation for which both work has. And whether these values are in any way binding, guiding or orienting. And whether violations of values result in sanctions – then it’s not far to the Guardian Council …

Values are transformable and negotiable

Systems with values with which a claim to truth is made are by definition ideologies. I assume that in a pluralistic society no one strives for this. Values are therefore changeable and negotiable. In the past months of Corona this could be well observed:

  • Protection of life and health’ is the top priority – this was the principle on which the lockdown was based in mid-March.
  • “If there is an absolute value in our constitution at all, then it is the dignity of man. That is inviolable. But it does not exclude the possibility that we must die.” Wolfgang Schäuble, President of the Bundestag [26th April 2020 in the magazine Tagesspiegel. Please note the condition “if there is an… at all, then …”]
  • There are other things that are (at least) as important as health: [here, please use what is most important to you right now].
  • And there are people who protest furiously against a ‘dictatorship’ that they cannot even come close to describing, let alone prove

What is the point of transformable and negotiable values?

Valuable leadership gives orientation

“Modern societies do not need ultimate moral justifications or ultimate moral unity. What they need are regulative fictions with which they can constantly come to a new understanding of what is wanted and desired. Values are just such regulative fictions: They dynamize, emotionalize us humans; they neutralize and pluralize our narrow view of what is and of what should be.” (NZZ, 14th March 2016)

And for all those who now shout “arbitrariness – disorder – value relativism”. Yes, values are:

  • relative – after all, we do not live in absolutism.
  • messy – like the dynamic and complex world in which they are discussed.
  • arbitrary – depending on what a person likes about desirable things.

This is good news for managers, by the way. Because if there were values that were fixed and firmly established, an orienting leadership would be superfluous. There would only be a controlling function. But that is not leadership, that is monitoring.

I highly recommend the German book by Andreas Urs Sommer, whom I quoted above. You can order it online from companies with loopholes in their tax practices, or in your local bookstore or as an e-book. It all depends on the values that are important to you right now: convenience, local economy, conservation of resources. These three values alone will show you that they are hard to reconcile. You can read more about them in the third part of our blog.

Self test: Seven individual expectations and values

The diversity of individual expectations can be well illustrated using the example of digital transformation. The following table shows seven statements on digital transformation. Select the statements that you think best apply to you.

questions to find out about values in digital transformation

As a result, you should now have one to three statements that you think are appropriate. This selection says a lot about you and your attitude not only to the digital transformation, but to gainful employment in general. And your selection gives an indication of the values that are now important to you in your work.

If you can make out the numbers of these statements in the following diagram, then you have positioned yourself – somewhere between two or three of the seven points in the diagram.

matrix of values in digital transformation

Values below expectations

This also determines which two of the four values on the axes are more important to you. You use these two values as a guide. They are your inner compass for decisions about ‘good, desirable, right’. By the way, it is quite possible that you have a different value preference in your working life than in your private life. If so, you may have to switch on the journey to and from work. This is possible – for many people the living room ego differs from the professional ego. It only becomes exciting in two cases:

  1. your value preference is different from what is propagated and demanded in your organization
  2. your value preference differs from the constellation of values you deal with during your work

I will come to the first point in the continuation of this blog in the second part, the second in the following section.

„Value-Dynamite“ and Value-Dynamics

Only very rarely do colleagues agree on the values in their work. And agreement would not be good at all (more on this below). Most of the time there is an abundance of values – in different constellations:

  • They are in the minority in the group of equal colleagues. Then you will find it difficult to assert yourself in discussions and, above all, in decisions. Think about the benefit your favoured decision can have in the world of values and argumentation of the majority. And then highlight these benefits.
  • Your value preferences are different from the rather homogeneous world of values of your employees. Then you will have difficulties in finding understanding for your decisions. Enthusiasm is certainly not to be expected, rather excitement. Here you have two options: Either you create ‘quick wins’ for the skeptics in the sense of an iterative change management. Or you rule by instruction. The first takes a long time, the second is not very stable. Decide – on the basis of your values. A coaching or sparring session can bring a lot of clarity.
  • All value preferences are represented in your area of responsibility. Out of fourteen people in your organizational unit, there are probably exactly two for each of the seven statements on digital transformation who think it is good. You should not now interpret this negatively as a ‘chicken pile’ (or, for all from Bavaria: as a rag rug). On the contrary: Congratulations to this team. It has been proven that diversity increases profitability by a fifth to a third. McKinsey was not the only one to find this out in a study. The International Labour Organization (ILO) also points this out. With this colourful ‘disorder of values’, you have the chance that different perspectives will influence decisions. This means that these decisions, even if they take a lot of effort to make, have two firm foundations: The leg of the weighed arguments and the leg of the cross-value binding.

Using diversity for leadership

You see: Values as “relative fictions” change and are very helpful in their diversity. This makes leadership necessary that neither sets nor decides on nor proclaims values – but includes them, brings them together and lets them apply. Values only exist in the plural.

Frank Wippermann

This is the first part of a three-part blog series on the topic of “Valuable Management”. The second part (in September) deals with three value gaps within an organization, the third part (at the end of the year) is about value conflicts at management level. In both blogs, the dynamics that make these gaps or conflicts possible are discussed.

picture: pixabay