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     Observations on Values    


This observation began as an insight of my partner-in-life, Dr. Judy Rose.  Her patience and critique have been crucial to whatever success I have with this concept.  Our discussion led to the philosophy of urban activist Jane Jacobs whose work grounds this paper.  

One can attribute the unwillingness of others to change to inherent traits in peoples’ personalities that hinder their ability to compromise.  People resist change because they see no need, expect others to change, or believe that the requested change is incorrect.  An outgrowth of this tendency is for people to expect others to change while they tend to resist needed change themselves.  It is logical to assume that change is based on perception and changing perception is premised on questioning fixed beliefs.  Fixed beliefs are thus supported by internal values and unless internal values are altered fixed beliefs act as filters keeping one from seeing the need-to-change (the central concept of paradigmatic thinking).  This tautology is broken when paradigms are challenged. 

Paradigms are defined in Webster’s as “patterns of thought that provide a coherent model” of reality. Shifting long held paradigms is an act of re-contextualization that is facilitated when foundational precepts are challenged at a deep, critical level.  When paradigm shifting is properly instituted change then becomes the desired outcome and “resistance becomes futile”.  A central activity of management guiding organizational change should be stimulating stakeholders to believe that maintaining old values takes greater energy then changing them.  I believe that a key to stimulating paradigm shifting is grounded in understanding and critiquing existing values-in-conflict.


Definition:  the ideals, customs, institutions, etc. of a society toward which the people of the group have an affective regard. (Webster, 1996)  

Values are intrinsically held beliefs that are deeply engrained and unchallenged.  The reason they remain unchallenged is that there exists insufficient countervailing pressure to force individuals to re-evaluate why they do what they do. Values held by individuals and groups thus become difficult to change.  They also tend to be: poorly defined by their very nature; not critically examined as to their interpretive meaning; and become defined by each individual in unique ways (What is Hon or, how is it defined, who determines who is honor able, etc.?).  

Pragmatism is a form of philosophical thought that runs counter to traditional thinking in that a pragmatist sees values as not representing “right” or “wrong” thinking.  A pragmatic thinker believes that values are constructed among social groups that, over time, agree to think or behave at a given level of conformity.  When external phenomena represent a sufficient level of evidence counterweighing “right” thinking then perception of right and wrong must change.  

Organizational learning is premised on a state of cultural beliefs that are consciously adapting to a world of change.  Belief statements (think Mission/Vision) are articulated when the organization creates coherent value structures that are adopted by both internal and external stakeholders.  Value based assessment is designed to promote organizational learning and break open fixed beliefs.  Reformation of an organization can, I believe, be guided through delineation of conflicting value sets.

Values–based Leadership

Definition:  a relationship between a leader and followers that is based on strongly shared values that are advocated and acted upon by the leader. (Daft, 2001)  

Traditionally, this form of leadership is top down.  Driven by both espoused and enacted leader personal values, the organization is expected to conform to leader delineated organizational behavior .  Through enactment of operational myths, uplifting symbols, and internally defined labels managers inculcate followers into “right” behavior.  Thus mimicking perceived leadership values acts as a powerful mechanism on participants for guaranteeing conforming behavior .  Unfortunately, this practice does little to critically challenge underlying organizational values.  Organizations confronting change become hobbled by their own inability to critically examine c ore conflicting values.

Organizational Structures

Organizations adopt structures based on internal and external stakeholder needs; meeting client needs in an efficient and flexible manner grounds organizational design.  Most managers are adept at reconfiguring their organization through various "tried and true" processes.  Committees are f or med, bottlenecks and difficulties defined, restructuring proposed, changes enacted, and evaluated with organizational structures re-configured in response to evaluative data.  Virtually untouched, in many cases, by this process are tacit, underlying, deeply embedded unchallenged values.  Thus, managers tend to focus on issues that they are comfortable with ( organizational restructuring is well taught in business schools) and avoid examining possible conflicting values (areas of knowledge inadequately investigated in varied business contexts).  Process therefore e seems to win over unpleasant critical thinking. Unfortunately, this comfortable pattern of behavior is normally subordinated when external forces seem bent on destroying the very existence of the organization.  This existential situation becomes an  opportune time for values to be reconsidered and ossified thinking to be challenged.

Guardian vs. Commercial Moral Values

The source for the following value sets is Jane Jacobs who, during a life of study, originally identified different "moral syndromes" applicable to government and commerce (Jacobs, 1992).  She used the trope of an extended discussion among characters from different professional backgrounds to examine the m oral codes that govern work. She found two "syndromes"—two mutually exclusive collections of connected traits, self- organized systems that evolved over the long span of human history. They derive, she argued, from the two and only two ways humans as a species have of making a living: taking and trading. (Most animals have only taking, better known as hunting and gathering.) She dubs them the "guardian syndrome" and the "commercial syndrome."  (Postrel)

This work provides the foundation f or the following observations:

Guardians (Takers) are natural rule makers and enforcers of regulations.  Societies are mediated in their collective behavior by rules and the resulting classification of observed societal activities into “right” and “wrong” behavior.  Guardians thus are “boundary makers”; individuals, organizations and/ or agencies whose prime activity is to impose rules on others.  In order to maintain this activity there must be a strong internal coherence (i.e. Esprit de Corps) to the guardian culture.  Thus, this value set introduces an often in ordinate need to maintain order and impose restrictive procedures which end up enforcing a “closed system” that tends to become resistant to change.

A corollary to the previous statement is an observation that rules are, by their very nature, imposed on others.  When rules are implemented they tend to act as automatic constraints governing openness to innovation.  This is both good and bad.  Sorting out differences in perception is a key overarching activity of healthy guardian organizations.  Unfortunately for guardians, when this critical evaluation process is ignored needed change can be interpreted as “chaotic” and contributive to perception of organizational decline.  

Commercials (Traders) “do what they want to do when they want to do it”.  The primary function of commercial like behavior is to garner “profit”.  Finding profitable situations often necessitates challenging the old order and, in effect, introducing chaos into the system.  This “chaotic” value set catalyzes “new thinking” and often stimulates change.  It is important to note that this behavior does not inherently impose rules or restrictions on stakeholders.  It's core value set is designed to encourage one to do one’s “thing”, to trade openly with anyone for anything in the pursuit of "profitable" situations.   

Growing out of this value is an observation that by fomenting entrepreneurial thinking one purposely introduces change.  Change, in turn, works to open closed mindedness.  Conversely, new ideas create disorder within closed systems.  Traditionally, management science would say that this is classic “paradigm shifting”.  I argue that that the value conflicts that arise from this situation are not just mental frameworks being forced onto corporate stakeholders to change but are really un-assessed systems of diametrically opposed values imposed into close proximity with each other.   

Therefore, it is my belief that moral values represent a set of unspoken and unexamined beliefs people hold within any organization.  I contend that organizations whose standards wholly reside within one or another set of separated values tend to function in more routinely coherent, efficient ways.  The reality is that most organizations evolve into systems of mixed values that represent hybrids with significant potential for detrimental levels of internal conflict.  An example would be a long-standing conservative accounting firm (Guardian values of protecting client interests) suddenly acquiring a consulting branch whose mission is to sell new and innovative analysis of client activities.  The recent debacle in some national accounting firms comes readily to mind.  As do the ethical problems manifested by Enron, WorldCom, etc.   

In summary, when the separate worlds of Guardians and Commercials become overly mixed the result is hybridization (Jacobs, 1992) which I define as a dysfunctional organization  in conflict with itself.  More importantly, addressing deeply embedded conflicting human values is very tough.  It is my experience that challenging these complex mental processes is normally avoided by the average manager.

Conflicting Values

Accepted values are challenged when observations of behavior run counter to community standards (ex. acceptance of bribes, exorbitant profits at the expense of shareholders, etc.). Organizational stakeholders can either accept or reject this “new” behavior through systematic comparison to existing values. Values thus become “regulative constraints” that allow us to “infer the most plausible explanation” for given organizational behavior.  When sufficient anomalies to existing values are perceived one can argue that values are in a state of conflict. Conversely, when anomalies have been critically analyzed and change management is properly implemented they become guides to sustaining a state of balanced tension.  Thus, discerning the extent conflict becomes a crucial act of evaluative management. 

Guardian Moral Values



Shun trading

Bartering for bidden (ex: bribing an employee to obtain a service or favorable decision)

Exert prowess

Heroic or exceptional service expected

Be obedient and disciplined

Obey orders and don’t question higher authority

Adhere to tradition

Cultural traditions, stories, rituals, etc.

Respect hierarchy

Bypassing the “boss” to get your way forbidden

Be loyal

Be faithful to your commitment to the organization

Take vengeance

Punish undesirable behavior

Deceive for the sake of the task

Using undercover police officers or corporate moles to entice criminals to sell drugs or reveal strategic competitive information

Make rich use of leisure

Annual departmental events

Be ostentatious

Deliberately creating ways of communicating outstanding employee activities (Annual Awards)

Dispense largesse

Generously giving out awards f or service

Be exclusive

Providing “perks” for people as they attain rank or position

Show fortitude

Showing strength or firmness during adversity

Be fatalistic

Accept your fate (Glass-half-empty)

Treasure honor

Long standing employees given special awards or consideration

Commercial Moral Values



Shun Force

You avoid using force to change employee behavior

Come to voluntary agreements

Mutual agreement

Be honest

No bribery and deceit becomes an unacceptable behavior

Collaborate easily with strangers and aliens

All stakeholders become partners in reducing waste


Competition is expected and encouraged

Respect Contracts

Business by “handshake”, honesty in all practices

Use initiative and enterprise

Self motivation and problem solving honored

Be open to inventiveness and novelty

Being creative (thinking outside-the-box) encouraged and rewarded

Be efficient

Economic use of limited resources

Promote comfort and convenience

Sell ease of access to services

Dissent for the sake of the task

Open disagreement to create new products or promote quality improvement encouraged

Invest for productive purposes

Research and development well funded in budget and stable over time

Be industrious

Hard working (nose-to-the-grindstone)

Be thrifty

Waste nothing

Be optimistic

Positive attitude (Glass-half-full)

A key question for the reader to answer is:  Has the present evolution of your  organizational values resulted in discernable systemic dysfunctional behavior?  This question, the resulting answer, and all implemented processes are designed to help an organization define realistic boundaries hindering or facilitating its ability to acquire the critical traits of a functioning “learning organization”.

Change Process

The change process I advocate can be stated as follows:  

  1. Define the “gap” between existing belief systems (values) and desired new behaviors;

  2. Describe Value Conflicts (VC) that impede change;

  3. Isolate disruptive from constructive values;

  4. Formulate training and administrative learning outcomes that support desired new behaviors; and

  5. Evaluate and assess the level of change that has occurred. 

  6. Continue the cycle over time.

The final outcomes generated by this process represent revised values that guide organizational change.

     For Further Thought    

Admonitions on Managing and Leading

I believe in behavior based management and leadership. What I generally contend is that the ability of any manager or leader to pre-determine thought is limited. I, as a leader, expect those who work with me exhibit certain behaviors. The following observations are base on an attempt to codify a winning combination of thoughts on fostering positive organizational behavior and forward directed action.

Transparency is a desired communication stance; the ability of any organization to function is directly related to information clarity. Hiding what we know from each other diminishes trust and limits decision-making options.

Demand honesty; expect that those who work for you to behave in positive, honest ways thus enhancing your organization’s ability to value the contributions of each person. Your ability to manage successfully is directly linked to the open honesty of those you work with.

Leadership is the ability of a person to get others to do things they may not want to do; the key behavior the leader needs to exhibit is centered stability and calmness. Everyone has the potential to lead. But work related instability drives people to seek control over their situation. Your ability to become a leader in your profession is directly related to your listening skills. New leaders in new situations require patience; the patience needed for acceptance by your workmates so that they appreciate what you bring to changing their work situation.

Encourage curiosity; once given leadership responsibility foster your subordinates to the question status quo and behave in creative ways. Blind acceptance of what “is” precludes what might be. Encourage everyone to Dig Deeper. Evaluate “mistakes” for they are opportunities to learn.

Behave non-defensively to conflict; conflict is an opportunity to investigate why it exists, the validity of reasoning that supports it, and the consequences of ignoring it. Leaders realize that conflicting views generate new ideas (thesis-antithesis-synthesis) and harness conflict to improve organizational effectiveness.

Expect employees will do their “best”; this is not theory Y management. It is human based management that values others and their unique contributions. It is the work others that provides the energy for leadership success.

Honor employees’ need to know more; if you expect curiosity from your employees then provide rigorous scientifically based training and development to support that need.

Create, at all costs, trust; if we all behave in trustful ways we “bank” trust. That trust holds together organizations through periods of discord and chaos that will always occur.

Design process with people, not independent of people; people will want to help (positive behavior) if they are included in process design. Refer back to trust and transparency.

Guide employees from a positive stance, question employee behavior to tease out the negative; the employee who is treated as a valuable person will respond to critique by wanting to do better if they believe that you listen to them.

Change happens, fear is a natural response; behave in an accepting way that the need to change has emerged. Use change to challenge people’s existing behaviors, belief systems will change over time. The future environment we innately seek is a sense that we can control change. Constantly encourage behavior that uses education as a means to know the future.

Much of what we believe we know does not come from direct experience; it has been mediated by communication techniques only a few years old. Future behavior will be influenced in ways we cannot presently fully anticipate. Manage what you know through a lens of skepticism and a desire to constantly seek to know more and consciously do so independent of mainstream beliefs. Finally lead by example, words act as reinforcements but in the end what we DO to others is what we ARE. The Biblical Golden Rule still works.

Methods of Implementation

It is important that people contemplating value analysis and gap assessment understand that there is no one level to which this concept can be applied.  Organizational structures are multi-varied and evolving.  The last fifty years has seen the traditional vertically organized, top down managed organization evolve into loose partnerships of matrix-organized entities constantly reforming on a global scale on an “as needed” basis.  I argue that if ever there was a situation in which values come in conflict it is this “new world” of management practice.  It is not just the CEO of an organization in crises that needs to check for gaps in the organization, it is the individual managers of operational units down to the smallest level.


It is interesting to think of diversity on a number of different plains.  On one level methods for managing diversity are mechanisms designed to provide organizations with rules and regulations requiring conformance to a set of imposed standards (Guardian values protecting organizational viability).  On another level diversity challenges the organization to consider views, values, and preconceptions different from the norm (Commercial values that require negotiating complex behavior).  Diversity issues thus introduce value conflicts that at their c or e are chaotic to “normal” organizational behavior.  I believe that organizations sensitive to differences manifested by diversity (gender, race, orientation, or m or e importantly the value systems that under girds each socially constructed concept) tend to be more proficient at handling change.  One can argue that enhanced awareness of overlapping, conflicting value sets provide critical insight into methods for implementing and evaluating desired behavioral change.

Global Change

We live in a world beset by problems of seeming intractability.  Political decision makers tend to seek solutions that maximize the impact on society of ever decreasing resources. These decision makers must experiment with modes to thought conductive to change formulation.  Breaking away from "guarded" beliefs and/or accepting "commercial" solutions is, I contend, dependent on examining the "monstrous" hybrid that impedes our ability to truly understand what is in our best collective interest. 


Daft, Richard L.  (2001). Organization theory and design. Mason , OH:  South-Western College Publishing.  

Haig, Brian D. Grounded theory as scientific method. University of Canterbury .  

Postrel, V. (June, 1997). Monstrous hybrids: Understanding the Clinton campaign scandals. Reason Magazine.


Rose, J. (2003-present). Personal discussions. 

Jacobs, Jane. 1992. Systems of Survival. New York: Random House.  

Random House. (1996). Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary reprinted. New York, NY: Barnes and Noble Books.