I have always been a values driven person. During my early years I wanted to make a difference and to help people become happier and more satisfied. As a result I went down the path of people management. Although I found I had a gift of business acumen and creating successful teams, it was the people underneath who inspired me and where my focus lay.
I remember also a time when my intrinsic values were challenged. A lady who I was assigned to deliver a project with had somewhat different values to me. At that time I believed in equal opportunities for all. I believed that fairness, openness and transparency were paramount. I realised the potential to indirectly discriminate, and also about the power of our minds to subconsciously discriminate on appearances. I believed in being honest, doing the right thing and respecting everyone.
I also at that time thought that everyone shared some if not all of these fundamental values. I was mistaken. The project manager who was leading a programme I had been appointed to work on was very different from me.
Working along side this person, I recalled a story my friend had told me about a boy at her son’s school. When caught cheating by copying some exam questions from another, his response was “its not cheating, it’s simply getting the answers by an easier route” Or words to that effect. We laughed at his audacity. But in my naivety I didn’t think this expedient approach would appear in my world of work. Again I was mistaken.
The project manager I discovered was tough, ruthless and had the same principles as the boy at school. Her philosophy was that the end justified the means. That you sometimes had to make tough decisions which overrode any values you might have cherished upon the way. You eye had to be on the end result and all that mattered was the result. What’s more I found that senior managers and people of influence bowed down, respected and encouraged this approach.
For some of you reading, I guess you might think that my own values were soft and unrealistic in what can be a ruthless world. And as I came upon this stark contrast to my own way of doing things, I spent 6 torturous months, re-evaluating my approach and what this new information meant. It was a steep but necessary learning curve for me. I began to doubt my own values and began to feel ineffective in the wake of someone who steam rollered over all my suggestions about how things should be done.
This period of self doubt and discomfort is often a necessary stage of learning and growth, and one which I had often sidestepped. After all it’s much easier to make the other person wrong rather than admit you might well be.
What I learned in this time was this:
- Examining others values and incorporating their philosophy into your own values can actually help you grow. I am glad I didn’t reject the values I was being faced with; I learned a lot about myself and others through this process. I would urge you to look at this in this light.
- I always had a bottom line: So for example, I would respect that sometimes the boundaries between my employee’s personal life and work sometimes encroached, particularly during stressful life events, but that the business could only bend so far to accommodate. We had a business to run. I learned that other people had a much shorter bottom line, and that was their prerogative.
- That organisational values and ideals could and would erode when faced with crisis or major change, and that senior managers could and would often support this. This can arise quite often when faced with a financial crisis, or a battle for survival.
- I realised that I could respect other people’s values even when they weren’t my own. I might not agree with them, but there were occasions when I had no choice but to accept them.
Even in times of crisis or change, your values don’t need to actually change, indeed to maintain the credibility and trust of your customers and employees; this is the time you need to demonstrate your commitment to fundamental values even more strongly. But you must also be diligent and articulate your bottom line. So for example, you might have a policy around family friendly policies, but that if your business is on the verge of bankruptcy, you might have to review these and ask people to do more.
The lady in question wasn’t a cheat. She just valued outcomes more and the way people came along with the change came second. She wasn’t dishonest, just didn’t value the input of others because it would slow the process down. She got the job done, but she didn’t make many friends upon the way. Did it make financial sense? Yes in the short term. Did it earn the respect of the employees affected? No, not in the long or short term.
In the process of my learning, did I change my values? A big resounding no. I realised that a values driven approach can be seen as slow and soft. It isn’t. What I learned is that having a commitment to values, with a clear and transparent bottom line is essential to gaining credibility and commitment.
What I don’t do, is dismiss other people’s values because they are not the same as mine, or indeed judge them. I consider them in the context they are being applied. If I am working with people whose values don’t coincide with mine, I try to put myself in their shoes. If I am standing in their shoes and still feel so uncomfortable I can’t walk, then I simply walk away, in my own shoes with my own values intact.
What do you think? Are you able to respect others values when yours are in question? Do you think its imperative for employers to maintain their values even in times of great change? How important is it to have a values driven philosophy?