I read a few academic papers, but come across very few that fall into the category of “highly entertaining.” (Kind of reminds me of my favorite lawsuit, also a juicy read.)
The part that resonated with me the most was this:
Interestingly, whereas the concept of values has “served as a catchall category for an enormous array of very different judgments, decisions, preferences, and orientations” (Howard, 1985:255), the word itself is a rather latecomer to our English vocabulary.
In fact,the word “values”did not even appear in the Oxford English Dictionary until shortly before World War II (Himmelfarb, 1994; Wright & Wright, 2000).
Furthermore, and highly relevant when considered in comparison with traditional definitions of both character and virtue, values are not typically tied to a particular moral code or standard. More specifically, values are considered by many to be primarily situationally determined (cf., Mone & McKinley, 1993), once again reinforcing the notion that, as most commonly considered today, values are devoid of any strict adherence to particular moral codes or standards (Wright & Wright, 2001).
Hunter (2000: xiii) goes even further in his criticism of values-based scientific inquiry in proposing that “Values are truths that have been deprived of their commanding character. . . .The very word ‘value’ signifies the reduction of truth to utility, taboo to fashion, conviction to mere preference; all provisional, all exchangeable.”Similar to the term lifestyle, values epitomize a world where nothing is sacred (Hunter, 2000). Some might consider Hunter’s conjecture that the widespread rise in popularity of values-based research in the social sciences is directly responsible for the commensurate decline in interest in character (and virtue) as extreme,but he presents a coherent,well-reasoned argument to document his case.
I found the above segments interesting, due to my experience in strategic planning for many different kinds of organizations. When I work with executives on Mission, our reason for being, and Vision, where we want to be in X years, they are extremely excited and engaged. But when we talk about defining our core values, almost everyone checks out. It’s easy to know why. In most organizations, core values bear no relationship to the actual activities of the company. A company says its values are innovation or integrity, but it puts little funding into R&D; and has a sleazy sales force, so everyone knows that the values are a lie at worst, an HR exercise at best, not something to live by.
The discussion I have with people to help hone in on their true core values has always been — what is so important to you personally, that if you had to compromise it in order to keep your company in business, you wouldn’t compromise it, and you’d let your company fail? Individual execs in senior leadership positions can come up with answers to that, but the problem is, it’s different for everyone in the room, and getting folks to agree is an exercise in compromise. Values, as a subset of character or virtue, only really work when they’re embodied by the leader, and when they are constantly communicated and reinforced by the leadership of the organization, and when leadership regularly demonstrates how those values were part of a business decision. There are a few companies that do this well — the CEO’s of Patagonia and Smith and Hawken come to mind — but it’s harder as a company gets larger. But Google and Apple seem to do this well, and GE does to a lesser extent. The problem is consistently reinforcing values also means that when you get an employee who does not embody those values, he needs to either change his behavior or leave the company. If his performance is good, well, most people will be willing to compromise on those values. So are they truly important?