Yesterday I was the guest speaker at one of our internal training programs and the discussion was on values. I find the topic fascinating and very meaningful. While preparing for the session, I was looking at two separate public incidents both involving disasters. One, the recent MH 17 crash due to a missile attack by a group of militants who mistook the passenger aircraft for a military one. It’s devastating enough to hear news of a loved one’s death, it’s worse when it’s due to mistaken identity. You just feel the person was cheated out of his/her full life :(:(. The other incident that happened several years ago was the Kobe earthquake in Japan. In both these incidents human lives were lost and there was huge damage to property.
The MH17 debris site has witnessed looting, while during the Kobe disaster there was none. That’s what caught my attention – what values did the looters display and what values did the Japanese display ? It’s not an easy answer to say that the looters are bad and the non-looters are good. Values are deeper.. I used the example of people that are living in a famine, looting food when they see it.. Won’t you forgive that ? The context changes and acceptable and non-acceptable values change too.
The values conflict is three ways, there are cultural values, the individual’s values and the organization’s values. We see this conflict playing out everyday at work and elsewhere. Cultural values are the ones you absorb during your formative years. It’s your upbringing, what kind of household you were brought up in, the struggles your parents had, the kind of society you were brought up in. My dad taught me the value of being conscientious – that I put my heart and soul into the work I do for my organization because the organization pays me the salary !! New research says, that children form their values by the time they are five years old. So cultural values influence your individual values.
Japanese society is a high trust society … Apparently there isn’t even a Japanese word for looting. Employees don’t leave corporations, houses aren’t locked, trains ply on time. The value of trust is displayed everywhere and so looting does not come naturally to Japanese. They cannot be seen as taking something that isn’t theirs. But the society from which the looters come may be differently structured. Maybe they have very little and need to constantly look for things to add to their assets. Looting when no one sees, maybe one way of earning.
Think of the values conflict in organizations… Thousands of people from diverse backgrounds coming together with their individual values and it’s expected that they adopt the organizational values. And the stated organizational values may be different to the ones in practise and use. The one thing that employees must do as they join an organization is to understand the stated values of the firm and the values in use really well and identify any values mismatch. Our values influence our behaviour consciously or sub-consciously and values conflicts are un-resolvable usually. The only resolution is moving away from the relationship because it’s almost impossible for someone to adopt your values and vice versa. Just beware that style differences can appear as values mismatch, and that is possible to resolve through open regular communication.
It’s important to find alignment with your individual values and the organization’s values. Also the alignment to the cultural values of the society you live in – mismatch in either place leads to conflict.
Many of the conflict situations you deal with are values conflicts..and it’s so difficult not to feel that your values are superior, while in reality values are also contextual and no value is better than the other.
It’s a fascinating topic and needs more thinking.