Saturday, May 26, 2012

Values and Behavior

Assumption: Values matter in a company because they form the foundation of how people behave in the company. What we are really after are a set of behaviors that will best give us the results we are after. 

In Patrick Lencione’s book Advantage he recommends as one of the best ways to identify what values are core to an organization is a three step process:

  • First, the leadership team picks the employees in the organization who already behave in the manner that makes them admired my the leadership team.  Make a list of all the attributes that make them so revered and this list is the pool of candidates for your core values.
  • Second, the leadership team then identifies people who drive them crazy and would be more valuable if they were not there.  Take the opposite of whatever makes then so annoying and those things are candidates for your values.
  • Third, the leaders honestly self-evaluate themselves to verify that they too embody the values thus selected.

We use this methodology as part of the Entrepreneurial Operating System.  It works well with small companies.  The smaller the better for this method.  If you’ve kept up on the hot topics of behavior and bias you will recognize a big flaw with the process.  That’s because the sampling method is highly biased.  Where the population size is very small, this is a smaller problem. But, the larger the pool of people gets, the less representative the selected people in Lencioni’s method become.
We did this with a company of 11 people.  Four of them were in the room.  This allowed the leadership team to look at all of the other seven people remaining and while they pick three of them as representative of the good, and one of the bad, they agreed that the three were indeed fairly representative of all the rest.  Had the company consisted of 250 people, or 5,000 people, no claim of representativeness would have been credible. The method works ok for a company of 11 people.  What we end up defining is really a set of behavioral guides.
We utilize this method because human beings believe in causal relationships between what someone values and how they behave.  And since we work with smaller companies, in the grand scheme of things we get close to the result we’re after using the methodology, so why fight the brain’s city hall.  
But, it is just not true that values drive behavior.  What turns out to be true, is that the environment makes a huge difference in how our values influence our behavior. Starting with the Milgram experiment, there is a ton of psychological research to demonstrate this.  Without going into a lot of detail here, look at the video below and you will realize that the degree to which our values influence our behavior depends upon the context.

The point is, we really can skip all this nonsense about values and go straight to answer the question, how do we engender the behaviors we are after?

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