I see schools teaching a subject called value education, companies proclaiming values through several channels. I remember the lessons in management classes on topics of leadership and organization behaviour. And these values are pretty common amongst books, mythologies, religions and companies! We see challenges in their observance in our families, society and of course, companies. There have been tonnes of experiences in our lives where these values have been said to be compromised. I wonder why!
As I think more about it, I realize that the values are not objective and their interpretation is not binary. There are several shades of grey associated with a value. Nobody in the real-world will ever want someone to be dishonest, unkind, inhuman, un-energetic, dispassionate and so on… Yet, we find people telling lies, say things which they do not mean, do something different from what they promise, edge others out for personal gains and so on. All of us are taught basic human values in our families, schools and society. However, we find violation of these, irrespective of someone’s social standing, educational qualification and circumstances. These lead me to believe that it’s impossible to make these values black and white…If I see any natural phenomenon such as day and night, seasons, plants, human life etc, we do not find binary events (like the state of a light bulb is binary : it’s either ON or OFF) there. Hence, our world encourages human behaviours which are not binary in nature; they are practiced as a spectrum or a continuum. For example, it is hard to define what is absolute honesty and what is absolute dishonesty. I think, it’s always in a context where multiple forces are at play and thus, one exercises one’s discretion. Let’s think of espionage practised by countries to protect their interests : we all know that the espionage program covers countries even if they are considered friendly and trusted. Aren’t friendliness and trust as valuable as security and foresight? So, snooping around is not dishonesty and indecency in the context of international affairs, but in the realm of domestic affairs, it is indecent and unacceptable! Similarly, think of values like energy, passion, integrity, hard work, transparency, respect, growth etc. These are all interpreted based on the context in which a situation happens.
We will also easily realize, it’s very difficult to measure the extent to which a value is demonstrated and train someone to improve living a particular value, say respect by 20% or passion by 30%! I have a problem when I am to rate someone in my team on some of these values and expected to be objective in my assessment. I feel tyrannized to see salary hikes linked to these ratings. If I had 3 children, how do I decide their performance against adherence to the value system of my family? Do we ever do this in our daily life unless there is a gross violation in situations like Satyam Computers or Enron?
I believe in human development; I think, we must recognize and encourage behaviours of making the right choices. For example, a salesperson chooses to resist the temptation of earning incentive by over-selling (cheating) a prospective customer; a production manager chooses to re-assess quality of a batch if s/he notices inconsistent test results; a procurement executive doesn’t place an order when the supplier doesn’t adhere to the code of conduct; a teacher condemns bad behaviour of a student even if s/he is the topper; a policeman raises an alarm even if the culprit is a powerful person. We perpetuate such code of conduct by deep-diving into situations rather than staying focused on the output results and transcending them by a chopper view.
In today’s world, many of us believe in speed of action, metrics and remote linkages. Families do not dine together; teams do not get to know the persons who work together. We tend to compromise (denounce?) the value of coming together, taking a pause, reflecting, immersing into the feelings and beliefs. We are happy talking to roles rather than the persons holding the roles! If we can alter this trend, the world will be a better place : we will not waste time in running after the absoluteness of values and principles; we will have a shared understanding of what is right and what’s not. Leaders will earn respect and be inspiring for their troops. This will release a lot of energy which gets wasted in running training programs on values.
Sounds simple, let’s try doing it!