Managing value conflicts in organisations

Leadership, Manager

“We can change Culture if we change Behaviour” – Dr. Aubrey Daniels

Recently, I was working on a Culture Transformation project with a large client. The objective was to build an ‘Innovation’ Culture, which was critical to succeed in the new market environment. The dominant competency of the organization was ‘production excellence’, which had primarily driven its growth over the last decade.

While engaging with employees across the hierarchy, I was conducting a Focus Group Discussion with some middle management leaders, which slowly shifted into an emotional discussion(essential to get the real picture).

One of the quieter persons in the group suddenly spoke up and asked me a straight question…..“We are stifled by our production targets and have no time for innovation. Can we decide which is more important?”

Balancing seemingly ‘conflicting’ Cultural values is an ongoing challenge for most organizations. The issue escalates to the next level when the mandate is to infuse a new value into the organizational dynamics.

Organizational values are deeply entrenched and permeate every aspect of the company, like a dye soaked into a cloth. They ‘shout out’ at us in the communication, decision-making processes, hierarchical control, rules/procedures, empowerment and success/failure ‘stories’, organogram and non-verbal team behaviors.

No organization can survive on one value competency, and multiple competencies may get into conflicts. So, sales vs operational excellence, Safety versus production, employee welfare vs profitability et al.

Larger organizations develop subcultures where separate verticals drive different values. There, the conflicts arise in the interface between the verticals. The sales guy wants to deliver the product in a day, while operations would like a week to deliver the desired quality. Production targets are critical but they compromise the safety procedures.

Organizations that ‘drift along’ without consciously strengthening desired values allow some of them to dominate the others. One of my clients had a primary value of ‘Operational excellence’, which helped them grow consistently for a few years in a nascent market. Another critical value of ‘Client engagement’ was ignored and dominated by the focus on Operations. When the market shifted with more competition, it was an uphill task to strengthen the capability to effectively engage with clients.

Though the solutions to such changes are unique to the Organisation and may have to be customized with the right blend of tools, some broad principles which usually work are as below:

a. What is in it for me?: A compelling argument of how the new value competency is beneficial for the organization and the employee.

b. What is the specific behavior?: A clear articulation of the desired behaviour is critical to change successfully. Many organizations keep it vague and employees are confused about what is the new behaviour expected of them. It should be as specific as possible.

c. What do I lose if I don’t do it? When strengthening or infusing a new value competency, the first step has to be a strong push to drive the new behavior, with clear disciplinary action if there are lapses.

d. What are the success stories? Stories of how the new value competency brought about tangible benefits are very powerful to sink in the new behavior.

e. How does it merge with existing competencies? This is a process of discussion and co-creation, where leaders and employees find win-win solutions to manage conflicting values. Driven by empowerment, discussions, stories, and flexibility to decide, teams, evolve their capability to find the sweet spot between conflicting values.

Unlike individuals, Organisations need to keep reviewing their value competencies. Add to that the complexity of inculcating the new values into hundreds or tens of thousands of individual personalities. The best solution is usually one which is simple, intuitive and scalable.

Comments are welcome!

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