Mar 17, 2006

Value system

This post is inspired by this article and a converstaion I recently had with FatSid.

So what exactly do we mean by 'value'? To get us on a common platform, I'll try to define it based on my understanding. (This is a very crude functional definition that will never find its way into HBR)

A value is a strong belief held by someone, that is not open to argument and not likely to change, on which s/he judges good-and-bad, right-and-wrong and the likes

Generally these beliefs are formed as we grow up, based on what we observe around us and the way we understand the world. They are influenced by family, education, company and most of all our own positive and negative experiences. If a certain behavior was always condemned and you were punished for it, it is drilled into ur head as 'wrong'. Eg lying is wrong. u wr probably punished when u were caught lying and told stories of bad things happening to people who lie, including loss of cerdibility. So honesty was drilled in. However, if u always got away with lying and managed to avoid trouble, ur value system would allow u to lie as and when required, later in life. So values are formed over time, based on personal experience and therefore, not easy to change once settled in ones head.

Why am I talking about values today?

Because I've come to understand the importance of value-system alignment for relationships - professional as well as personal.

I have a strong work ethic - i do not like wasting time and resources at work. I absolutely loath people who kill time at work, talk about joining a better company in the same role, and I cannot stand people who cheat the company - on leave cards, reimbursement claims etc. Because my value system does not approve any of these behaviors, I judge these people, avoid them and can be nasty to them. To them, their behavior is justifiable (for whatever reasons - based on their own life experience) and they think i'm an idealistic nut who does not know whats good for himself.

My company claims to 'hire for attitude and train for skills'. The policy makes sense now - because I can see it works. I feel really comfortable with people with similar values and can have productive discussions and relationships with them. On the other hand, the friction is obvious with people not hired through the same process for the same attitude (most of em in the past).
As for training for skills - I guess it would depend on the specific business and quality fo people. Seems to work fine here - may or may not elsewhere.

The part about similar 'attitude' and 'values' is important, because these define the 'company culture'. Companies where values are not taken into consideration while hiring and while working everyday, can not have a consistent and distinct culture, and employees will believe, rightly, that 'culture' is all just fancy jargon used by HR to justify their presence and payscale. But when a conscious, focused effort is made to align personal and company values, you get a culture that increases productivity and effectiveness of efforts to achieve common goals.

On the personal front, values become much more important. I cant choose my colleagues, but i do choose my companions. It is important that we share some common beliefs and have similar opinions and attitudes about most issues, otherwise we'd just be fighthing and arguing all the time.

A friend shared with me the story of an affair he had - which was a disaster due to value differences. He came from a simple, somewhat-conservative punju family, was quite emotional and took relationships very seriously (Ok, his values and mine are aligned - we are friends after all) He went out with a babe from the North-east. Now, there, they drink and make merry. They are much more broadminded about several issues - dress, behavior, drinking and sex included. She was nice to him and really liked him, but they had very different values. Things were 'no-big-deal' for her, but he simply couldn't come to terms with them. He behaved the way he thought 'proper' and she thought he was 'an emotional fool'. Cant say either of them was 'right' or 'wrong', they simply had incompatible value systems. That is why, inspite of all the attraction, openness, enjoying each others company, the raltionship was doomed. Confrontations were inevitable - there would be issues where he said 'wrong' and she said 'right' and they simply could not understand each others viewpoint. Fact is - its not possible when your core values differ.

One doesnt realize how important the 'sharing of values' is in a relationship, unless they end up in a disaster like this.

Again, whats the point
The point is simple - values are very important, and relationships dont work when values differ. So, to make your professional as well as personal life easier and happier:

  • Identify and understand your values. A simple test is - Ask yourself if something is right or wrong. Then ask yourself why u think so. Finally ask yourself - is ur opinion flexible? If its not, u've hit a wall of 'value system'. Dont bang ur head against it. Be aware of it and respect it
  • Check how your workplace, ur role, ur friends and other important people in ur life, rate on ur value system. If you find a major difference, understand that it is always going to create dissonance and unhappiness and do something to correct it if u can
  • Your values determine your behavior, your goals in life and what makes u happy. Think about ur long-term plans and where u can find true happiness. If ur long-term aim is just to make loads of money, and ur values do not allow u to cheat people; if family, relationships and work-life balance are important to u - it will not work out. Find out what u truly like to do and why, and try and do that. Dont chase someone else's dream.

    Thats a lot of gyan from me. This is an unusual post for this blog. But then, I like surprising people - including myself, and doing new things. As always, opinions and thoughts are welcome!

    1. I just think the real conflict lies not in values but the inability to comprehend the existence of other value systems and accepting them as just being different.

    2. That sums up a very valid and important point very succinctly.
      Ones got to accept them and learn to deal with them. Get closer to people with similar value systems and learn to maintain productive relationships with others who you may not like so much.