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What comes first, Values or Principles?

posted Sep 9, 2015, 3:39 AM by John Oliver   [ updated Sep 10, 2015, 12:24 AM ]
There is a significant field of research and literature of how values and principles impact business. 

Values in my opinion currently has the primary spot light in business literature, going back to the 1990's rapid adoption of values statements, to now companies' explicit embracing of a wide spectrum of human capital areas such as employee well being to equal opportunities as being part of their "core values".  

However, I feel we are missing a trick here, when speaking of these laudible and universal values.

My research has highlighted how in fact the cultivation of a healthy competition of values between employees, can tap into a powerful collaborative energy.

Competing values can be typified by left-wing and right-wong politics within an organisation - those companies that embrace both might be onto something that is a real differentiator in terms of performance, agility and resilience.

Competing values have been researched indepth by Cameron and Quinn, in their excellent book that distills the mutually dependent by competing perspectives one can find in organisations. Cameron and Quinn distilled their competing values matrix (create-control-compete-collaborate) from a comprehensive analysis of over 40 organisational design attributes (that map nicely onto the Jungian archetypes).

How to hold however a healthy context and container for that internal competition?

The answer I propose lies in how organisations can define their principles - the game rules.

See Ray Dalio's business principles (from Bridgewater) for an excellent example, as cited in the Harvard Business Review Article "Does Your Company Make You a Better Person?" by Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey and Andy Fleming, Jan 2014.

The follow-up question is how to make the distinction between universal values, and competing values. Perhaps principles come somewhere in between or vice-versa (in order to avoid striving for an absolute answer to the title of this post!).