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Jamie Lawrence

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Insights Director

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Book Review: The Values-driven Organization

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HRZone has a range of books available for review. If you would like to receive one of our business books, free of charge, please contact the editor on editor at hrzone dot com and we can send you a list of what's available. In return, we ask for a 400-700 word review of the book, its content and whether it's appropriate for a senior HR director audience and for business professionals looking to become more effective in their roles.

Title: The Values-driven Organization – unleashing human potential for performance and profit
Author: Richard Barrett
ISBN: 978-0415815031
Reviewer: David Evans, Burn Bridge Associates
Reviewer's rating: 5 out of 5

In his preface, Richard Barrett describes his purpose as being to launch a book “for leaders, change agents and consultants on how to build a values-driven organization.” No mean ambition.

I picked up this book with considerable interest: I am accredited to use the culture-transformation tools that the author has developed (www.valuescentre.com) and have become fascinated by the role that values, personal authenticity and leader role-modelling play in developing corporate culture and employee engagement.

For clarity, values are a shorthand method of describing what is important to us and are a reflection of our needs. They can be described as basic or deficiency needs, or growth needs. Values can be potentially limiting or positive, and our values and beliefs drive our attitudes, emotions and behaviours.

Although the values-based approach might not play out particularly well in the short-term, results-obsessed environment in which some of us may work, there is increasing evidence to suggest that a more ‘humanistic’ slant delivers more sustainable, long-term and beneficial outcomes. In the first part of his book Barrett makes the case for this latter approach, arguing that satisfying employee growth needs and their psychological development, and creating conditions in which people can thrive personally and socially, creates the conditions for a values-based organisation.

This is all important because the values that are demonstrated in organisations set the tone for employee engagement (which Barrett describes as “the level of emotional and intellectual involvement that employees have with an organization”). And they also determine the level of what Barrett terms ‘cultural entropy’ – this is the amount of energy that is consumed in unnecessary or unproductive work. Entropic work creates friction, discord and frustration and blocks the organisation from operating optimally.

Using extensive research from Gallup, Barrett demonstrates how performance, entropy and engagement are linked, and therefore how having a values-focus has a direct, positive impact on business outcomes.

Barrett’s starting-point for his thinking is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He has taken the Maslow work and extended the number of levels from 5 to 7. Much of the book looks at the implications of each of these seven levels of consciousness and their impact on personal and organisational performance, in the context of a whole-system view. ‘Whole system’ here refers to the combination of individual values and beliefs (character), personal behaviour and actions (personality), collective values, customs and beliefs (culture) and society at large.

Barrett links character and culture in the form of ‘values alignment’ and personality and society under the label of ‘mission alignment’.  It is important to recognise that this is a hierarchy: at the lower end, individuals (and organisations) operate in a narrow, internally-focussed manner, with an ego-centric and profit / cost focus. At the higher end of the hierarchy, values are centred around external, broadly-based and service-focussed objectives. This latter state promotes a ‘bigger’ purpose, a greater sense of accountability and a more communal spirit.

The book describes the process of measuring for system-wide culture (via values-identification) and the degree of individual alignment with the organisational culture, and then how change can be made to bring alignment closer together. Barrett asserts that the process of building “internal cohesion” begins with the leadership team and the development of trust within it: without leadership-team cohesion the rest of the organisation will fail to operate cohesively. So, using the seven levels of consciousness – at the organisational and the personal level – the degree of current and future alignment can be determined, with the gap between the two providing an agenda for change.

This book is packed full of challenging and useful information about how to align your organisation in a way that develops a positive and productive culture. The author uses many examples of how to do this and provides annexes that contain the rationale and the detail to support his approach. His work is backed up by around 20 years of practical usage and so there is a high degree of validity to support the approach. For those organisations that wish to grasp the nettle of meaningful culture analysis and change, this is a compelling approach to consider before embarking on a complex and demanding journey.

For the HR professional, this book is a challenging and thought-provoking read. It describes an approach that will really test management teams to commit to long-term personal change and adopt a new way of doing things that will bring lasting benefits. However, how many of your senior colleagues will be willing to make such a commitment?!

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

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