Changing Societal Values

I'm now wrestling with the question "Is there a 'right' organizational culture" which has taken me into some fascinating research papers with esoteric arguments that take a lot of unraveling and reflection. (Or maybe this is just displacement activity getting in the way of actually writing the chapter). One of the aspects that comes into play in answering the question is the gradual shift in societal values over the years.

The World Values Survey that, over several years, has tracked these changes "were designed to provide a comprehensive measurement of all major areas of human concern, from religion to politics to economic and social life" The analysts of the surveys contend that a large number of basic values are closely correlated. In fact, they can be depicted in just two major dimensions of cross-cultural variation

(1) Traditional/ Secular-rational reflecting the contrast between societies in which religion is very important and those in which it is not

(2) Survival/Self-expression values associated with the transition from industrial society to post-industrial societies.

"These two dimensions explain more than 70 percent of the cross-national variance in a factor analysis of ten indicators-and each of these dimensions is strongly correlated with scores of other important orientations".

The map itself is well worth a look as it shows where various countries (in 2005) are on the two dimensions. The narrative that accompanies it reveals, among other things,"that a cultural shift is emerging among generations who have grown up taking survival for granted. Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, tolerance of diversity and rising demands for participation in decision making in economic and political life. These values also reflect mass polarization over tolerance of outgroups, including foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality".

This is illustrated by the relative positions of Zimbabwe and Sweden the former being positioned as a religious country with members focused on survival, and the latter as a secular country high on self-expression. (This may be self-evident but at least there is some back up data).

A related presentation comments that "On average, the five cultural zones (for which data are available from 1981 to 2006) have been moving toward stronger self-expression values.
Four of these five zones also moved toward stronger secular-rational values. But this move
is less pronounced".

From an organizational culture perspective this is useful to bear in mind as companies try to take a foothold in new geographies and/or work with their internal cultural values which are changing as society's values change.

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