Organization development values

Last week I was facilitating an organization development program. We started off discussing three definitions of organization development, and what their similarities and differences were. The three we considered were.

  • Organization Development is a dynamic values-based approach to systems change in organizations and communities; it strives to build the capacity to achieve and sustain a new desired state that benefits the organization or community and the world around them. Organization Development Network
  • It is the systematic application of behavioral science principles and practices to understand how people and organizations function and how to get them to function better within a clear value base. It is shamelessly humanistic and has strong value drivers. Linda Holbeche, Organization Development – What's in a name?
  • OD is the activities engaged in by stakeholders in order to build and maintain the health of an organization as a total system. It is characterized by a focus on behavioral processes and humanistic values. It seeks to develop problem solving ability and explore opportunities for growth. Roffey Park

People homed in on the values of OD. Look at the definitions and you'll see the phrases "OD is a dynamic values-based approach", it is about functioning with "a clear value base. It is shamelessly humanistic and has strong value drivers." "It is characterized by a focus on … humanistic values."

Participants were interested in three things:

1. What exactly are these "humanistic values"?
2. How do you operate "humanistic values" if these are at odds with the organizational values or you are having to implement something in line with the business strategy e.g. a 10% downsize in a participatory "humanistic values" based way?
3. How does a group of OD consultants in one organization develop a set of shared values?

These were excellent questions that I felt deserved more attention than we had time to give them in the course of the day. So here is a continuation of the discussion: Comments welcome

What exactly are these 'humanistic values'?
There are many thoughts on what constitute 'humanistic values' but the UK Humanist Society suggests the following twelve that, regardless of a consultant's religious beliefs, seem to be exactly what organization development consultants should role model.

1. The encouragement of free-thinking and the spirit of enquiry that seeks to describe the nature of the universe and of the diversity of life on earth.
2. An openness to new knowledge and the acceptance of uncertainty.
3. Self-reliance and independence of thought within the recognition of the ultimate interdependence of humanity.
4. Concern for the well-being of the whole of humankind. Compassion and concern for all humans who, in varying degrees, are deprived of the opportunity for self-fulfillment.
5. Respect for all humans, for other species, and for the environment. The promotion and preservation of an ecological balance.
6. An approach which seeks to understand the beliefs and values of others.
7. A co-operative and problem- solving approach to conflicts of interest. Reasoned argument as opposed to dogmatic assertion
8. An approach to morals and ethics which takes account of the complexities of modern living and has as its starting point that moral and ethical behaviour is that which, except in self-defense, does no harm to the well-being of others. In situations of moral dilemma, the choosing of solutions which do least harm to the participants.
9. The concept of the democratic ideal. Impartiality towards, and equal treatment of, individuals and groups whatever their … beliefs.
10. Social attitudes which militate against the exploitation, or physical or psychological abuse, of humans by humans. A society which educates its members in tolerant, co-operative living.
11. A humane approach to all actions affecting members of the non-human living world.
12. The creative and artistic potential of human nature. The capacity of the arts, literature, and recreational activities for expanding perceptions, for increasing the awareness of self, and for illuminating the human condition. All those circumstances that enable humans to be free to experience the physical and mental joys of living.

How do you operate "humanistic values" if these are at odds with the organizational values or you are having to implement something in line with the business strategy e.g. a 10% downsize in a participatory "humanistic values" based way?

This is a particularly difficult question that I don't have a ready answer to. There are schools of thought that hold that organizational development is manipulative and that organization development consultants 'engage in self-deception'. There is an excellent article by Marie McKendall on this topic The Tyranny of Change: Organization Development Revisited. This article, which I came across several years ago gave me pause for thought. In one consulting organization where I was employed being rebuked by a young consultant for agreeing to do consulting work for a tobacco company. He said he would never do that. The interesting thing was that he found out about my tobacco company work because I asked him to compile a briefing book on the company – which he compiled.

We had a good discussion on this including his reasons for compiling the briefing book despite his misgivings. This discussion seeded us running a whole office lunch and learn when all levels of consultants – including partners – joined a debate on the morals and ethics of working for particular clients. People described specific instances of moral dilemmas, their personal values, and the kind of judgments they made individually and organizationally.

I don't smoke and never have, and am in theory entirely opposed to companies making money from promoting a product that provokes terminal lung cancer amongst other life shortening illnesses. In practice I was willing to do the piece of work and justified this by saying I would find out how such a company operates and be able to speak about it with knowledge rather than assumption, was this self-deception? Should I have refused to do it? I am still not sure.

On the down-sizing topic – having been laid off myself (more than once) I've experienced better and worse ways of this being handled. I prefer the ways that mirror the values listed rather than the brutal 'pack up your stuff and leave now' approach. In my experience people understand the reality of organizational life and prefer the human values approach that treats people with respect in this difficult situation.

How does a group of OD consultants in one organization develop a set of shared values?

On this one I feel on stronger ground. Some form of action learning would go a long way towards generating the shared values. It could comprise, for example:

  • Regular discussions on articles that present a point of view e.g. Marie McKendall's or the thirteen values presented above
  • Case assessment e.g. how would you deal with a project offered by a tobacco company
  • Peer to peer coaching and review on specific organizational issues
  • Tracking of the path towards a shared value set and gradual 'codification' (if appropriate)

The question is whether this can work cross culturally or in a culture which is not intrinsically leaning towards "humanistic values'. Scratching my head on this I came across The Humanistic Management Network and a book edited by their key people Humanism in Business, Perspectives on Responsible Business in Society, published in 2009 by Cambridge University Press and then found the Journal of Human Values, which dipping into the reviews, contents pages, and so on seems to tackle some of this.
The burble for the journal says that it "provides an understanding of how in order for individuals, organizations and societies to endure and function effectively, it is essential that an individual's positive exalting forces be rediscovered and revitalized. [It] addresses the impact of human values along a variety of dimensions: the relevance of human values in today's world; human values at the organizational level; and the culture-specificity of human values."

Certainly I found enough articles in its archives to point out to me that as with anything I decide to investigate there a treasure trove of avenues for learning. Having been asked the questions was a good prod to me to do more than demonstrate (I hope) my own intrinsic humanistic value set be more prepared to point people in the direction of the many ways they can learn more on the topic.

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