Check Your Values

Have you ever been in a meeting, which had an agenda, but the discussion wandered around from topic to topic, or someone took it off in a direction you would never have predicted. I was in a board meeting like that recently. I was there as an observer. The meeting kicked off with the usual banter. Kids, church, breakfast…

Eventually the “real meeting” started and the Treasurer took us through the budget. He was taking the group through a recent purchase, asking whether this item was “worth it” or not. Nobody else seems to share his focus. In an attempt to bring the discussion back on track, the Chairman moved on to “general business” and brought up a confrontation from a female member of staff about a recent email he had sent out. He asked everyone else what they thought about his communique.

The discussion went to and fro, with pros and cons about his approach. The Head of Engineering, sitting opposite me asked, “What can we learn from all this – does it change our policy on the subject?” Nobody knew, so he suggested some key learnings, then turned to read some notes he had brought. The Head of Sales, who had gotten up for a coffee pointed out into the car park, and commented on a sale guy’s new BMW. He almost derailed the entire meeting, by taking off on a tangent about HIS new car.

The Head of Marketing was sitting to my right, gazing over at the elegant glass carafe and glasses by the window. He got up to examine them. He was clearly bored, or distracted. Like a kid with a new toy, he played with the carafe. Suddenly the guy sitting to my left (who I think was from Legal) came alive, and thrust his jaw out at the chairman. In a rather self righteous, judgmental tone he said, “Well we have to ask ourselves whether we are here for the vision and values we hold, or just doing the job because we’re being paid a big salary. It seems to me we might have lost our way.” It might have been aimed at the worldly Sales guy, but it felt like it was directed at the Chairman. Conversation stopped, it was like someone farted.

Everybody has a lens, a basic world view shaped by their experiences in life. We all have a set of core beliefs and values that those beliefs are predicated (based) on. It is these core values that set up confluence or conflict with others. What I had just witnessed was a values clash – each man driven by his perspective, asking questions based on what he valued. The research of Edward Spranger (laid out in his book “Types of men”) identifies six core value types in society:

  • Utilitarian (the treasurer),
  • Individualistic (the chairman),
  • Theoretical (the head of engineering)
  • Social (the head of sales),
  • Aesthetic (the marketing guy) and
  • Traditional (the guy from legal).

We each hold all six of these values in different ways. Some are primary (drivers), some are secondary (to which we are impartial) and others are anathema (we oppose them). When people hold different primary values, and find others abhorrent, there is conflict. This is part of what I was observing at the meeting – clashing values.