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What does it cost you?



I have seen first hand multiple times as to how organizational values can be a cruel joke. It is easy enough to pen down a few values and put up a few posters. But, if it doesn't cost you to follow through, then maybe they aren't what people look up to and aspire to be anyway.

It is easy to doubt the sincerity of organizational values. After all, the people who are on the receiving end of the discourse and the dispensing side of the discourse are different (in terms of roles, power and responsibility within the organization). The slightest action that can be perceived as straying from the defined values can be condemned and the sincerity questioned.

But would we react the same way if the same way if the person setting the values as well as following them is the same? I wouldn't. Hence, I refrain from condemning acts from an organization that seem to stray from their cited values. Because I would have to brand myself a hypocrite when I myself stray from the values I set for myself. I empathise.

I have a set of principles to live by and it's not always true that I stick to them. But, it's a grey area to me as to whether that's alright or not. Perhaps that's why religion is so popular. If you're religious, you're delegating the rule-setting to someone else (religious scriptures or some equivalent of that). And then, you can either follow them or not follow them. It is easy to justify both such actions. I have done it myself in the past.

So, there can then be three states.

One, we can follow values that are already set by someone else (by far, the most popular choice among all the people I've met), and choose what we like or dislike about them and act accordingly, and then justify the same.

Two, we can define our own values and follow them. This is not as simple as it sounds, because these values may not always be ones that we'd be willing to share with the people around us, as being our guiding principles. That makes the following part difficult as there will often be a battle between following them and fitting in (this is a battle and it is often because remember from #1 that the most popular choice is to selectively follow values set by someone else).

Three, we don't define our values nor do we consciously adopt any values set by someone else, but passively take the path of least resistance. Until kids grow up, they are invariably in this state, and this is another reason why #1 is most popular. We grow up unconsciously imbibing values set by someone else and then selectively unfollow or strengthen some of them as we experience life. But some people end up not caring much and continue to live in that juvenile (for lack of a better word) state.

Now that we know this, coming back to setting organizational values. While doing so, it is important to understand this and keep in mind the distribution of employees among these three states.

If we notice closely, we'll see that #1 and #3 don't cost anyone anything for following through. Only #2 does. The cost may be monetary, reputation, brand value, or lost opportunities, but there is invariably a cost in following through. We also notice that the effect of values eventually boils down to choices. And the choices usually have a set of options that come with a cost and a set of options that don't come with a cost (at least not immediately).

So, before an organization (or a person) even sets it's values, it must be willing to bear the cost of following through on them. Only then are they meaningful. 

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