Competing Values and Strategy: Choose or Compromise?

July 2012, by Antonia Nicols, Connector & Consultant, Awaken Group

Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, values always determine strategy. “The ends justify the means” is a value as well as a strategy.  The most successful business strategies, just as in life, are when the strategies are designed in alignment with clear underlying values which management and employees share.

Even if a company’s value and strategy are not well defined, you can still tell when someone is not “in sync” with the firm. When people appear to be misaligned with the company’s direction, ascertain the following:

  • What do they think the values of the firm are?
  • Has the firm done the work in sharing (and hiring in alignment with) those values?
  • Which of those values are they operating from?

It is possible that problem employees are in fact aligned with the company’s goals, they are just not emphasizing the same value at the same time the company is. It’s also possible that the company needs to do some work on making sure all of the employees understand the values of the company, and how to prioritize them.

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Here’s a typical workplace example:

A CEO gives a speech to his company stressing the need for economic responsibility during this difficult time. During the same speech, the CEO also reiterates that the company is doing all it can to support current employees; however, the bulk of the message is dedicated to the need to cut costs. After the speech, a Manager, responding to the “support current employees” value, approaches the CEO with a proposal for a marketing training program for his team that will cost the company $40,000.

      • CEO Perspective: The CEO interprets this proposal as proof that the Manager “just doesn’t get” the need for economic responsibility and isn’t aligned with the company’s focus. Once this determination is made, the CEO begins to see further evidence of this ‘misalignment’. For example, the CEO notices, and chastises, the Manager for letting employees go home early on a regular basis.
      • Manager Perspective: The Manager is frustrated, having spent a lot of time researching a training program that he believed would deliver the biggest bang for the buck. By being “dismissed” by the CEO, he determines that the Company is not dedicated to its employees after all, and begins to see evidence of this neglect all-around, especially when he is chastised for allowing his employees to go home early to attend their children’s school events. During the conversation with the CEO, the Manager is so frustrated that he does not even bother to mention that he and his employees have agreed -upon time frames in which they need to complete their work.  The Manager feels unappreciated and sees it as further proof that the Company “says” they support employees, but really don’t.
      • Potential Outcome: The CEO and the Manager both determine that they are not a good fit for one another. Friction results, and the Manager may even leave the firm.

What’s going on here?

The CEO is operating from a value of “We are economically responsible.” The Manager is operating from a value of “Our Company supports the personal and professional growth of our employees.”  BOTH are values that the Manager and the CEO support. Unfortunately, the two are not aligned on which one should be prioritized.

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Potential solution?

A potential solution could include a discussion where both values are acknowledged and valued, and a compromise is designed honoring both values: perhaps a lower cost program or even a peer-to-peer training program where other employees in the company with marketing expertise could train the Manager’s team. In this case, the latter solution (a peer-to-peer training program) is an example of both corporate values actively determining strategy.