(Shadow) values dictate behaviour

For an insight into how we can all trick ourselves into saying one thing and doing another, The Ethics Centre report on their review of Cricket Australia’s culture is a valuable resource.

Peter Drucker’s observation that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ has been acknowledged as a fundamental truth for many years, and yet we continue to see evidence that it has not been fully understood.  This is playing out in Royal Commissions, ACNC inquiries, sporting club scandals, and in public discourse about standards of acceptable behaviour in all spheres of activity.

whatever it takesSometimes the published values give permission to people within an organisation to behave in more extreme ways, and the famous removal of the ‘Whatever it takes’ slogan from the wall at Essendon’s Windy Hill ground encapsulated the recognition that ‘winning at all costs’ was not acceptable.

To its credit, Cricket Australia commissioned the review by The Ethics Centre and is now responding to its 42 recommendations. In their case though, the report identifies two sets of values within the corporate culture, and this is an issue all not-for-profit organisations should consider.  Do your employees and volunteers respond to your published value statements, or do they sense that there are unwritten rules about what is acceptable behaviour, which constitute shadow values?  What steps could you take to better align your stated values and the behaviour of your people?

In a 2017 article called The Hidden Power of Shadow Values, The Ethics Centre noted:

“Uncovering shadow values can reveal deeper facets of an organisation’s actual operating culture. By proactively identifying and monitoring its shadow values, an organisation is better placed to see any early drift in the alignment of its culture from its values and principles. It can also unlock untapped potential through better understanding of how the official values are enacted by their staff in day to day activities.”

Torben Rick’s illustration of the culture iceberg highlights the difference between the way we say we get things done and the way we really get things done.


below_the_green_lineSteve Zuieback offers a similar analysis in his version of the Below the Green Line model, drawing distinctions between the ways in which a system organizes itself to conduct business, and the ways information is shared, how it is utilized in decision-making and how transparent the critical information is to all stakeholders in the system.  The distinction between rational and experiential perspectives is similar, although not exactly the same as the Culture Iceberg, with the latter model highlighting the way psychology can intervene when interpreting or operationalising policies, strategies and procedures.

The need for balance between these areas is also highlighted in the Below the Green Line model. The board and management need to attend to these matters when considering the implementation of governance decisions, and in particular when executing strategy.

Pretending that shadow values don’t exist, or that they do, but not at our organisation, is how so many appear to have found themselves in serious trouble.


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