Tuesday 19 June 2018

Be careful what you wish for...

One of the things many people I talk with wish for is to work for an organisation that is values-led; or at least has a set of values aligned with those of the individual.  And one of the things I enjoy about working with so many universities, who now form the majority of my clients, is that I truly believe in the importance and value of learning in all its aspects.

So why do I sound a note of caution?

The reason is that I have also noticed that it is in values-led organisations (whether commercial, educational or third sector) that some of the most painful conflicts have arisen.  And perhaps the reason is obvious, but it took me a while to understand and articulate it for myself, so perhaps it will be helpful for others.

When we work for an organisation that is aligned with our values, we are engaged at a very deep level - and so is everyone else. So when differences arise about how we should act, they are deeply held, and also more difficult to discuss dispassionately.

I still remember vividly working with a Christian charity that faced a difficult dilemma. They were clear that they would recruit anyone who wanted to contribute to their charitable purposes; but when it came to Board appointments, things were not so clear. On the one hand, some believed that the values of equality and inclusivity, founded in the Christian virtue of Charity, demanded that they appoint people to the Board regardless of their religious affiliation (or lack thereof). On the other hand, others believed that the integrity of the organisation as a Christian charity, demanded that the Board (or at least the majority of the Board) should be believing Christians: Faith is also a Christian virtue, of course. Their concern was that removing the Faith-based requirement for Board appointments would inevitably result, over time, in the organisation losing its Christian ethos.

As you can imagine, people on either side of the debate felt very strongly indeed; and it was difficult to discuss the issue without the emotional temperature rising very rapidly.

Similar conflicts can arise in all arenas, of course. In a university, a proposal that would be beneficial to students but onerous to teaching staff is one example. Some would argue that the students' perspective is the most important - whatever facilitates their learning should be prioritised. But equally, others argue that motivated and productive lecturers are the most important determinant of student learning: so over-burdening and alienating them is clearly wrong.

And because our values are involved - because we are deeply invested in the issues - these conflicts are far more difficult to discuss and resolve than if we are arguing about some issue where our intellect - and our passions - are not so deeply involved.

So by all means work for an organisation that is led by the values that you adhere to - but don't indulge in the fantasy that everything will therefore be sweetness and light!

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