HomeOpinion & AnalysisRe-imagining the workplace: The vice of value ambivalence in the workplace

Re-imagining the workplace: The vice of value ambivalence in the workplace


A businessman crony of mine has big dreams about a thriving workplace where the employer and the employee have clear obligations and live by them in their contracts.

He always challenges all work to do with the human resource to be sold from a commercial perspective and not wishy washy, I want to be relevant point of view. He expresses a lot of discomfort even with the training and development interventions we often propose as practitioners, and he wants to see the connection with productivity and of course profitability. I think his discomfort is beautiful and I agree that there should be a clear connection between people issues and gain, both for the employer and the employee.

The question I am sitting with today is that of the relevance of values in an organisation. I have no doubt that a good number of organisations do feel that values are an important matter because you see a lot of these on big companies’ walls in the workplace. What I am not sure of though is whether anyone really cares about these once they are put on the walls. This doubt emanates from the belief that the process of establishing these values is flawed most of the time and that this robs organisations of their hard-earned money because these values have no direct bearing on business and profit.

I have no doubt that an informed and scientific approach to this important subject would make a huge difference on the mood, culture, and performance of an organisation. How then do we make sure as companies that we fully understand this subject and can utilise it for the benefit of business?

In the discipline of personal mastery there is an interesting value exploration exercise where you first create a list of what you believe you value. On such lists you get such stuff as health, our kids, God, honesty, work, etc as the things most people believe are their values. The exercise takes an interesting twist when we have to look at how we spend our time and where we place most of our time.

It has turned out for many that their list was just a wish list and that their real life did not reflect that kind of value system. What do we establish by this exercise? Well, a lot of things but what stands out for me is the fact that this values issue can be viewed from a conscious and unconscious point of view and that is to say that if we live on the survival mode, we live by certain values we are not even fully in touch with because we are in pursuit of survival and the things we need to survival. There is the conscious self, stuck somewhere in our being and existence, who cannot express himself fully and live creatively because the survivor self is busy clinging to things we need to survive like someone drowning, who thinks of nothing but escaping and not dying.

This values exercise exposes our survival mode and justifies the need to go deeper in understanding the self in the workplace and outside so that a process can then be created to move individuals from the survival brain and survival mode to the creative or conscious brain that is capable of thinking quality thoughts for the business.

That way we can justify a good allocation budget wise to the process in terms of training, development, and culture. I agree entirely with a difficult CEO and finance department that challenges anyone coming forward with fancy proposals to do with such intricate matters without justification.

That is not to say this is not an important matter, no, by no means, because the success of a group rests on shared values and a culture that directly influences performance and if these are left to chance the organisation is robbed of an important human resource element of doing business. Organisations need, therefore, to be thorough regarding justification based on scientific principles to avoid cosmetic activities that have no bearing on productivity and profitability.

This individual values discrepancy and ambivalence way of helping individuals come to terms with the fact that they are living a distorted life where they think they live by certain values when they don’t, can apply to organisations also. If we take our time to list the values we claim to live by as organisations and go on to audit our culture and activities, we will see the contradictions if there is no conscious effort to make this venture a noble and true one. We can then measure the performance of our organisation, check creativity, innovation, efficiency, productivity, and profit and see that we could be doing better if we took human resources matters and dynamics seriously.

We would reduce acts of misconduct, disciplinary matters, absenteeism, and other vices such as late coming, theft, fraud and pilfering because we would have systematically fixed our disconnected values and created, again systematically, a collective being and identity that has converging interests based on shared values. This is not to sell a utopian dream but a scientific approach that comes with the principle of measuring and not what one of my varsity lecturers called the ‘cast the net method.’ Bene Brown, a renowned international researcher says that if you can’t measure it, it does not exist. That means that the workplace needs some science especially regarding such soft and subtle elements of business as attitude, culture, values systems, and others. A no thorough justification no budget approach is the way to go. Every part of the budget must mean something and be not just a loosely hanging element.

When an organisation allows such loose ends to be the order of the day, a lot suffers just like we saw with the value ambivalent individual. Those in a survival value system are dancing with trauma and lack of creativity and the current economic situation in Zimbabwe promotes survival and poor performance and we don’t want to waste our time looking back to rue the days we did not use our time and resources to prepare for these rainy days.

It’s indeed, never too late to mend and Zimbabwean organisations have a ‘good’ opportunity to learn through these hardships to work on creating working workforces that are driven by shared values and cultures that are consciously created by scientific principles that cannot be resisted. There is no point in burying our heads in the sand and waiting for things to get better because if we do so, we will wait all our lives.

The workplace is an autonomous space with its own peculiarities and its dynamics have to be understood that way so that we don’t always view it as an in-between space whose heartbeat is remote controlled from somewhere else. Yes there is the macro environment variable to the equation but the success of an entity is largely an inside out game.

  • Bhekilizwe Bernard Ndlovu’s training is in human resources training, development and transformation, behavioural change, applied drama, personal mastery and mental fitness. He works for a South African organisation as a Learning and Development Specialist, while also doing a PhD with Wits University where he looks at violent strikes in the South African workplace as a researcher. Ndlovu worked as a human resources manager for a number of blue-chip companies in Zimbabwe and still takes keen interest in the affairs of people and performance management in Zimbabwe. He can be contacted on bhekilizweb.bn@gmail.com

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