Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Speaking Values with Confidence

This is a guest post by Diana Santana and Alberto Turlon from the Carnegie New Leaders program.

Consider a time in your career when you were asked to do something that went against your values. First, recall an instance when you acted in favor of your values. How did you do this? How did you communicate in ways that created change? Now, consider a time when faced with a similar challenge that you failed to voice your values. Why didn't you voice your concerns? Jot down these two stories.

Mary Gentile, educator, author of Giving Voice to Values (GVV), and creator of the GVV curriculum, opened a discussion of her work at a recent Carnegie New Leaders event by asking participants to call on their experiences and consider "A Tale of Two Stories." Adding to this exercise, Gentile recounted the Harvard Business School welcome speech that instructs incoming students to "look to the left of you, look to the right;" know that these are the people that you will call on for the rest of your life when faced with a values conflict. Drawing on one's network and reflecting on previous experiences are just two GVV tools that empower the individual to voice values in the workplace.

The GVV curriculum was born of observations and experiences that led to what Gentile referred to as a "crisis of faith." After Gentile's 10-year tenure at Harvard she began consulting with other top business schools on their business ethics curriculum. Scandals of the late 1990s and early 2000s involving MBAs were reminders that something in the classroom wasn't working. Despite attempts to change business school structure or course offerings, MBAs still exhibited unethical business behaviors. Survey studies released at the time also demonstrated that students were less ethical after completing business ethics courses.

Gentile keenly observed that relying on one's professional network and studying different models of ethical reasoning was not enough to ensure ethical behavior in the future. Something was lacking in the way students were being taught business ethics.

Gentile went on to become a consultant for a project at Columbia Business School. The project invited incoming MBA candidates to write an essay describing their experience with a situation where they were asked to act in a manner that conflicted with their values. The result of perusing some 1,000 essays, in light of earlier research conducted by Douglas Huneke and Perry London on altruism, created the foundation of Giving Voice to Values.

Gentile discovered that individuals who succeeded in communicating their values had at some point communicated their ideal response to another person they admired—a friend, a family member, a mentor, a work ally, a spouse, etc. She determined that this opportunity to pre-script the communication was essential to speaking up for their values in difficult situations.

Giving Voice to Values provides such an opportunity. It is a post–decision-making curriculum that enables individuals to hold strong to their principles and communicate their thoughts in a manner that best suits each individual's personality and communication style. The curriculum does not instruct students on what is right. Rather, it assumes that a values decision has already been determined and instead focuses on equipping people with the confidence to communicate their values.

Gentile recognized in her research that individuals in a professional setting tend to develop "preemptive rationalizations" that serve as excuses when faced with a values conflict. "Maybe I don't have all the information," one might claim. Another might think "this is just the way the industry works." Such excuses, coupled with the individual's sensitivity to their position in the hierarchy, stifle the individual from thinking through other possible scenarios and outcomes. The individual succumbs to the conflicting request despite uneasiness. GVV provides students the opportunity to observe others that have ignored these excuses and have found ways to express their values.

The curriculum encourages students to self-assess how personal goals align with organizational goals, provides exercises that ask the student to communicate their values in challenging situations, and gives students the chance to practice their communication with feedback. Armed with confidence, scripts, and values awareness, individuals are more likely to act on their values and enact positive change within an organization.

Gentile's presentation on GVV development and curriculum was convincing. She demonstrated the need for such a practical curriculum and showed its worth to students and society. It is no wonder the GVV curriculum is employed in organizations and universities all over the world. GVV provides the tools necessary to communicate personally while potentially making positive organizational and systemic change.

The exercises and examples Gentile mentioned were developed primarily for those in business and lacked specific application for those working in government, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations, the primary audience members at the Carnegie New Leaders event. Positive examples of non-business professionals communicating their values in challenging situations would have augmented the already powerful presentation.

Nonetheless, audience members understood that many of the values conflicts that arise in professional situations transcend industry. Each participant understood Gentile's broader message: Every values conflict has a remedy that varies on the individual's professional position, sensitivity, personality, and communication style.

GVV is an innovative approach that explores self-awareness of personal values and communication style. It provides the opportunity to construct and practice responses for a variety of situations. Giving Voice to Values gives values-driven individuals confidence to speak up for what's right, no matter the circumstance.