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Are your Corporate Values Weaponized?

How would you know if your organizations values that you and other leaders have worked so hard to propagate have become weaponized exclusion and status quo control devices?

Certainly values are only positive - affirmations of our best selves. Could our values work against us?

Yes.  And you may know it only after it is too late... your culture will turn toxic.  The rising stars you spend energy to recruit will say a few months, maybe a year or two and leave (happy to get out).  Or you will force them out within months, because they are not a "good fit" to your culture.

This failure to "fit" is a sure sign.  Can the executives read the sign, does you HR department work to protect the status quo?  Hiring decisions use the "good fit" measure and then a few months after they made the mistake of hiring the employee they reverse the decision and fire for "bad fit."

As a "journeyman" agilist I've made conscious decision to go into companies that I was reluctant to align with their corporate mission; so that I could practice my craft of building teams of performant software developers.  Assuming that corporate mission / values etc. were orthogonal (enough) to the stated goals of learning Scrum/Agile/etc. and building competency in modern software development. Several times the culture and environment, that is easy to read (when you are atuned), is the tell-tell signal that little we may attempt will ultimately (6 months) fail to make a difference.

Using a model to understand these environments is helpful.  I try to fit the culture to a model.  Try Schneider's Collaboration, Control, Cultivation, Competence model or Competing Values Framework, etc.  When you poke and prode around these value systems, attempting to understand the culture you may need another model to make sense of the behaviors that your questions and actions will invoke - try the Cynefin model by Snowden.  Consider that you are trying to make sense of the system - it is not a simple domain - assume it is Complex.  And take my advice - a safe to fail experiment to discover the culture may be unsafe to perform if you wish to keep your job.  Yet, if you are like me and feel safe to be fired by a culture that you would not wish to be a part of... then it opens up a whole range of safe-to-fail probing actions, which may result in desired emergent behaviors and movement toward agility.

Yet, it is my experience that the system will have many antibodies that will attack.  And when the company values are used as weapons - you know you have a toxic environment.  To give a touch of perspective - the opposite of weaponized values is a culture that invites divergent ideas and includes people with new perspectives.  See the modern movement of cultural diversity and inclusion for a case study in weaponized value systems.  A good book is by Steve L Robbins; What if? Short Stories to Spark Diversity Dialogue.

What is culture - can it be created - designed - controlled?  Ask a few people these questions and I'm quite sure you can receive hundreds of answers.  Personally I like thinking one can design culture... yet I'm also holding out the cognitive dissonance that culture is an emergent aspect.  Can one design a puppet shadow play - yes.
"Culture is like a shadow of the group, it may appear different in various lighting and it’s shape depends upon the structure of the background as much as the foreground (the group)."

See Also:

The  Weaponized Narrative Initiative at ASU
Weaponized narrative is an attack that seeks to undermine an opponent’s civilization, identity, and will. By generating confusion, complexity, and political and social schisms, it confounds response on the part of the defender.

3 Ways Senior Leaders Create a Toxic Culture - HBR
Scattered Priorities, Unhealthy Rivalries, Unproductive Conflict
Toxic Workplaces advice found on Twitter

Going full circle on values by Mike Burrows of Agendashift
"The Agendashift Full Circle exercise is so named because you’ve effectively created your own values-based assessment, akin to ours. Explore far enough into ‘outcome space’ and you’ll begin to identify themes and values. Back to where you started perhaps, but you’ve made them your own!"
Culture Mapping and metaphor by Dave Gray

 "Design Culture like a Garden; not like a Car."

Culture Mapping - a tool set at XPlaner

Dave Gray's keynote: Culture and Change


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