(This post is part of a series. To read more jump back to the beginning.)
If they are good, values discussions are tough. Values are complex, personal and highly subjective. Mountains have been written about them in the fields of psychology, religion, anthropology and corporate culture.
You are probably reading this because you are interested in understanding the fundamentals of building strong, dedicated communities. Understanding the explicit and hidden values of your group is critical to that effort.
Quick term discription:
1. Explicit Values:
These are the stated values of the group. This is what we all say publicly and proudly about a group.
Example from IBM’s website
“IBMers determined that our actions will be driven by these values:
- Dedication to every client’s success
- Innovation that matters, for our company and for the world
- Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships”
2. Hidden Values:
These are in conflict with the explicit values. We tend to be less comfortable advertising them and they are not always clearly or universally understood. Understanding them is critically important, however, because they are a source of great dysfunction when pervasive.
Example from Eastern Germany
Before the iron curtain fell, East Germany (German Democratic Republic) celebrated the values of Communism as their own, but the hidden values of control and totalitarianism created one of the largest internal spy networks on the planet. At its height in the 90s, the East German Stasi (secret police) employed almost 100,000 people and had as many as 2 million citizen informants/spies gathering information on more than 5 million people. Communism and totalitarianism are not happy bed fellows and led to a schizophrenic society.
Honestly, I have been stressing on how to tackle this topic for weeks. I have never thrown out as many drafts as I did on this one.
- Drafts where I try to “sum up” the vast body of work done on value systems in my own brilliant mini-dissertation (boring!). I recommend a search for “values” on YouTube to see lots of experts talk about values.
- Drafts where I lay out examples of value misalignment in various countries (I did try to offend Americans, Brits, Canadians and Germans equally). Oh, I am sure my comments fields would have exploded!
- Drafts where I exposed value misalignments in my own family! That was not going to be popular at Thanksgiving.
So, if I threw all that awesomeness out, what the heck am I gonna tell you about digital tribe value systems?
It isn’t new.
It isn’t easy.
It IS critical.
This is it: Behavior = Values
If there is behavior that does not align with the explicit values of your group, you have some conflicting value systems. These conflicting systems must be addressed, or it can derail anything the group sets out to accomplish.
Here are the 5 things to consider for a healthy set of cultural values for your online community:
1. Be “self aware.” Figure out the explicit and potentially hidden values of your community.
2. Articulate your values. Post them. Talk about them. Celebrate examples of them in action.
3. Take note when there is stress in any form in your group. Don’t just take them at face value. This is an opportunity to discover any conflicting values, even when it appears to be about personality conflicts.
4. Even though the examples given here are negative, hidden values are not always the problem. Be open to the possibility that those values you first laid down may need adjustments. Just because there are hidden values, it doesn’t mean those values are wrong. There may be needs in your community that cause those hidden values. Those needs must be taken into account.
5. If you are running a community for a company or organization, that community may have a very different value system. Let’s take Birkenstock shoe company, for example:
The Birkenstock Example:
Birkenstock shoe company became popular among the liberally minded community. Many of us that know the shoes have an image of modern day hippies. Birkenstock was established in 1774 and has a long conservative tradition with leadership that has supported consistently conservative politics. If they created a Facebook fan page that aligned with their conservative disposition, they would alienate a huge portion of their customer base.
I did want to share two more real world cases for your consideration:
1. The Military: A case of value alignment at work
The military places the highest value on hierarchical obedience and discipline. Since the purpose of the military is to serve in the crisis of war, this value is critical to success. They practice this value in the most menial of tasks. Military personnel will hold to this value while facing chaotic life and death threats that would normally trigger the trumping value of self-preservation.
2. The Catholic Church: A crisis of conflicting values
As the Catholic priest pedophile scandals unfolded, the practice of moving offending priests from one community to another to avoid exposure became increasingly apparent. This behavior stood in stark contrast to the explicit values of the monastic catholic organization: to serve their community. Service to the community was trumped by a different set of values, the values of protectionism for the organization. This continues to drive major discord within the church community.
Understanding all values in an online group is critical to the community’s efforts,
- if you are leading a community and want to increase the identification and commitment levels in the group
- if you are trying to figure out what your governance and hierarchy should look like
- even if you are trying to roll out some new initiative
In my next post, we will discuss how value systems can develop. Different types of groups will require different approaches.
(Whew! I think we got through that okay?)
Does your community have a set of documented values? Have you seen strife in a community based on conflicting value systems? I would love to hear your comments below!