One of the most interesting and practical management theories to emerge over the last 20 years is the Competing Values Framework based on the work of Quinn and Rohrbaugh (1983) which identifies four competing values within an organisation.
These are not moral values or the core values of your organisation, but what people value most in how they do their job. These values are often why people chose one particular career over another and one or two of these values will predominate over the others. These four values can be characterised as Collaborate, Create, Control and Compete and can be found in most organisations.
“Doing Things Together”
The desire to work together as a team on problems and solutions collaboratively and with joint decision making. This value may dominate in Support, Marketing, Public Relations etc.
“Doing Things First”
The desire to create or do new things is valued most in New Product Development, skunkworks and within entrepreneurial organisations.
“Doing Things Right”
The desire to define and formalise processes and work towards continuous improvement is a hierarchical top down approach and is often found in Product Development, Project management, Quality Assurance, and Finance.
“Doing Things Fast”
The desire to compete, be first to market and win deals, unsurprising dominates within Sales.
You can see why in each of these areas particular values are valued more than others and often people with these values are selected for those roles. Putting someone who values Control not Compete into sales would be a disaster, as would putting someone who values Compete over Control into project management. So these dominate values align to their role; that’s why they chose it and where recruited.
However, problems arise when the dominate values in each employee or department are to the detriment of the other values or worse create conflict between staff and departments. All of which I have seen in my career, but without the competing values framework, I have been unable to understand systemically.
Those in the Control and Compete quadrant can’t stand all the meetings organised by the Collaborate group. They joke about the “committee” mentality and lack of ownership in this group. The Control and Collaborate group bicker about the Compete group (often sales) that apparently agree anything to close a deal without discussion or control. They bunch the Compete and Create group together and call them mavericks and risk takers. Finally the Compete and Create group whinge about the Control and Collaborate group who constantly want to discuss what they are doing and worse want to restrict and confine it through processes.
So the values held by one group become the subject of disdain and friction with the other group. It may not be explicit but be expressed through in jokes and off the cuff remarks. I’m sure if you’ve been in any business for any amount of time you recognise these caricatures. Sometimes it goes beyond a joke and tensions and conflict arise. These are often misconstrued as personality conflicts, when in fact they are simply down to value differences.
Educating managers and staff on the value of values and why they exist can not only significantly remove areas of conflict, but also improve the performance of a department and more importantly the company itself. Staff should be taught not to expect similar values in different roles and to respect the different values that drive success in that particular role or function.
However, for a person, department and business to really excel, they must go further and harness all four values in every area of the business. For example, take Quality Assurance; Whilst Control is critical for repeatable processes and measurement, wouldn’t it benefit to have some creative input on test scenarios? Wouldn’t testing be even better if it was also a collaborate effort involving customers and their use cases? Wouldn’t QA be so much better with all four values? The same can be said for any function of the business. Indeed according to the research contained in the competing values framework, those companies who are very successful have high scores on all four values.
But achieving balance means recruiting diversity of values, educating on values and managing conflict. The temptation is to hire people in the same department with the same values. I call this Clone Recruitment. This will undoubtedly avoid conflict within the department and make staff management easier, but at what cost?
A disposition towards Create and Compete without the balance of Control can lead to catastrophic business failure; you only need to look at the recent bank collapses for real examples of this. On the other hand a disposition towards Control without Create will lead to stagnation and obsolescence.
To excel, you need to manage diversity and balance within your organisation. If you are a creative leader, you need to recruit Control. If you are a Compete Leader you need Collaboration. You need every combination within your organisation and harness the benefits that each value brings. Above all you need to value values and instil this within your team and organisation.
If you are an individual, think about which values you strongly connect with and those you don’t. Think about how you could improve what you do by embracing and developing your understanding and practice of the other values.
If you are a manager think about which value dominates in your department and how you ensure there is a balance. E.g. if the Control value dominates, what benefits can be derived from placing greater value on Create, Compete and Collaborate? How can you introduce more diversity into the department?
If there are conflicts within the organisation look to see whether it can be understood through the Competing Values Framework. If staff can understand differences based on a value system then they are less likely to jump to false assumptions around personality and motivation which can only inflame the situation.
Competing Values Leadership: Creating Value in Organizations (New Horizons in Management) by Kim S. Cameron, Robert E. Quinn, Jeff DeGraff, Anjan V. Thakor
Actively work towards removing clone mentality, recruitment and culture within your organisation; Start your very own clone war today.