October 23, 2019

Start with the right people, grow with the right people

At the recent European Congress of Organisational and Work Psychology, Daan van Knippenberg delivered a keynote address discussing Values Based Leadership. In it, Daan argued that an organisation’s cultural values should not be abstract feel-good concepts; they should be the necessary values for the organisation’s people to be motivated to achieve the organisation’s objectives.

Daan presented the convincing example of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), a medical organisation specialising in providing healthcare to all people regardless of geopolitical boundaries and situations. MSF’s goals are clearly to provide Universal healthcare to all people. To believe this is a worthy goal, and to be motivated to help attain it, that organisation’s staff therefore would best be motivated by values of Universalism, and other self-transcendence values (since they are often risking their personal safety in order to help others).

Daan’s argument struck a chord with me because it appeared to be the flip-side of what we at Saberr promote with our Team Tool: value alginment between people in an organisation, essentially regardless of what those actual values are.

We have consistently found “values-blind” alignment leads to increased team performance, and the logic of values-based leadership is also clear. So, how to marry these two ideas is an interesting question.

For new organisations (e.g. start-ups) the solution is relatively simple: founders must care about the problem their business is solving. If you’re founding a business to solve micro-financing for small businesses in developing countries, you’d best be intrinsically motivated by values of universal fairness: that is, you genuinely believe that everybody has a right to access fair finance. Then, as you build your founding team and early workforce, you can concentrate on bringing in people who are value-aligned with the founders. Those people will then automatically be aligned with the organisation’s goals.

In effect, I imagine successful start-ups are already those with founder-organisation value alignment. (People often talk of the importance of “solving a problem you care about” etc.)

Perhaps there are lessons there for larger organisations.

With Saberr we’ve seen organisations rally around the idea of valuing team dynamics, and of using inter-personal value alignment to aid recruitment decisions. But I agree with Daan’s point: when creating a new business unit, how much concern is given to selecting the leader based on their intrinsic motivation toward the unit’s goals?

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