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February 12, 2020

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 Saberr Base: we believe value alignment between people in an organisation, essentially regardless of what those actual values are, is beneficial.

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 for for managers who want to be an effective team leader.

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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