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Get in sync with your employees by understanding their value systems

By Lynne Curry  bio

You and your employees don’t see eye to eye. You expect that work means work. But one of your employees, otherwise talented and hard-working, texts throughout the day, insisting it takes less than five minutes total time and “isn’t she allowed a break?”

Meanwhile your new IT manager, although doing a good job, keeps his eye on Craigslist. When you find out, you ask him “how come?” and he says “he’s perfectly happy with his job but he likes to stay tuned into the marketplace.” While you realize there may not be a lot you can do about this unless you want to let him go, deep down his behavior strikes you as disloyal.

If these weren’t problem enough, you find out your tremendously likeable immediate assistant knew four months ago that your past IT manager had been job searching. You confront her, asking why she didn’t let you know. She explains she didn’t it seem fair to “out” her colleague. “What about being fair to me?” you ask. “I didn’t want to get him mad at me and thought he should be the one to tell you,” she says. You’d assumed your immediate assistant understood her role included keeping you briefed on issues as important as a key player’s pending resignation. Your disappointment and her hurt feelings over being confronted creates a rift between the two of you.

6 different value systems

If you’ve had similar situations arise in your work place, you may find valuable the work of Charles Hughes and Vince Flowers. Briefly outlined on the Dallas-based Center for Values Research’s website and provided in detail in texts such as Values Systems Analysis, Hughes and Flowers created a tool managers can use to identify and address deep-seated value differences between managers and their employees.

Competitive values: According to Hughes and Flowers, your IT manager fits the “competitive” value system. Those with this value system push the envelope in a quest for new opportunities. While these managers and employees make great sales professionals and negotiators, those who manage them need to realize these individuals view winning the game as all-important and believe money the measure of victory. The rub—you may see these individuals as overly opportunistic.

Can you successfully manage an individual more competitive than you? Yes, if you realize that they value a boss adept at politics and frequently remind them “this is how we make working hard for us worth your while.” 

Compassionate values: Your assistant embraces a more compassionate value system. In her mind, getting along and cooperation ranks above getting ahead and competition. No matter how loyal she feels to you, she won’t willingly head into a conflict situation. Further, when you confronted her, you affronted her.

Compassionate employees value a friendly supervisor who accepts them, who allows for group decision-making and who creates a harmonious working environment. If you want your assistant to keep you briefed when she knows about potentially volatile situations, explain you need to know this type of information for the “good of the entire company” and let her know you won’t violate her confidentiality.

Conventional values: Your work ethic pegs you as someone with conventional values. Those who share your values have worked hard and expect that others should as well. These employees give their organizations loyalty, fairness, hard work, and stick-to-itiveness. Favoritism and ambiguity irk these employees. Those who manage employees with conventional values need to provide consistency and evenly applied rules.    

Conscious values: According to Hughes, roughly twenty-five percent of all managers fit the conscious value system, however, these employees can be hard to hire as they refuse jobs that lack sufficient challenge, intellectual stimulation and opportunity. “Conscious” managers and employees value flexibility, initiative, spontaneity and work of their own choosing. They need no policing to work hard and may feel stifled by rigid performance appraisal systems. Good problem-solvers, these managers and employees focus on the future and not the past and can irritate conventional “here’s how it’s always been done” employees. If you supervise these employees, give them access to information and let them set their own goals and do their jobs in their own way.

Cynical values: Most managers find cynical employees the most difficult to manage. These rugged individualists have a “get off my back” orientation and may wear their security badges on their backsides. If you manage them, give them a clear cut “this is it and measure up” approach and realize that they’ll work hard and respect you if you’re tough, but may walk all over if you use too soft an approach.

Clannish values: The final group—those with clannish values—want stability, security, fair play, and steady work. They work well in organizations that have a friendly, compatible work group. “Clannish” employees appreciate blue collar supervisors who explain what to do, how to do it and who work alongside their employees. Conversely, they may band against a manager who considers himself above the work group.

Applying the research

How can you use this research into value systems?

First, if you hire an employee with radically different values than yours, realize that you can’t assume they’ll behave in the ways you would. Once you land a job you like, you wouldn’t waste your time on Craigslist.

Second, take the time to learn how your employees think. Managing when you don’t know your employees’ thinking resembles playing racquetball without a wall—no matter how well you hit the ball, it travels without striking the mark.

Third, while Hughes and Flowers’ research offers you a starting point for recognizing differences that create workplace misunderstandings, no employee neatly pigeon-holes into just one system. Once you realize your employee sees a situation differently than you, sit down and have a face-to-face discussion—armed with the knowledge that your values and beliefs of “what should be” may not be universally accepted.

Lynne Curry, PhD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP and author of “Beating the Workplace Bully,” AMACOM 2016, and “Solutions” founded The Growth Company, Inc., an Avitus Group company, and is now a Regional Director of Training & Business Consulting for Avitus. Curry regularly presents to the Medical Group Management Association, Alaska Chapter and she and her staff work directly with multiple medical practices and hospitals in Alaska, California and Colorado. Curry and her team provide HR On-call, training, facilitation, strategic planning, investigation, mediation and executive and professional coaching. Avitus Group has offices from coast to coast. You can reach Lynne @, via her workplace 911/411 blog, or @lynnecurry10 on twitter.

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