05 December 2011

"Personal Value Proposition?" Not so fast

The HBR Blog has a post that suggests,
"Executives set value propositions for their products — the target market segments, the benefits they provide, and their prices. It's why a target customer should buy the product.But value propositions go beyond just products. Your personal value proposition (PVP) is at the heart of your career strategy. It's the foundation for everything in a job search and career progression — targeting potential employers, attracting the help of others, and explaining why you're the one to pick. It's why to hire you, not someone else.
On the surface, it seems to make good sense. After all, knowing the unique value one can provide to a potential employer or organization that may wish to engage her/him is an important aspect of both understanding oneself and getting hired.


As I describe in my popular keynote, "Take me to Your Leaders: Collaborative leadership and trust," the models we create and the language we use are not only descriptive, they are generative. In other words, they generate the institutions that in turn generate our society and the world in which we live.

With articles like this one posted on the HBR blog, I have to step back and question whether the use of corporate/business vocabulary, metaphors, and clich├ęs like "personal value proposition" are appropriate for human connections and interactions in our contemporary context. When we adopt this sort of framing, we contribute to the subtle but systemic dehumanizing effects that characterize corporate colonizing of the life-world. It's not surprising that a corporatist/managerialist institution like HBR would promote business language in the context of personal development and realizing what one can provide that is of value.

Nonetheless, I think it is incumbent on those of us who actively promote a more humanistic, relationship-based construction of society - a construction of society that is more consistent with the complex reality of the contemporary UCaPP world - to mindfully transform the discourse. Exchange of value is but one of the five valence relationships (that is, Economic Valence). There are four others - Socio-psychological, Knowledge, Identity, and Ecological - that we should all strive to "build" without giving dominant preference to any one of them. A healthy organization based on healthy relationships strives to balance the valence relationships, in order to make not only better decisions, but more holistic, balanced, effective decisions.To do so means transforming the language we use throughout our daily interactions, especially in workplaces.

04 December 2011

The Agenda on Gross Domestic Happiness

On Friday, I had the pleasure of once again appearing on The Agenda with Steve Paikin, on the topic of Gross Domestic Happiness. Essentially, the premise of the conversation is that, "GDP is an incomplete measure of a country's success. Can you judge success by economic growth alone? Will measuring happiness help government make better policy?" The participants - two in Washington, one in London, England, one in Vancouver, and me with Steve in the Toronto studio - covered a wide range of ideas. For my part, I was able to make pitches for the value of qualitative measures, a focus on effects, a complexity view of the world, and the importance of social innovation. As always, Steve's natural curiosity and inquisitiveness, and his exceptional skills as a moderator created a great engagement among the participants, and a thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion.

02 December 2011

What We Have Here is a Failure of Leadership

As a friend of mine often says, “you’re never a complete failure; you can always be used as a bad example.” The latest instalment of the ongoing soap opera, [Toronto Mayor] Rob Ford vs. The Star, has our not-tiny, far-from-perfect mayor instructing Torontonians to join him in boycotting Toronto’s – and Canada’s – largest circulation newspaper. His office will not even share official city communications with Star reporters, because the mayor does not like they way the newspaper’s (mostly critical coverage) of him.

One could easily be critical of Mayor Ford for his fundamental lack of understanding of the role of the fourth estate in civil society and governance. (I’m sure that Ford is not at all familiar with the works of Thomas Jefferson who, in 1799 wrote that, “our citizens may be deceived for awhile, and have been deceived; but as long as the presses can be protected, we may trust to them for light.”) Denying access to particular segments of the press – and more generally, the massmedia – is a favourite tactic of demagogic politicians who know that today’s political media live and die by their access to said demagogues… err.. politicians. Typically, it is mostly right-wing politicians who would prefer the banana-republic or totalitarian versions of a press corps, if not state controlled, then certainly state appeasing.

From where I sit, however, Rob Ford is creating himself as a really good, bad example of leadership. One of the most important aspects of effective, contemporary leadership is the creation of a culture of inquiry. This is an organizational culture where everything, and everyone, is subject to critical questioning about whether or not the organization is steering itself on a trajectory consistent with its collective values and organizational intent with respect to the effects it creates and enables throughout its environment. In a Valence Theory conception, a city is indeed an organization in which it is vitally important that conversations about values, intentions, and effects are robust, thoughtful, engaging, and inclusive. It is not sufficient to create meaningless town hall meetings in which politicos give very limited airtime to people, but ignore all those who express contrary opinions. It is not acceptable to claim carte blanche with respect to all (especially ideologically driven) policy initiatives via a majority mandate obtained during a general election. And, it is unconscionably wrong to force the institutions that the populace trust to shed light on political machinations to “receive Ford’s releases from kind reporters at competing media outlets.

Instead, contemporary leaders should welcome the type of critical scrutiny they receive from even the most partisan and seemingly biased, opposing media outlets. In a healthy culture of inquiry, leaders can reflect on whether there are indeed kernels of insight that can inform their ongoing learning and future policy directions that they can obtain from these otherwise annoying sources. This, of course, applies to any organizational leader, not just public figures. In this sense, it should be a daily ritual for a leader to look at her/himself in the mirror and ask, what and who have I missed in my thinking, my analysis, my plan?

Leaders who don’t invite naysayers to their table – indeed, those who slam the door in their faces – are missing important guidance for a complex world.