In the 60th anniversary issue of the magazine Training + Development (January 2003), the editors write: “The field that we serve has changed over six decades, but never as dramatically as in the past three years. . . . What do leading thinkers in our field make of the situation? What’s on their minds as the economy fizzles, corporate leaders do the perp walk, and technology encroaches on learning and work?”
The most thought-provoking of the published responses were those of the very influential Warren Bennis, a prolific author on leadership and organizational development. Three of the issues Bennis raises intrigued me in particular.
- “We have to make explicit our tacit knowledge about values. Most of us in management and the related fields we’re involved with do have a set of values, but we rarely make them explicit. Our values are nothing we should be ashamed of and must be adumbrated, illustrated, and debated.”
- “We need newer and different definitions of organizational success. The primary goal of a corporation, as we’ve all written or said ad nausea, isn’t only maximizing profit and shareholder value. There’s a much more complex need to look at—to use Jim O’Toole’s phrase—stakeholder symmetry. There’s nothing new about that, but we have to be clearer about how we look at, define, and measure organizational success. . . . Organizations have been using narrow financial indicators to define success. And we’ve either colluded or gone along with that without screaming out loud that we are, at the very least, mad as hell and are going to do something about it.”
- “We need to understand a great deal more than we now understand about why most of our social systems and structures—whether a university, corporation, or church—are so magnificently equipped to suppress truth. How do we get organizations to give up what Daniel Goleman refers to as their ‘vital lies’? How do we create social architectures and organization designs that weave honesty into the very fabric of the organization?”
Let me for now only comment on the first of these points: making our values explicit.
While I have difficulty with the language of values—especially if values are seen only as something generated out of our own better feelings—I agree that we need to be open about the beliefs that underpin our work. Disagreement about basic convictions may become a barrier to constructive dialogue, but asking honest questions and giving honest answers is crucial if we are to have any dialogue at all.
A particular worldview underpins our editorial position at Comment. Our perspective admits to a God who designed the world to work in certain ways, who judges our evil and heals our pain, and who offers hope for the future and significant redemption of the present time.
This does not mean that we shrink away from the public realm into our own private enclave. We do not shrink away from publishing authors who make a valuable contribution to our conversation but disagree with our worldview or some part thereof, nor do we shrink from dialogue with those who disagree with one or another position we advocate, nor do we claim to be free from error or pure as the driven snow in intention.
Instead, we offer our interlocutors and detractors a clear standard against which to evaluate our work and about which to engage us. And we try to couch our positions in public language rather than private jargon, so that we can be understood by those who disagree with us no less than by those who agree with us.