Values: the essence of organisational culture

By Roisin Rabe on February 11, 2016


The concepts of values and culture are of critical importance in talent management. As an HR practitioner one needs to be able to understand individual and organisational values to make effective placement decisions, to compile high performance teams and to see whether a person will flourish in a particular type of work environment.

Values determine people’s perceptions and decisions. Plato described values in terms of what one regards as beautiful, true and good. In research by Haralambos & Holborn values are defined as that which people see as being important, worthwhile and worth striving for. According to Clare Graves, who developed the Spiral Dynamics theory, values represent core intelligences that guide one’s behaviour and decisions.

Organisational culture can be seen in terms of a network of relationships, business processes and interpersonal transactions. In other words, organisational culture is the collective of interpersonal behaviour. Interpersonal behaviour and the transactions that comes from this, is normally organised around core values or themes, such as belonging, power, structure, value add, relationships, the big picture or proliferation of life, to name but a few. The way in which an organisational culture emerges is normally dictated by the broader socio-cultural and business context, as well as by top management and their values and worldviews. Employees with matching value orientations are naturally attracted to particular organisations.

How to deal with the elusive concepts of culture and values

The HR practitioner needs to understand the organisational culture. It is a complex matter for which a practically useful and simple theoretical model is required. We suggest the use of the Spiral Dynamics model of Graves in order to understand culture and values of organisations.


In addition, the value orientations of individuals and teams need to be assessed and analysed to ensure an optimal interpersonal and organisational fit. For this we suggest the use of the Value Orientations (VO) assessment instrument which is based on the Spiral Dynamics model of Graves (as well as a number of other corresponding models from Consciousness research and Developmental Psychology). The VO assesses a person in terms of their preference for seven fundamentally different world views. To each of these world views, or perceptual frameworks, or organising systems, Graves allocated a colour. A person’s worldview needs to match that of their organisation or team. An individual with a Green value orientation is bound to feel very uncomfortable within a purely Red or Orange organisation. They would also not be able to actualise their potential in an environment where their best contributions are dismissed, and may well exit within a relatively short time frame.

It should however, be kept in mind that the most sustainable systems, be those organisations or nations or teams, have a diversity of value orientations to capitalise on, but these are linked in some way or another. To integrate value systems one needs team members who can bridge and synthesise different perspectives, or one needs to educate the team as to the various values and worldviews, and how this diversity can be capitalised on.

Understanding one’s own values and those of others creates emotional awareness and intelligence and significantly improves team functioning. Creating a critical mass of people within the organisation who understand the issue of values and the importance of integrated diversity would significantly contribute to team productivity and organisational effectiveness.

Contact Cognadev to find out more about the Value Orientations (VO) assessment and how it can benefit individuals, teams and the organisation as a whole. Cognadev can also compile group reports or SWOT analyses which explore the way in which culture and values impact on the organisation.

Capitalise on the value-add of the VO in addressing the delicate yet critical issues of culture and values in your organisation.

Call us on +27 11 884 0878