The difference between a value and a virtue
August 31, 2016
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A value in the business sense usually refers to a culturally or organisationally accepted (or promoted) norm. Values are often espoused as the ‘moral compass’ for an organisation – the widely accepted ways of behaving that link to, or drive, business output or conduct. Workplace values help define the boundaries, or rules, for people’s behaviour. As such, organisational values become part of the goals of the organisation. Previously I wrote about how organisations can better link to their values.

If values are the goal, virtues are the way to get there. A virtue is a characteristic of a person which supports individual moral excellence and collective well being. Such characteristics are valued as a principle and recognised as a good way to be. Virtues are innate good qualities or morals within people. In this way, they are characteristics of people but they do not define organisational or collective culture. In other words, values reflect what is acceptable in terms of culture, but virtues reflect individual human characteristics.

Organisations who wish to embrace and embed their values sometimes fall short because organisational values do not always align with individual values. One way to overcome this disparity is to embrace the virtues that support the organisational values. This means first of all identifying the virtues that support the particular value – allowing employees to find meaningful connections between what they hold dear and their organisation. Then the organisation can both promote the importance of these virtues (and the overarching value), and teach employees how to link those virtues to organisational behaviour.

Some examples are:

Value Virtue Organisational behaviours (examples)
Integrity Openness/Candour

Honesty

Fair-mindedness

Sincerity

Forthrightness

Incorruptibility

Righteousness

Probity

  • Work when you are supposed to, don’t take overlong breaks.
  • Be scrupulous in your transactions and intentions.
  • Do what you say you will do. Follow through.
  • Own up to mistakes. Work to correct them.
  • Use materials for their intended use, not personal use.
  • Work together as a team, be inclusive.
  • Identify and disclose any conflict of interest.
  • Be open and transparent – put everything on the table.
Respect Patience

Tolerance

Politeness

Unpretentiousness

Friendliness

Inclusiveness

Considerate

Courteous

  • Listen carefully when others speak (listen to hear, not to compose your response). Don’t speak over anyone.
  • Transparent, open and honest communications.
  • Equitable rules, no favouritism or special treatment.
  • Encourage colleagues to express ideas and opinions.
  • Avoid gossip. Don’t engage in negativity, put-downs or belittling.
  • Treat people the same, no matter their personal circumstances or characteristics.

Values are useful, desirable behaviours that help define workplace culture. Virtues are measures of excellence or goodness and may be more important to individuals due to their personal nature. Both are important in the workplace and need to be embraced and operationalised in order to meet both individual and organisational needs.