Values as a Valid Management Technique

Why appealing to our higher selves is so appealing.

The NY Times had a great article about how to raise a moral child. See: 

In a nutshell, the research shows that when you ask a kid to help, they mostly will. But, they will be more excited about helping and do a better job, when you encourage them to be a helper.   And, you can apparently cut cheating in half if you say, “don’t be a cheater” instead of “don’t cheat.”

What’s the difference?  Well, in the first case, you are giving a direction for a specific action at a specific time. In the 2nd, you are encouraging moral behavior for the sake of moral behavior.

Don’t be a cheater is a reflection on someone’s character. Don’t cheat is direction that only applies to this specific instance. If you want to raise a moral child, you have to praise and value moral character, not moral behavior.  Seems counter intuitive, but there you go.

The converse is true of getting rid of bad behavior. You want to encourage guilt about the specific situation, but encourage doing better in the future - via praise of good character.   It’s the difference between guilt and shame.

The question is - DO these tactics work with adults?  And can they translate into management techniques?  And the answer is yes.

You can’t just focus on good behavior – you have to instill a sense of character excellence in your employees, not just by word, by through action.  The places that are judged the best places to work are routinely those where the employee feels respected and valued.  How does a company manifest that – by actually respecting the autonomy of the worker!

They focus on ideals of excellence and they don’t worry too much about how something gets done. They trust their employees to get their work done without having a task master at a drum telling them when and how to row that boat.  I’m talking to you Amazon and your incessant data tracking so that your employees don’t steal minutes from you while they take a bathroom break!

Anyway – Focusing on the values and ideals you want your employees to manifest as opposed to specific behaviors and you should end up with really wonderful employees for the most part.

What are your thoughts?  Are values a valid management technique?


  1. I think we should be cautious here. I think "Don't be a cheater" is more effective than "Don't cheat" because name calling and labelling are so effective. But does that mean we should encourage name-calling and labelling? I think, for example, it'd be effective in reducing laziness in schools to promote the slogan "Don't be a waster" but this runs the risk that certain pupils will get labelled and bullied. So, yes, by all means use this technique in positive ways ("Be a helper"), but bandying negative epithets about is not something I'd encourage.

  2. Dadge - Emotionally - I agree with you. My instinct is to phrase the values in the positive and label the behavior you don't want not as a value - but as a behavior. So - don't cheat being the behavior - be honest being the value - stated as a positive behavior.

    However, the research I was quoting and referring to - they apparently cut cheating in half by changing from - don't cheat - to don't be a cheater. So that wasn't my example - but it apparently does work.

    And yes - in the classroom - teachers do have to be really careful because other kids will copy what the teacher does and how he/she/ze talks about and to other students.

    Still - this is something to think about and keep in mind as we think about how to talk to kids about their behavior and how to encourage an attitude of awesomeness in our staff.

    1. Thinking on this more - if the value is stated as something for everyone in the class - then an individual student doesn't need to be singled out. the admonition is to the entire class - don't be a cheater. Of course, I didn't design the experiment - so ...


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