“Bosses Should Say What They Don’t Stand For”. Employees are guided not only by their bosses’ ideal values but also, to at least the same extent, by their “counter-ideal values”—or values that the boss rejects. This is confirmed by a new study undertaken by Niels Van Quaquebeke, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at the Kühne Logistics University in Hamburg.
If employees and their bosses advocate the same values and reject similar so-called counter-ideal values, employees will identify with their bosses and respect them more than they would otherwise do. Van Quaquebeke interviewed a total of 260 employees in different industries from all over Germany.
Counter-Ideal Values Were Taboo
By investigating the dimension of “counter-ideal values,” or undesirable attitudes or behavior, Professor Van Quaquebeke has shed light on a blind spot in psychological research. Until now, values have always been the focal point of debate, including corporate debate. “In their guiding principles and mission statements, companies engage in an incredible amount of hype about their ideals, yet most fail to say what they distance themselves from,” according to Van Quaquebeke. Google, in contrast, has taken up a clear position with its statement “Don’t be evil!” “What Google says in plain terms is that we may not be good guys but we do respect moral principles. For many employees this corresponds more to their own attitude than a vague statement of values,” Van Quaquebeke says.
A New Dimension for Personnel Management
An essential finding of the study is that counter-values are not the opposite of values; they are a second, a separate and independent dimension. He and his colleagues were able to provide firm evidence of this by means of a large number of regression analyses. “Wanting the boss not to be mean is not to be equated with wanting him to behave fairly,” Van Quaquebeke says. “For safety-oriented people it is more important to avoid negatives, whereas people who are readier to run risks are guided more strongly by the values to which they aspire.” That, he argues, is why defining oneself as being opposed to counter-ideal values is a major means of strengthening the so-called employer brand. A company that defines itself as opposing luxury and waste will, for example, attract and secure the loyalty of employees who share similar views. Executives of a company of this kind ought then really to forgo visible luxury. “It is often very easy to check whether a company sets itself apart credibly from counter-ideal values,” Van Quaquebeke warns. Overall, employees of German firms lack identification. The GfK Group’s latest Employee Engagement Study showed that only 13 percent of 18- to 29-year-old German employees have any strong sense of attachment to their employer.
Market Positioning Often Incomplete
The study also makes it clear why companies can position themselves more clearly vis-à-vis customers and set themselves apart from the competition by deliberately eschewing counter-ideal values. Industries such as the power utilities already do so. Eco-power providers, for example, not only champion regenerative electric power; they also expressly reject conventional energy sources. By so doing they generate loyalty among certain groups of customers more effectively than by means of a mere commitment to sustainability.
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