Everyone knows that autumn is the time for changes in fashion. Did you know the same is true in management and business trends? Get ready because apparently orange is the new pink and "values" is the new "engagement". "What is Wayne ranting about now?", you may ask yourself. Let me enlighten you.
As you're probably aware, each fall the new collections come out from fashion designers. This means that fresh, new ideas get brought to the clamoring masses. It also means that perfectly good, valuable clothes are discarded as last year-or show up in the stores I can actually afford to shop in and then disappear for good.
It's the same goofy dance with management trends. The publishers start to crank out their fall lineup of books and they arrive on my doorstep in a pretty much constant stream until late October. That's how I can tell you that the business version of the new hemline will be: (let the fanfare blow) "living your values at work".
Two such works are Stan Slap's "Bury My Heart at Conference Room B" and Mary Gentile's "Giving Voice to Values- How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What's Right". There are plenty more on the horizon, but they demonstrate the trend. Apparently, this year it's all about working in a way congruent with your personal values.
Last year at this time, you'll recall the buzz in the management book-and-blogosphere was "employee engagement": how to achieve it for yourself, how to help your organization do a better job and what a lousy job everyone seems to be doing with it.
What bothers me about this is not the subject matter. After all, who can argue with the notion that the way you and your organization go about your work should fit your spiritual and social worldview, and if there's a disconnect do something about it. These two books are perfectly serviceable and worth reading (Stan scores big on originality and humor, Mary's is more practical and will probably sell best).
No, it's the cyclical and disposable nature of the content business that bugs me.
Here's what I mean. It's not like on September 1 the business world says, "right, solved that sticky engagement thing, let's talk values". Face it, the engagement question didn't pop up out of nowhere and it's not like we've magically solved it. Nor is the notion that work often conflicts with our most deeply held values anything new (and as good as these books are, hie thee to the "Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin" to get a great take on the matter).
In a way, the fact that this is the new trend is actually encouraging. After all if you're secure in the knowledge that you will have a job, you can be a lot more proactive about making sure you're happy with it. On the other hand, living your values can be awfully small compensation for a period of protracted unemployment.
But I can tell you precisely what will happen. Come October the blogs, articles and podcasts will be full of talk about values and will go strangely silent on the subject of employee engagement. We will have moved on. I confess I'm as guilty as anyone else in the media. The first two Cranky Middle Manager shows of October will feature Stan and Mary respectively- and they're worth a listen.
Just as that perfectly good dress still fits and looks great but suddenly no one will wear it, so employee engagement remains a topic worthy of discussion and action but will fade quickly to radio silence. And it's not like this time next year we will all be working in alignment with our core values and ready to move on to "Strategic HR" " Value-Aligned IT" or whatever the 2011 version of leggings will be.
So by all means, engage the discussion of values- it's important. But don't forget to think about where your career and business are and focus on the issues that will help you get where you need to go. Do that and you'll find yourself living your values by default- whether that's the latest thing or not.