Transformation Perspectives Series 05

Values Part 2: How can we make use of our conscious focus on values as a force for development and resilience within the organization?


In the last issue of Transformation Perspectives we looked at values and how they affect individuals and organizations, and the constructive impact they can have when they are put into practice consciously, in a balanced way. But besides analyzing how we deal with them, our values also offer us other opportunities for development. Although each of us has a wide range of internalized values, among them we can often identify a leitmotiv which is connected to our needs and our personal development at a deep level. Our values show us what is really important, reflect our state of psychological development and provide an indication of our unfulfilled basic needs. This cluster of needs, which our values point us to, influences what we choose to focus on in our everyday lives, as well as our action impulses, our often subconscious automatic responses, and our decisions.

There is a whole series of models we can use to describe fundamental human needs. The best known of these is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a five-layer pyramid topped by “self-actualization”, to which a sixth layer, “self-transcendence”, was later added by him. Building on the Maslow pyramid, Barrett developed his own model, the “Seven Levels of Consciousness”. Each of these seven levels focuses on a different need, and characterizes various associated values. Barrett postulates that the development of people and organizations progresses through these seven levels, which he divides roughly into three sub-groups: I. self-interest (safety, belonging, uniqueness); II. transformation; and III. common good (inner cohesion, making a difference, service).


Graph: Seven Levels of Organizational Consciousness (based on Richard Barrett)






With regard to the first three levels (self-interest), he states that these can be manifested in a destructive way, and there is a risk in having ones main focus on the values cluster associated with this level. It follows that a “less mature” approach to these values (e.g. based on distorted beliefs, expression are in red) can quickly lead to negative relationship dynamics. Similarly, even if their main focus is on levels 4 to 7, in situations of stress people and organizations can be “triggered” by needs from levels 1 to 3, and may fall back on stress responses, “flight”, “fight” or “freeze”, if they have not yet learnt to cope properly with the needs located on these levels.

For example, a drop in sales can prompt an organization to revert to level one, or survival mode, in which the management responds by initiating a form of crisis management, focusing on short-term measures to improve the situation. It is important here to note that although the drop in sales may be an objective fact, the manner in which we respond to it can range from destructive, short-sighted actions, provoking fears for job security, through to considered, constructive measures which preserve a basic trust. The response is closely linked to the company’s basic level of cultural competence.

From level four (Transformation) onwards, in which the basic theme is (personal) development, the main focus is on values such as personal responsibility, innovation and courage (in this context, “courage” is understood as relating exclusively to action, i.e. “when your vision is greater than your fear”). An organization with this focus will not be so quick to fall back on reactive or destructive patterns, as can happen if the needs of the levels below are not met; instead, such organizations take (pro)active steps to shape their own future. The upper levels, grouped together as “common good”, shift the focus gradually from “I” to “We”, and their impact complements that of the lower levels. Accordingly, the associated sense of purpose is released from pure self-interest and personal survival, and develops into a desire to make a difference, to contribute to something bigger than yourself. This feeling has an energizing and inspiring effect on employees.

The profile of a company’s values focus also brings another insight; in order for an organization to drive forward successfully with its development, the management team needs to achieve a higher level of consciousness, based on a values focus that is put into practice in real life. This gives another, deeper meaning to the expression “leaders go first”. We will look more closely at this “practice what you preach” form of leadership and the associated development in the next issue of Transformation Perspectives.


Pierre Bachmann and Dr. Thomas Gartenmann


This is part of the Transformation Perspectives Series by