Are all key OD values shared globally? Are we cultural imperialists?

Look at the following list of key OD values which guide our profession as we supoort various change efforts.

  • Respect and Inclusion
  • Collaboration
  • Authenticity
  • Self-awareness
  • Empowerment

Are these values shared globally? As I see it, in many parts of the world, the guiding values are very different! For example:

  • Respect and Inclusion looks more like “Give face to boss and get face in return”
  • Collaboration looks more like “obedience or feigned obedience because there is “one tiger to a hill” and collaboration is seen as betrayal of authority.
  • Authenticity looks more like  “total control and repression of emotion as a desired state” and authenticity is weakness.
  • Self-awareness looks more like “appear” professional and collected at all times
  • Empowerment looks more like ” power is to be hoarded not shared” and empowerment means giving away a rare resource….ie, stupidity.

Imperialism is defined as a  policy of extending a country’s power and influence through diplomacy or military force. Is OD as practiced cultural imperialism?

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4 thoughts on “Are all key OD values shared globally? Are we cultural imperialists?

  1. I suspect the differences in values lie more in how they are realized than in their basic applicability. Respect, for example, no doubt manifests itself differently in different cultures but at the core valuing respect cuts across cultures. Feeling safe and secure is another example. I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t want to feel safe and secure. I can easily imagine how threats to safety and security might be very different across cultures as well as the response to those threats. But I am still of the opinion that there are some values that are shared by various cultures. Should I as an OD consultant impose my values upon my clients? No way, Jose! That’s not my job nor my role nor my decision to make. My decision is whether or not I choose to help a client achieve his or her objectives and in ways that I find acceptable to me. As I’ve said to more than one client, “I don’t do RIFs.” They found someone who would. Fine by me.

    • Hi Fred
      If “respect” as well as “safe and secure” are expressed differently, can you give examples as what you believe are shared values across cultures which are expressed in the same way?

  2. I agree with Fred. I find in my work in a range of different cultures that the core values that help keep a group functioning well together are pretty much the same, when you take the time to dig down into what people mean, what they expect or hope for and what they notice is missing.
    What is different is what people believe about what they see happening, i.e. whether something is ok or not when tested against a set of values.

    Part of understanding this is having a clear definition of what culture is and where it comes from.

    Something else I’m finding interesting on this topic comes from the link to science. If scientific advancements have shown us that there are better ways to do things (eg what to eat, not to smoke, how much to sleep, how to manage stress and many more) – is there not an increasing amount of evidence that certain ways of living together in society are better than others?

    At first this does seem to fit in with the concept of cultural imperialism. When one considers research into which societies thrive and why – perhaps one might start to find that one culture is ‘better’ than others. We certainly find this in organisations.

    By this I’m not suggesting that there is currently a set of “OD values” subscribed to by OD practitioners that is the ‘right’ way. In fact I think that the use of buzz words and re-badged concepts – which create a kind of in-house ‘expertise’ in OD – could easily lead to some kind of insensitive, ‘imperialistic’ approach.

  3. Stimulating question!

    In my work and world, collaboration implies engagement on equal footing based on trust, making the most of shared resources, etc. In WWII France it was a pejorative: “collaborators” were not to be trusted.

    Respect and inclusion for whom? Some value inclusiveness across extensive and diverse populations; others value it for members of a select group. Self-awareness is highly valued where individualism reigns; other-awareness is equally important, and often missing if self-awareness is emphasized.

    You ask if the values guiding OD are shared. As we reduce concepts to single words, we practice another cultural-specific value: i.e. brevity of explanation/ bullet points serving as a shared code. Each of the values named above begs to be defined more fully as a means to consider your very important question.

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