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Mary Gentile: Voicing our Values

Jan 23, 2016

Nicole: This week's theme is one that I know I have been practicing intensely for this past year, which is voicing our values. And I recall a time, actually two weeks ago, I'm on a Board of Directors for a new cooperative organization. And I was invited to be on this Board of Directors to actually be the anchor for the values. We were sitting in the weeds looking at the budget and looking at all the logistical things that needed to happen to turn it from a one-person visionary organization into a cooperative multiple owner organization. And at the base of our values is really connection. And people first. And health first. And as we're sitting there talking about transactions, and how people can buy memberships, I felt my whole body actually went away from my whole purpose of being there which was to anchor us in our values and our decisions and our values.

And I felt like okay let's just go to transactions; let's go to the easiest way to transact, to bring in money so that we can cover our expenses. And I was lucky enough to notice that that happened in me and I slowed us down and actually asked us to take a moment of silence so I could gain my breath and gain my compass inside and in that moment I realized we were straying from our values. And we were going to what was easiest and so in a conversation I pushed us towards that and we had some really valuable conversation that set an anchor for all of us and in the past few weeks we've been able to actually come up with an entirely new system that is not only anchored in our values but is also easy which was exciting. Because we wanted both and we couldn't figure out how to get both because of the way that we've been taught in a traditional model and this was different than that. So that's my most recent experience with what it was like to practice voicing my values in a business setting so I'm really excited about where the conversation is going to go today. I'm also incredibly excited to bring in Aryae into the conversation. I know that Aryae you hold a lot of traits for people to explore their values. Not only explore but practice voicing their values with One World Light and also with the more recent Interfaith Wisdom Circle. So I'd like to bring your voice in here and hear what kind of thoughts you have about our conversation.

Aryae: Well that's very kind, thank you Nicole. Good to hear your story. I think you having your story illustrates as I've been reflecting on this how universal this issue is. For all of us we have times in our life where we have the choice about voicing our values. Mary just focuses in on that and raises that level of consciousness so much. I'd like to introduce Mary Gentilee. She consults on management education and values-driven leadership. In her 10 year time at Harvard Business School she developed and taught the school's first course on managing diversity. Today this is at Harvard Business School and helped design and taught its first required module on ethical decision making. Currently she's Director of Giving Voice to Values curriculum and Senior Research Scholar at Babson College and also Senior Advisor at the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program. She is author of numerous books and articles including her book “Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What's Right.” While she was at Harvard Business School from 1985 to 1995 she was one of the principle architects of their innovative educational programs, Leadership Ethics and Corporate Responsibility. And she co-authored “Can Ethics Be Taught? Perspective, Challenges and Approaches at Harvard Business School.” And Giving Voice to Values besides being a book is also a program. It's a pioneering business curriculum for values-driven leadership. It was launched by Aspen and by the Yale Institute of Management and it's now based at Babson College. They make it available for free to educators around the world. It's being applied around the world in business, education, healthcare, not-for-profits, probably a few other kinds of places that I haven't even included. So Mary thank you so much, it's really great to have you with us today.

Mary: It's my pleasure. I'm happy to be here. Thanks Aryae.

Aryae: So I want to get right into a quote that's actually posted on the Awakin website as we start talking about what is this thing Giving Voice to Values. You’re quoted as saying, "In Giving Voice to Values is not about persuading people to being more ethical. Rather giving voice to values starts with the premise that most of us already want to act on our values. But that we also feel need to feel that we have a reasonable chance of doing it effectively and successfully. So the curriculum focuses on implementation, on action, and asks the question, What if I was going to act on my values? What would I say and do? How could I be most effective? So that is for me a very dramatic way of framing what you're doing. And I want to ask you if you can just give us an overview of what is the Giving Voice to Values program?

Mary: Sure I'd be happy to. And I just really want to say that I'm very happy to be on this call having taken a look at what happens in these webinars and also having a really lovely conversation with you, Aryae, earlier this week. And hearing Nicole's story just now, I feel like this is the right group to be talking to.

So giving voice to values as you said in your generous introduction, I had been working at Harvard and then with other business schools around the world on these issues of how do we develop people's ethical awareness and ethical analysis and ethical capacity in business settings. And I was finding that the way we typically approach these issues, whether it was in a school setting or in a corporate setting or other organizations was to approach as if it were an entirely cognitive question. As if it were entirely an intellectual question of understanding. That is we have to make sure people know what their values are, we have to make sure people know what the practical ethical issues they might run into, we have to make sure people know what the rules are, what the models of ethical reasoning are, so that they practiced their ethical analysis and the assumption was that the problem was that people just don't know what is right because it's so complicated.

And, of course, there are times when it is in fact very complicated but I also was seeing that many times when you looked at the kinds of scandals that would be in the papers around business transactions, they were often times when a lot of people, maybe not everybody, but a lot of people knew that something was kind of dodgy. But for whatever reason they felt that they had no choice, they felt silenced, maybe they did try to speak and felt ignored or even retaliated against and so I thought gee we spend all our time doing this analysis and acting as if we need to persuade people to be ethical, to prove to them that ethics pays. Quote unquote. And it seems to me that I kept running into people who were uncomfortable with situations and just didn't they think they had a choice. And so that was happening on the one side and then on the other side increasingly I was reading research that was suggesting that if you really want to have an impact on people's behavior that rehearsal -- the practice was an effective way to do it. The scholars who are in the field of positive deviants which is the field of psychology that looks at people who behave in a way that's deviant from the norm but in a positive direction...they have a nice way of framing it, they say if you want to impact people's behavior rather than asking them to think their way into a different way of acting, it's more effective to have them act their way into a different way of thinking. So there were these two strains going on for me. On the one hand I was recognizing that we were acting as if ethics was an entirely intellectual problem as opposed to a problem of confidence and competence. And on the other hand I was realizing that if you want to develop skills and abilities to actually act, that rehearsal was important. So that was the origin of Giving Voice to Values. I call it GVV. That was the origin of GVV to bring those two things together.

Aryae: What really struck me as I was learning about this Mary was the power of assumption you are making. You're assuming that people have values, that they have ethics. And the issue isn't persuading people to be ethical or to have good values, the issue is showing them, giving them the skills, the pathway for how to actually manifest that.

Mary: That's right. One of the things that I always kind of use this mental model when I talk to people. Imagine that you're doing your job, you're working along, got your head down and all of a sudden something happens. You either witness somebody behaving in a way that you think is problematic or maybe your boss or a colleague asks you or tells you to do something, maybe a customer is pressuring you to do something, and you do get that feeling in your gut, that this is off, this is kind of dodgy. But before you can even think about how you might resist, all of what I call the "pre-emptive rationalizations" rush in. Things like maybe you don't have all the information, maybe it's not really wrong, maybe it's just the way things are done in this part of the world or this region, in this industry or this company, maybe it is wrong but if I try to do something, I'd just make it worse, or I would pay a high price, or it's not my responsibility. And all of these preemptive rationalizations rush in, many of them may be true but the fact is they rush in before we even consider how we might act differently. So giving voice to values is about spreading out the time between the moment you get that feeling in your gut that something's off and the moment when all those preemptive rationalizations rush in. To just kind of create a moment there. Like the moment we took at the beginning of this call. To create a space, a laboratory, a safe space to practice, to ask ourselves what I call giving the voice to values thought experiment question, which is not what would you do but what if you wanted to act on your values. We know from the research about creativity and inovation, people are more likely to be creative and innovative when they don't feel entirely pressured. When they do have more time. And so if we create that space now you're actually using all of the abilities you have, the things that got you to the position you're in in your job anyway. Your communication skills, your problem-solving skills and you're actually using those to think about what could be some effective options here. We're transforming the emotional test of character into a simple problem-solving question. It still may be quite challenging but it has a different emotional feel to it. We've normalized it, we've taken the stress out of it and we are giving the opportunity for this rehearsal which allows us to get more comfortable. I always say to people "I can't make anybody do the right thing. But what I'm trying to do with giving voice to values is help people understand they really do have a choice. Because often people feel they would have liked to act on my values but I didn't think I had a choice. People still have to make their own decisions. But the idea here is rather than spending our time trying to convince you, we're going to spend our time trying to empower you because if someone doesn't believe it's possible, all of my efforts to convince them to be ethical are simply going to leave them to come up with more realizations why it's impossible. It's kind of like martial arts. Instead of going against the energy, you want to go with the energy. You want to appeal to the aspirational rather than the punitive.

Aryae: What an interesting approach. You know one of the things that strikes me in your book is you have the tale of two stories. And this approach where you invite people to tell two stories. One in a time in their life when it was an important decision to voice their values and another time where there was an important decision to be made and they chose not to voice their values. I'd be interested if you could share a little bit about this. Why is this such a powerful exercise? What have you learned in the research of hearing and reading people's answers to these two questions?

Mary: Yes it's been an interesting experience for me. It grew out of an exercise I developed back in the day when I was still at Harvard. I was designing their first course on managing diversity that you mentioned in your introduction. I had an exercise there where I asked people to think about a time in their work experience when they were in a significant way in the majority. And they had to answer certain questions about what their motivations were, how comfortable they felt with their teammates, what impact that had on their work, etc. And then I had them think about a time when in a significant way they were in the minority. And then we asked the same questions. And it turned out to be such a powerful exercise because for some students, when I taught the course at Harvard the majority of the students in the class at that time were white men and some of them the first thing they came up to me to say was "I've never been in the minority." So that was their first learning. But then when you pushed them to really think about it, they would come up with examples. I remember one guy talking about how he had been in a work group where he'd been the only non-lawyer. He'd always been kind of a wonder kid, someone who performed really well and he kept getting promoted rapidly and suddenly he felt like no one listened to him, that his ideas were not taken seriously, not valued, his performance suffered, his motivation suffered, and eventually he quit and went back to graduate school. For them this was a great big aha! Because he began to realize that people's performance is not just a function of their skill or their intelligence or their motivation. That there is a kind of cultural and contextual reality that can impact people.

That was such a powerful exercise when I started developing Giving Voice to Values I was trying to think about what would be the equivalent. So we used the tale of two stories which does a couple things. Number one it establishes right off the bat that this is not an exercise in defining your character. In sorting the good people from the bad people. Because when you do this exercise you realize that all of us at some point in our lives have acted on our values effectively. We're all capable of that. And all of us in other points in our life have failed to do so. And so right from the start we're taking off the table the idea that this is about sorting moral character. Then we're shifting it over into action, into implementation, into problem solving, into skill building. Then the other thing that happens when we do this exercise is that we ask people to debrief it. They do a personal reflection and then they debrief it in small groups and then in large groups. And we ask them not to share the negative story. We don't want to imprint on all of those, plus sometimes people feel more vulnerable. But we do ask them to share the positive story and then talk about what was different in the negative story. And when they do that we end up generating a list of what we call enablers and disablers. The enablers are the things that made it easier for them to act effectively on their values when they did. And the disablers are the things that made it harder. And in the debrief we find a couple things. People start to share the enablers and disablers we realize that many of them are the same for everybody. So for example, we all feel more able to enact our values when we have a boss who is open to discussion, who listens. We all feel less likely to act on our values when we're in an environment where any kind of dissent is punished or at least polarized. So we start to identify those kind of commonly shared factors and those become an outline of the kind of culture that we would like to look for when we take jobs. They also be the kind of culture we'd like to create when we're in a leadership position. But the other thing that happens is that some people will identify enablers and disablers that are unique to them.

For example, I'm an introvert and so certain kinds of group settings are more difficult for me to act on my values. I'm more comfortable one on one. Some people are more comfortable in the debate setting; some people are more comfortable if they phrase the conversation as a questioning and a learning kind of exchange. And so what that does is it helps us understand that there are certain capacities that each of us has that can make it easy or harder for us. One of the tenets of Giving Voice to Values is that everyone can do this but you do it in different ways. And you should play to your strengths. So if for example you're much more comfortable in one on one conversations than in group settings, then you may frame it that way. If you're more comfortable in writing rather than in speaking then you might write a memo, or you might at least write a memo first before you have the conversation so that you're more comfortable with it. If you are somebody who enjoys a good debate, then you may frame it that way, but you might want to work on a dialogue where it's less confrontational. So in other words this exercise has many pieces in it that we can draw on. Both in defining culture, terms of defining our personal strengths that we want to play up to. And as I said initially just establishing from the get go this is about helping all of us who would like to better act on our values rather than sorting out the ethical from the unethical.

Aryae: One of the things that is fascinating to me about this Mary is you are really talking about a kind of research that you have done with many people over time. And the research is about listening to people's stories and identifying the patterns in those stories.
Mary: Exactly.

Aryae: I want to sort of change course a little bit and ask you about today. Giving Voice to Values is something that is a program that you are doing out of Babson and with some connection to Aspen and you're also doing it as a consultant and you're going to places all over the world. Can you give us a little bit of a sketch of an idea of the kinds of organizations and the countries that you're working to implement this program in these days?

Mary: I should clarify that Giving Voice to Values was created with venture funding, if you will, from the Aspen Institute and the Yale School of Management. They're what we call founding partners and Aspen was kind of the incubator and then Babson College has been supporting it for the last 6 years. But the program itself exists on-line as you said earlier, it's free, people can just download the materials. The only thing that isn't free is if you want to buy the books or the online modules because those are produced by companies. But you don't need to do that. It's all accessible.
My initial goal was to share this with business schools because that was where I spent most of my professional career. I thought it might be a way to change the way MBA programs, graduate business programs teach about values and ethics.

And what's happened in the last 8 or 9 years is that it is in fact being used in hundreds and hundreds of business schools but it's also being used by companies themselves. I never actually marketed to companies but about 7 years ago Lockheed Martin the multinational defense contractor approached me, they'd heard about it and wanted to experiment with it. And that led to many other companies starting to use this. Corporations are attracted to it because they have the same challenge that I described earlier that business schools did. They were presenting ethics like they were just going to present the rules for our employees and give them some scenarios to make sure they understand whether something is over the line or not. But then they would just stop there. Employees would be kind of cynical and roll their eyes because many of them felt that it was not sincere because they knew that here they are telling them what the rules are but tomorrow they'll go to work and my boss, or my co-worker or my customer is going to pressure me to do something else and it will be kind of a wink-wink, nudge-nudge, just do it. And when we start being honest about that and focusing instead on how could you get this done if you have a customer pressuring you or even if you have a boss pressuring you, how could you raise these issues in a way that would be effective? People started to take it more seriously. They started to feel like this has some integrity. This is the company trying to help me behave in the way they are telling me to behave. Instead of a preach and pretend that it's possible, they're really trying to enable me. The employees would also feel these were skills that would help them in any kind of management. In fact some of the companies that were starting to use this felt this was really leadership development. It's about communicating any kind of challenging messages. So sometimes corporations come to me from their ethics and compliance group. I've been working with McKenzie, the consulting firm. They came to me out of their leadership and learning group. It varies in that way. But to answer your question, it's being used on all 7 continents now. We don't know how many because it's all downloadable for free but I do keep track of anyone who writes me and says they are using it.

At this point it's over 850 schools or businesses or other organizations. We've worked with the military; I did a program at the Pentagon last spring and based on that I have been doing some work with the army trying to build some GVV into their professionalism and ethics training for the 1.2 enlisted civilian and military personnel. Doing some work with SHARP which is the Army's Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources and Prevention group. I've done some work with the Coast Guard. And with the Air Force Academy. I've done work with the police force of Australia in the state of Queensland. They've developed a training program for the police force when they deal with ethical issues which often have to do with how you treat citizens, civilians. How can you raise issues effectively? How can you speak up if your partner or someone else in the force is doing something that's inappropriate? We always hear about the thin blue line and the sense of loyalty within the police force which may prevent people from raising issues that are important to raise and so they use GVV in that way. There are educators in other professions now who are starting to use the approach. I'm starting to work with law schools and schools of nursing. I'm co-teaching a course at a college of engineering this semester where we've invited a group of students, we call it "Designing the 21st Century Engineer" and we've invited a group of students who are all engineering majors to work with us to co-create a GVV inspired engineering curriculum. So it's really being adapted in many different ways. We also have some secondary schools that are looking at ways to use it with younger students. We've worked with some sports venues. I do trainings, most of what I do is sort of train the trainer where I'll present the approach to faculty or corporate trainers or consultants so that they can apply it. So that's a beginning of a taste of where it's going.

Aryae: That's amazing, the scope of that. I'm stuck with what you said about the fact that the intellectual property is available on a kind of open source basis where it's there for anybody who wants it. It seems to me you've got a very interesting model going here, it's kind of a hybrid of gift economy and business. It's the gift economy piece which is critical to making it so widely used right now.

Mary: Yes it's interesting you point that out. This was a big thing for me in the beginning was how to structure this. I was getting lots of different advice from different people. Fortunately some of my early supporters, Yale and Aspen, were supportive of the idea of making it available, at least in a pilot phase, for free. I give them a lot of credit for having that generous spirit and insight. There were other folks though, particularly when I would go to corporate settings. I remember once presenting this at a major aviation organization; the executive who invited me pulled me aside after my presentation and said, "You know you could make a mint off of this. I don't know why you're giving it away." I had different people giving me different advice.

Other people were saying you really should have some sort of certification to ensure quality control. People can't use this unless you have personally given them an imprimatur kind of certification that they are equipped to do this. I thought about all of these approaches. I have a good friend who is a senior partner with IDO, the innovation consulting firm, and I talked to him about how you get ideas to catch on. In the end I decided you have to be really clear about your purpose. And my purpose here was not to create a business and it was not to create a consulting firm. My purpose was to transform business education and the way we prepare people for values-driven leadership. And then after a few years my purpose expanded to transforming the conversation about values more broadly not just in business school. And so when you think about your purpose that way, then what Giving Voice to Values is that it's just an idea. In fact, it's kind of a simple idea, but I think its simplicity is why it's powerful and why it catches on. And it seems to me that no one owns ideas and they're going to be used more widely if you put them out there. I think probably coming out of academia helped because in academia you measure your impact by how many people use your work. So all of those things came together and I made the decision to make it available for free in the way I have. It's worked out really well. It's one of those things, you know, give and take, you put things out there, and you get a return anyways. I make a fine living. People will pay me to come and share and present and advise them but I always say I never let money get in the way of sharing GVV because I never want that to restrict its impact.

Aryae: Beautiful. You are modeling giving voice to your values on so many levels, Mary.

Mary: But it's interesting that you say it that way. I don't experience it that way. To me the fact of making it available for free, to be honest with you, did not come out of some higher value. It came out of my sense that I wasn't sure it would be useful for people. And I thought if I put it out there claiming it was useful for people without being sure, number one that didn't feel honest, but also I think you trigger resistance. People are going to be skeptical. Instead you say "look I have this idea. I think it's a good idea. Will you come partner with me? Will you play with me? Will you experiment with me? And together we'll see if it can be useful. That's the way the first company came to me -- I mentioned was Lockheed Martin and that's the way I put it to them. I said I don't know if this will work in a corporate setting but if you are intrigued, let's play together and see. And I did the same thing with faculty in business schools. I said will you pilot this? Let me know if it worked or it didn't work and maybe we can make it better. The good news about that is then faculty get engaged in contributing to it and creating more materials, and making it better and sharing those themselves. So it ends up being this nice cycle.

Aryae: You've written and we've spoken about how you've worked with organizations in different countries and different cultures. Also quite a few times you've been in India. I'm curious about how this process plays out in different cultures compared to the U.S. It may be one thing to stand up in an American corporation here in the U.S. and say here's what I believe. It might be something very different to do that in a different culture. Can you say how that's different in India and how it compares to the U.S.?

Mary: I'm glad you mentioned that and asked that and I went off on a different tangent. It's really been an interesting journey for me because when I first started sharing GVV, I started getting invited to other parts of the world. India, in fact, was one of the first. I've been there now 9 or 10 times. I've had really great experiences there. There's a whole network there of Indian business school faculty who have created India specific GVV cases. I started working last spring in Egypt and there's a group of faculty now creating Egypt specific GVV cases.

We've done work in China. There are some folks working on some China GVV cases. There's been a lot of work in Australia. I'm working in Nigeria now with Unilever. I was there last fall and I will be going back in February to launch a pilot program for all of Unilever but we're starting with Nigeria around applying GVV. I did a program in Cape Town last December working with a group of business school faculty from across Africa. So there's been a lot of interest across the world. I just got back from Costa Rica. I learned a few things and actually I think the best lesson came from one of my early trips to India. When I first created this a number of faculty in the U.S. and in Western Europe said to me, "Mary this is kind of interesting and maybe it will work here but it's not going to work in other parts of the world." And I thought they may be right, I don't know. But I was getting invited to those places so I thought well I'll go experiment. What I learned and I'll tell you a little story that illustrates it. A few years ago I was invited to do a two-day program in Bangalore and to repeat it in Delhi. The program was for business school faculty that teach entrepreneurship as well as Indian entrepreneurs. And it was to introduce them to Giving Voice to Values. In each of those two cities, at the beginning of the first of the two days there would be 35 people sitting in the room and they would be leaning back in their chairs with their arms folded across their chests with these kind of skeptical looks on their faces. And I remember I was trying to get started and I could read their body language and so I said, "What's wrong, what's going on?" And nobody would say anything. But eventually some brave soul would say "Well madam we're delighted you're here and we're happy to listen to you for two days but you have to understand this is India and we are entrepreneurs and we can't even get driver's licenses without paying bribes. So this is not going to be relevant to us, but we're happy to listen to you."

And so I thought okay now what do I do. So I found out there were basically 5 steps I had to take. The first step I had to take was to acknowledge the reality of the context. And this is not unique to India. I've had this experience in China, in Africa. So the first thing you do is acknowledge the reality of the context so in that situation I said I know what you're saying is true, this is my seventh or eighth visit at that point to India, I've experienced it myself, not to get a driver's license, but in other circumstances. You have to acknowledge the reality and to not pretend otherwise you're just not being respectful. The second thing you have to do is I had to say this is not about me, Mary Gentile, coming from Boston to tell you what your values should be in Delhi. This is me coming and saying I know you have values and I know it's often difficult to act on them. So this is about seeing if we can work together to try and find some ways to make it easier. So if you have to start from that position of respect where you are not preaching values but you are playing to the values that are already there. Then the third thing you do is I explained the Giving Voice to Values thought experiment which I think I briefly already mentioned on this call. But it's the idea I'm not going to put you on the spot and say what would you do in this situation. Instead what if you wanted to act in these values in this situation, how could you get it done?

So that kind of relieves people stress and pressure and lets them relax and be a little more constructive and problem-solving. The fourth thing I try and do when I go into other cultures is I always try and have an example of someone who did effectively voice and act on their values from that culture. So in the case of this visit to India I happened to have a video that I had developed in collaboration with the Carnegie Council in New York where we had interviewed an Indian entrepreneur who had purchased a company from a major multinational and when they purchased the company, that was based in India but sold their product in the West, it was hugely corrupt and it was basically bankrupt. And in the space of two years this Indian entrepreneur took this company and transformed it. It became financially quite successful and it also became a model of clean operations. So we had a video interview with him where he basically gave example after example of how he did this. And he did it in very small, tactical ways. It wasn't some big preaching. It was more what makes it hard for these employees to act in non-corrupt ways in the setting they're in, what's the reality of the pressures they're under. And then he came up with strategies that enabled their behavior. I could shares some examples if you're interested. So I shared that with these Indian faculty and entrepreneurs. So that did two things. On one hand it appealed to the sense of pride. Here's someone from my own culture who has done something really impressive here. And number two it appealed to their sense of competition. It was like, if he can do it, then I can do it. So the fifth and last thing that I found I have to do when I go into other cultures is that I have to make it clear that the “voice” in Giving Voice to Values is a metaphor. So it doesn't mean you're going to go to your boss and stamp your foot and shake your fist and tell your boss that he or she is wrong and unethical. In fact, that doesn't even work in the West. But you're going to develop a strategy that will play to your own strength and will be appropriate in the context that you are operating in. I found that's particularly important to name that when I'm in some cultures like China for example that are authoritarian or cultural differential about what's appropriate in terms of communicating to people who are at different places in the hierarchy. So explaining to them that that's a metaphor becomes important. But those five things, when I do those, people get engaged in it because they say "Yea it really bothered me that I felt this pressure and it would be interesting to see if there would be any other alternative." A lot of times people are beaten down and don't feel they can do anything else in the culture. But when you frame it as a thought experiment and say just for the sake of this exercise let's just think about what if you wanted to, what could you do? It shifts people's energy. And I've felt that to be a real useful approach.

Aryae: So were you able to turn around the mood in that room?

Mary: Yea it was really interesting. By the end of the two days, people got really engaged and when it got to the point where they were actually working on problem-solving and creating scripts and action plans for the cases, they got so excited they were flipping into Hindi so I had fortunately invited a good friend of mine from Goa to come teach with me so she was whispering in my ear translating what they were saying. But they did, they got very engaged. It ended up being something that felt much more practical to them.

Aryae: So we've just got a few more minutes left and then I'm going to turn it back over to Nicole who can field people's questions. But I've been curious about sort of the bigger question that for me is really in all of that. And that is will empowering people in all of these places and these organizations to give voice to their values result in a better world? I'm thinking specifically about people who have values that you and I and most people on this call would disagree with. What about say the values say we think about in certain people on Wall Street and the whole greed is good values and it's important and I value measuring my success by the amount of money I made regardless of what I had to do to make it. Or what about the kinds of values that say my tribe, my race, my religion is the best and everybody should be subservient. How does voice to the values play in the world where there are a lots of people who have those kinds of values?

Mary: Yea it's a great question. When I talk about GVV to people I always talk about how for me it grew out of a crisis of faith where I began to feel that maybe trying to teach about ethics in business schools was unethical because it felt hypocritical at worse, or at least, feudal. Because I am the kind of person that worries about that sort of thing, I'm kind of earnest. When I first started creating Giving Voice to Values, I literally would lay awake at night thinking "Gee is this going to teach people to voice bad values more effectively?" (Laughter) And I wondered about that. And what I ended up concluding was with the application that I was focused on, which at that point was business schools, that the prevailing conversation was basically the one you just presented. The kind of Wall Street maximize shareholder value at all expenses, externalize any costs to the environment and place those on society rather than internalizing them to the firm. Greed is good, etc., etc. It seemed to me that was the kind of prevailing conversation. The prevailing conversation was if you want me to be ethical, first you have to prove to me that can be financially successful. That being good pays. And so it struck me that conversation was already out there. When you think about our own lives from childhood on, we know how to rationalize it. When we do something that's naughty, you do something and your parents catch you and you've always got excuses. It struck me that that conversation's already out there. And we're very well practiced at that already. What we need to do is create consciously, constructed, carefully deliberated process for practicing and rehearsing the other voice. And I don't mean "Oh it's the right thing to do." I mean how do you get the right thing done? So when you get to those questions about conflicts of religion and ideology, it's kind of a shouting match, this is right, no this is right. That's not voicing your values in the way GVV intends it. GVV is really about thinking through and we have a protocol for this in the curriculum where you think through what's at risk or at stake for all the parties. You think through the typical rationalizations and objections you might hear would be. You think through how you might reframe that. You think through the strategy you need to use in terms of building a coalition or identifying allies or identifying sequence of events or gathering data. So it struck me that that wasn't out there. That in a business school environment, and certainly in a lot of businesses, the way you show your smart and the way you show your sophisticated, is by voicing the most skeptical or even cynical perspective when it comes to values. So what we were doing with GVV was creating the mandate, kind of cover for people to show their smart by figuring out how to do the thing everyone says is impossible to do. So now when you say how would you voice your values in this situation, people don't have to feel like they're goody two shoes, or naïve, or Pollyanna to be putting forward an ethically motivated action plan. Because we've actually assigned them that task so now they're applying their ability to that. So that kind of reassured me for the voicing bad values front -- well it's kind of already out there. But then there were a couple of other things. And one was, typically in ethics classes, certainly in business schools, but not just in business schools, in ethics classes people will assume it's not really necessary to have a discussion about the so-called clear cut, so-called black and white, right wrong kinds of issues. That those are pretty easy. That we should really focus on what people tend to call the "gray" issues. The ethical dilemmas. I used to think that was the right approach to. But I've changed my mind because I think that a lot of those gray issues, those ethical dilemmas are situations where reasonable people of good will and intelligence can legitimately disagree. That's why they're gray. And that nevertheless there are a lot of issues, where most of us, not everyone, but most of us would agree that that's clearly over the line, a bad idea. But just because we agree doesn't mean it's possible to do it. So what I tried to do with the GVV curriculum is to share scenarios where the protagonist, the actor in the case study, has already decided what he or she thinks is right. And it tends to be a less controversial position. But it's still very difficult to act on it. So people are required to rehearse and practice how do you get the right thing done in those circumstances. In terms of some ideological differences, it kind of reminds me the experience I had back when I was teaching the diversity class at Harvard. I remember one day I decided I was going to teach a class about affirmative action. In a place like Harvard Business School back in the mid-90s that was one of the most controversial topics I could have brought up in that class. Because this is a group of people that is very much motivated by a kind of traditional profit oriented meritocracy focused kind of traditional capitalist perspective for their careers. The idea of affirmative action to them was maybe in contradiction to that. I remember I had a case study and I couldn't get anyone to talk because they knew that it was a controversial issue and they suspected that I had an agenda and they just weren't going to play. It's a pretty rare thing at a place like Harvard Business School to have no one willing to speak. Finally, I said look let's just put the case aside and I'm going to ask you to engage in an experiment. And I drew a line down the middle of the blackboard and I said okay here on this side of the board for a few minutes I want all of you to pretend you are vehement opponents of affirmative action. And tell me what are the values that drive you to be against affirmative action. So they gave me a list of values and there were things like meritocracy, and fairness and justice and things like that. And then let's go to the other side of the board and I want all of you to pretend you are vehemently in support of affirmative action and what are the values that drive your position. And of course they listed the same list of values. So I said this does not solve the issue. But the point is here that this is not a values conflict, this is now an implementation problem. We may have legitimate reasons why we think affirmative action is a good or bad, effective or less effective way of reaching these values, but we're not arguing about the values. And I think that that experience really informed me with GVV as well because I realized that you don't have to have people agree about everything in order to work well in an organization, in order to serve certain important widely shared sort of core human values. I would always say to people in the diversity class, look you know there's a lot of things we are always going to disagree on but there are certain values that we all want because they serve all of us. So if you're working in the same organization, someone might be vehemently anti-abortion and someone might be vehemently pro-choice but the fact is that they don't have to convince each other in order to work with each other. In order to work with each other they do have to act respectfully toward each other because they have the shared goal of wanting the organization to thrive. So that's the kind of way I would reframe those challenges. It's tricky but I do think it's an important question to raise and deal with.

Aryae: What I get from listening to you is that you really are creating more bandwidth for people to talk about the real human values that people have.

Mary: Exactly.

Aryae: Okay, I'd like to turn this over to Nicole so we can give other people on the call a chance to connect with you.

Mary: And thank you for all your questions Aryae.

Aryae: Thank you.

Nicole: Just that last piece what I really heard was with developing the practice of compassion and empathy in conversation. That's blowing my mind in a wonderful way.

Mary: Well you know I think you're absolutely right. In business schools I don't always use the same language because it's a kind of cultural thing but now there's so much research about empathy that it's becoming easier and easier to even name it that way.

Nicole: Right and I come from the education sector.

Mary: Yes and so it's very appropriate. And Nicole one thing I wanted to say about your opening story, which I love, that when I created GVV my idea was that this was about enabling people to voice their values negatively. That is to say no to unethical behaviors -- fraud, or deception, or whatever, abuse. But as people have begun to use GVV, they've begun to adapt it and it's also a methodology that can help people voice their values affirmatively. Which is helping a group say yes to positive behaviors, so people are using it to discuss issues of sustainability, for example. I thought your example was a perfect instance of voicing your values affirmatively in your non-profit board.

Nicole: Thank you. So I want to bring in our callers and remind you if you want to share a story or ask a question. We'll give people a moment to get themselves in queue. As we're waiting for people to jump in, I'm not sure I can say this clearly because it's still kind of mulling around in my head, something towards the beginning, an edge I kind of got to was when I was teaching I was only told whenever I went to a new school, make friends with the secretary. Your best friends should be the secretary and the janitor. And I'm thinking about these values and I realized I followed that. I naturally made friends with a lot of people but a lot of times I'd be working in my classroom late at night and the janitor would come in and we would have these beautiful conversations about our values. And I think both of us felt powerless to jump into practice. But I go back to those conversations and just the practice of that conversation allowed me to release some of the angst and the anxiety and the activism. Which could have caused a lot more turbulence in a system that was already pretty turbulent. I don't know that I have a question around that but maybe if you have any examples of practices like that that aren't steeped in change but just steeped in conversation for people at all levels, especially in corporations that are very top down.

Mary: Let me take a stab at it. What I think I hear you saying is I wouldn't want a conversation to release one from action. But at the same time there are some situations where action is going to be harder, more challenging, or less effective than others. What I always try and do with students and other individuals who are interested in GVV, I try and be honest and say look this isn't easy and it's not even always possible. But nevertheless it is hugely important and we can get better at it. And that's what GVV is about -- the rehearsal and the practice to get better at it. And also learning from people who've been successful. So what I would say is those kind of conversations you're talking about, whether they're with the janitor or the secretary or colleagues, sometimes we're in situations where we haven't figured out how to act on our values. Or we've tried and haven't been successful yet. What I try and say to people the main thing in those situations is to stay in the journey. You have a couple choices here. You can say well it's just impossible so I'm going to give up and I will give in and shut up and do what they tell me to do or maybe even go to the dark side and really embrace it. Or you can figure well I haven't figured out how to make this change yet but I'm going to keep on the journey. I'm going to continue to see myself as in process and looking for ways to make change. And that may be initially simply having conversations with people until enough of us have talked about this that we kind of have a group of allies. Or until enough of us have talked about this that we've been able to brainstorm some interesting new strategies. Or until enough of us have talked about this so that we're ready when the opportunity presents itself. Because change can't always happen immediately especially if you're talking about systemic change. It's one thing if you have an individual being asked to do something and it's clearly wrong and you want to say yes or no. But it's another when you're in a system where there is some imbedded behaviors that are problematic. Those don't change overnight. Sometimes having those conversations is a way to keep yourself in the journey. To keep those issues alive. The challenge is when having those conversations simply becomes a way of releasing steam so that you never have to make change. And I think that's a subtle distinction and something we have to be honest with ourselves about and look for the ways that we can make sure we're still on the journey. Does that make sense?

Nicole: Yes and I think that you touch on the prevalent kind of process and I really resonate with that. Because it's mindset of playfulness and experimentation and piloting. To get people to trust that, especially in a corporation that has been traditionally top-down, it takes a lot of practice and time.

Mary: I think of it as reframing. I like your language of experimentation.

Nicole: We have a call coming in from Dorsay from Sarasota, Florida. In light of the environmental disaster in Flint, Michigan, is this not a good example of people not knowing how to voice their values and prevent such a disaster?

Mary: I think that's a great point. I haven't researched what people's responses have been. But it does remind what happened in the oil spill in the Gulf, the BP oil spill. The Huffington Post invited me to write an op-ed about it. And the assumption was that I would write about why people hadn't voiced their values and it led to this oil spill. So I started to do some research and what I found when I did the research was that there had been a lot of people who had spoken up. Engineers at BP, employees at Halliburton, public sector employees in the Mineral and Mining Service of the U.S. government. Despite the fact they had spoken up nothing changed. So what I ended writing the op-ed about was that just speaking is not enough. We have to actually learn and practice and get better at doing it effectively. If you speak up alone in a systemic challenge, which that was, often it's like popcorn. I'll speak up and my boss will ignore me. You'll speak up and your boss will chastise you. Someone else will speak up and they'll feel alone and not supported by their peers. It's not until we think more strategically and tactically about how to raise these issues that we can really make an impact. I always like to tell people if you are trying to move your organization to do something new, let's say it doesn't have anything to do with values. Maybe it has to do with launching a new product or reaching out to a new market segment or adapting a new institutional software system. Something not all that involved with ethics. But you wouldn't just say "Oh this is the right thing to do." You would do the research, you would marshal your arguments, you would identify who's likely to support this and get them lined up to help you make the case. And you would identify who's likely to oppose this and you would try and reach out to them and address their concerns and kind of neutralize their objections before it became a challenge. You would do all that and you would think that's the normal way to get something changed. But when it comes to ethics we think we're just to blow the whistle or speak out but I think that's misguided. I think we should approach these issues just like any other challenge and use all those skills we have. So in answer to the question about Flint, Michigan my guess is that there well may have been people as in the BP example who did speak up. But the challenge is figuring out how to do it in a way that will be effective and I don't mean to be naïve or Pollyannaish. I know that often these challenges are very, very difficult. I think it's why it becomes even more important to learn how people have been able to communicate these issues effectively in the past.

Nicole: Something just came to my mind too and I struggle with this on a daily basis thinking about some of the more technological tools, like Facebook. I see a lot of people use that as a tool to express a value but I think it gets confused with that thought is their action. That that is their practice.

Mary: That's a really good point. That that's their action. And also that it's more venting than problem-solving. It's not trying to see things from different perspectives and how do we frame this issue in a way that it will work for everyone. It's really just your bad, I'm good and now I'm virtuous because I said it.

Nicole: Right, it kind of lets them off the hook.

Mary: Exactly.

Wendy: Thank you so much for this conversation so far. I was very interested to hear that you've been working with nursing schools. I recently retired as a nurse practitioner. In my last few years I became aware of how corporate healthcare has been becoming. Sometimes there seems to be a collision of values of people who went into healthcare in terms of taking care of patients in certain ways yet there's also a collision with the values of the corporation. I had worked for a very large healthcare organization so there was a collision with the business values and the number values. I recently read a statistic which said that over half of physicians are now experiencing burnout and certainly we know there's a large turnover for nurses. So I'm wondering how you work in healthcare settings when there does seem to be this dichotomy of what the corporation is wanting and the values of the healthcare workers.

Mary: It's a wonderful question and it's not unique to nursing or medicine. I think that most of the values conflicts I encounter in other professions whether it's law, it's engineering, and in business too, are times when some of the economic organizational pressures conflict with other objectives. Whether it's serving customers well, whether it's seeking justice if you're in the legal profession, whether it's designing a building in engineering or whatever. It's a great question.

There are a few things I would suggest or mention that we're doing in that arena. One thing I'll say just at the beginning, so I don't forget, is that there are some faculty actually in Australia who've been using GVV in their nursing education for several years now and have even published an article about their experience using GVV in nurse education. So if it's something of particular interest to you, Wendy, you should feel free to contact me and I will send you that article and even put you in touch with those nursing educators.

I've seen this pressure that you've talked about. The example I'll give is not a nursing example but I think it translates. I did some work with a group of public sector executives in the state of Queensland. They were CEOs of statutory organizations; these are the organizations that serve the public good. So maybe they were health and welfare organizations, or child welfare organizations, or other kinds of issues like that. They were experts in their fields and they ran these organizations and their mission was, in fact, to serve the public good around the issues they were concerned with. I see that as similar to nurses and physicians who are trying to address the well-being of their patients. But at the same time their bosses, the people to whom they reported, were publicly elected officials. So what would sometimes happen is individuals would be elected to hold political positions who were more interested in getting these CEOs to run their organization in a way that they thought would make it easier for them to get reelected. Even if it wasn't the thing that was in the best interest from the more informed perspective of the individuals who ran those organizations. It is a similar kind of conflict of your organizational success and the well-being of your patient or consumer or the citizen. When I worked with them we generated a number of scenarios that produced this kind of conflict and we introduced the GVV methodology to them. You know I don't have the answer to these situations. But what I did was ask them a different question. I didn't ask them is the publicly elected official right or are you right? I said what if you wanted to behave in the way that you believe in the best service of the population you serve and the official who you report to is telling you to do something different, how could you resolve that conflict?

When you frame the question that way rather than as an ethical issue, they were very clever. They got very good about ways to reframe the problem so the official would actually see there was an opportunity for him or her to get an upside in it as well. To communicate in different ways. What we basically did was get into the very skills that got them promoted to their CEO positions in the first place. They began to realize when they framed it as an ethics issue, it became this no win. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine who is a physician who is working with a network of hospitals in the Boston area. They've been trying to figure out ways to put in a new system for evaluating and compensating for medical care. I'm sure you're familiar with it as a health professional, it's an outcome oriented charging and reimbursing process and it's been used for patients. But it hasn't really been applied to low income individuals who are on government subsidy for their health care. The belief was that it wouldn't be cost effective. He's been working a number of years now to do the research, to do the piloting in order to be able to make a case that this could be managed in a way that would be both better for the patients, as it obviously is because it's outcome oriented, but that it could also be financially viable. It's taken a lot of reframing, it's taken a lot of careful research, it's taken a lot of new communication messages around the time frame and how you structure the reimbursement. But I see it very much as a GVV exercise. And he wasn't just presenting it as this is the ethical thing to do, although of course that's what's driving him. He was presenting it as this is something that is right for the patient, and is, in fact, we can find a way to structure it so that it will enable the organizations to continue to thrive.

So I do think that it's applicable in those circumstances but you need to reframe it as it's not just about being good, it's about being pragmatic too. It's about being competent. I always tell people that GVV is less about moral courage than it is about moral competence.

Wendy: That's a good way of framing it. Thank you so much.

Mary: Sure
Nicole: It makes me go back to something you said of your process of launching this. Of saying I have this idea, will you come and experiment with me. And believing in idea not as ownership -- I think you also mentioned that too. No one individual owns an idea once it's out there. I'm going to have Aryae come back in for one final question.

Aryae: Mary I'm circling back to something you had told me earlier before the call. That your PhD is in literature and film. Contemplating how you get from a PhD in literature and film to working at Harvard Graduate School of Business. So the question comes to me specifically was in your process going from Point A to Point B, was there a point in your journey where you had to make your own personal decision about giving voice to your values. And what effect did that have?
Mary: The short answer is yes. I think it probably happened in multiple occasions. I've had choices. I remember Harvard offered me to stay and have an ongoing career and solve the problems we want you to solve, which were good problems. There was nothing unethical about it. Or you can work on the issues that matter to you and we'll keep you around for two years but then you'll have to go. I chose the latter option which some people thought was crazy to give up the option of continued employment at Harvard Business School for the great unknown. But it seemed to me that I really wanted to focus on the things that mattered to me rather than using my talents in the service of somebody else's goals.

I think the other thing, the reason I wanted to do GVV and the diversity class, is because I always saw myself as an introvert and a risk adverse kind of person. I was also the kind of person who recognized things that I thought were inequitable or wrong but I felt like I was too chicken to do anything about it. I just wasn't a confrontational person. So I wanted to develop these approaches because I wanted to figure out is there a way for someone like me to be effective? I was learning there are actually many ways to act and voice on your values. They are not all about being an aggressive and extroverted person although those people can do it too. But they will do it in different ways. So I was solving my own problem. And I guess the last thing I'll say about it is having a PhD in literature and film means that I was acutely aware of the power of story. I think you were talking about that earlier, Aryae. And I was acutely aware of the power of narrative. I think when I look at Giving Voice to Values as looking at any particular values challenge that one of us may have whether it's in business or nursing or government or families -- and looking at the same set of circumstances and the same set of facts but being able to craft a different story about what might be possible in that situation. I think if you study narrative, if you study literature and film, I think you understand both the power of story and also the power you have to create story, to create narrative, to recraft, to reframe. So I actually don't think I would have ever thought of GVV if I'd come up straight up through economics or business or law. I think it was the fact of coming from another discipline and then bringing it to the business realm is what enabled me to do that.

Aryae: Wonderful tie in. And the rest is history.

Nicole: I really enjoyed that. So we have one final question for you and that would be how could we as the larger service based community support your work?

Mary: Oh god thank you for asking that. Well so anyone who's interested or curious, can go to our website. The easiest website to go to is You can also go to and it'll take you to the same page. You'll find all the information, you'll find the book, you'll find lots of articles and interviews, you'll find the curriculum itself and you can contact me directly, I can share with people how they can use the approach in their own organizations, if they want to develop workshops or to teach with the approach, I'll be happy to help them and happy to just have conversation on how we can take this work further.
Nicole: Absolutely. I'm sure some stories will come out of that and we'll also include the link in our follow-up email for our callers. Thank you so, so much. From so many examples, I think it's wonderful to hear all of the various types of organizations and industries that your work has gone into. I think for me, personally, just really hearing about your personal process in coming to this work and how you infuse that in coming out to the world has been a wonderful example for my own work. I wanted to thank you for that and thank you for the stories and I wanted to thank the audience.

Mary: Well thank you.