For regular readers whose medium-term memory has not been erased by the imperatives of haste, you may remember that our account of the experience and value of completing four of the most commonly used psychometric instruments has so far been incomplete. (If you’re new here, or would value a memory-jogger, there are previous articles about MBTI, FIRO-B and the Hogan Development Survey.) Having been delayed by the need to respond to urgent priorities – in which I suspect there is another valuable life lesson – this time we look at the Hogan Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory (MVPI).

In working life, we probably encounter values most frequently in the context of the organisation we’re working for. Corporate Values Statements are a tricky affair, and they often invite black-humoured responses. You may, for example, have noticed that they often come with the capital letters. While I’m confessing a personal bête noir, English style is to capitalise proper nouns – names for unique things like Malawi, Nissan or Birmingham. To me, Undue Capitalisation always smacks either of a Desperate Need To Look More Important or a mistaken impression that we’ve adopted German grammar. The latter has an agreeable and forgiveable surrealism as long as people don’t start doing the accent, but the former leaves me wondering if someone is overcompensating for something – moral undercapitalisation, perhaps – and hoping that we won’t notice.)

The biggest danger with a values statement is that it is a hollow list of bland sentiments – the corporate version of the ‘New Man and baby’ poster (capitals for irony) that blighted several million walls in the 1980s. (To read more about the distressing gap between image and reality in that poster, both The Daily Mail and the Kicking Up A Storm! blog tell the full story.) Much as the model’s, baby’s and photographer’s life need not have turned out as they did, there is a better way when it comes to corporate values. To quote from a very useful and readable guide to them published by Business in the Community (PDF):

“A company’s statement of values is a high level statement that describes how the company behaves. It is not a mission statement that describes what task the company aims to fulfil. Neither is it a set of commercial objectives. The ‘rule of thumb’ is that if it describes time limited objectives, task-oriented goals, or aspirations of achievement then it is a mission statement, or goals. Corporate values are about how what the company stands for and how its employees behave. They are about framing a role for the business that gives it a purpose beyond profit.”

The Hogan MVPI Instrument is, by contrast, about personal values and motives – what the individual wants to do (and be), rather than they how they might behave. It has ten scales, each composed of five themes (lifestyles, beliefs, occupational preferences, aversions and preferred associates), and prompts the subject to agree, disagree or record uncertainty on 200 items. (For more detailed information, you can read more at the Hogan Assessments website). At this personal level, I was struck by the last sentence of the Business in the Community quote above, but rather more so by none other the King of Rock’n’Roll, Elvis Presley:

Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave ’em all over everything you do.”

They have other similarities with fingerprints too, in that MVPI scores tend to be pretty stable over time. Just as we might sandpaper our fingertips only for the unique paper to inevitably grow back, our personal motives and values are pretty core to us: they define each of us internally, regardless of external events. You can paint stripes over a leopard’s spots or strap on a pair of wings, but inside it’s still a leopard.

In terms of the personal agenda I chose to share at the start of what I am resisting calling a ‘journey’ (this is life, not a Lloyds Bank advert), I found the MVPI experience a valuable exercise in taking stock and in confirming back to myself my understanding of my own values and motivations. As with all models that are normed against impressive numbers of people in business context, interpreting the report and feedback involved a little mental separating of the chalk from the cheese. The report couches much of its language in terms of the individual’s style as a manager or leader – useful in the context of future potential for progression in a current organisational role, but if your ‘agenda’ lies elsewhere, the lines of the report may need to read between. In my own case – which strongly highlighted Aesthetics (99th percentile), Altruistic (97th) and Hedonistic (72nd) – I felt like the ‘me’ was clearly visible. The very low scores for Power and Commerce felt as if they needed to be viewed through that chalk/cheese filter (I’m fully aware these things matter, and don’t ignore them in my working life, they’re just not the fuel in the engine), while the low – if higher – score for Science amused someone whose spent so much of their working life in an ambiguous embrace with IT.

I feel like someone who has the appetite for learning and ‘getting below the surface noise’ that a higher score would describe, but for whom technology is a possibly value tool. A means (but not the only means), and certainly not an end. Faced with new tech or new models, my first unvoiced question is usually “Ok, so what can it do?” My second is “And is doing that a good idea?” Which may take us back to that phrase about ‘purpose beyond profit’.

The middling scores for Security and Tradition to me portrayed a conscious ambiguity: safe probably is better than sorry, but as Ian Dury once sang “It’s what you haven’t done/That matters when you’re old”. And I’m no admirer of tradition for its own sake: whether a convention should be upheld, challenged or over-ridden depends on the convention in questions. On the other hand, endless uncertainty rarely feels healthy and history should – if nothing else – gives us a much clearer idea of how we got where we are. Without some sense of history, isn’t everything just surface noise? A grasp of history and tradition is a source of perspective and proportion, neither of which are to sniffed at.

Reviewing the report reminded me of a recent conversation with an old friend (we’ve known each other since we were four) who has, like me, spent the last few years of his life heavily involved in caring for and managing the affairs of a now recently deceased relative. As he put it, when the dust settles and your own life re-emerges from the thick covering of external responsibilities that have been concealing its shape from you, there’s a sense of “So now what?”. Having made others’ beds for them to lie in, you rediscover what’s been happening to your own metaphorical bed – and a vision of sweet dreams may not be the main thing it invokes. “Where was I?” isn’t the same sensation as “Oh, so that’s where I am; how did I get here?”.

Like The Decision Book (recently reviewed), I suspect the MVPI process may suit some people more than others. In uncovering your own values, I could see real merit in it: I’ll leave it to my psychometrist colleague to comment, but I saw a link between my valuing of it in this way and the MBTI process, which suggested a strong interest in understanding myself – one psychometric tool suggesting the value I might see in another, if you like. As a means of assessing ‘personal fit’, it undoubted has applications, although I couldn’t help but ponder who stood to gain most – the person whose fit is loose or inapt or the organisation whose cultural uniform only fits them where it touches. Another old song lyric swam through my head (“It doesn’t matter if your face doesn’t fit. There’s no charge for changing it.”)

It also occurred to me that there was an application of MVPI that I suspect may not have been explored. We’ve written here before about the importance of understanding employee (plural) motivation in reviewing organisational process and practice to evolve a strong Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Might aggravated and anonymised MVPI data be one interesting approach to supporting this process – overcoming potential issues of disclosure and anonymity that hinder accuracy of data gathering while allowing truer patterns of the values that are actually felt to emerge. (As Business in the Community are far from alone in having pointed out, values that aren’t lived are just a poster on a wall.)

Back in the moment, I can’t help but think that values are not so different from the people they live within: they need opportunities if they’re going to put down roots. My conversations with my old friend also didn’t hesitate to see the important different between values and worth. We both, to paraphrase the old joke, have a pretty good idea of what kind of boys we are, but our daily lives are closely linked with negotiating the price. There’s a very interesting quote from Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School professor:

“Money should never be separated from values. Detached from values it may indeed be the root of all evil. Linked effectively to social purpose it can be the root of opportunity.”

I’m not going to be so cynical as to comment on the comfort-cushion of academic tenure, but staying true to your values does depend on having opportunities to do so – which can involve complex and difficult judgements and compromises. Without those opportunities, separating money from values at a personal level may be a necessary act of survival. Being clearer about what we are looking for doesn’t, in itself, increase the chance that it will be available: whether the price of continuing to look is worth paying is a very personal decision. I can’t help but remember the conclusion to our review of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers

[…] those who travel furthest do so at least in part because they were given the opportunity to do so, and the encouragement to make the most of the opportunity.”

Whether life really is a beach depends whether you’ve driven there through conscious choice or whether you feel like it’s somewhere the tide has deposited you. As individuals, we can act within our own parameters on the findings of MVPI; as organisations, what happens next also depends in part in acting on what is unearthed beyond simply reporting it.