Giving Voice to Values

Emily Holbrook


August 1, 2010

book-voice-to-values"We do not act right because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly." Those are the words of Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher and student of Plato. And though many of us start out with aspirations to act rightly and stick to our values when we enter the workforce, most find it difficult. Is this due to a lack of business ethics education or do some of us merely follow the examples set forth by the oft-corrupt corporate world?

Mary C. Gentile set out to tackle the "ethics in business" conundrum in Giving Voice to Values. Gentile, a former Harvard professor and current Babson College scholar, explores not only why we sometimes do not act alongside our values, but also how employees can do just that, while still advancing their careers.

She begins her verbose book with 12 assumptions that form the storyline behind the approach to value-driven actions. From assumption number five ("I am more likely to voice my values if I have practiced how to respond to frequently encountered conflicts") to assumption number 11 ("voicing my values leads to better decisions"), Gentile asks readers to give their reactions to these assumptions in the hopes that they can gauge their sense of effective value-driven action.

Gentile does not stop there. She then asks the reader to engage in an academically popular (according to Gentile) "self-reflection" exercise that allows the reader to see exactly what their enablers and disablers are in terms of their ability and willingness to voice their values. It is clear she knows what she is talking about. Gentile is a product of the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit that fosters values-based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society. She also created a curriculum at Babson College, for which her book is named and for which she serves as director.

Though Gentile is more than adequately schooled in the idea of value-driven actions within the business world, the better part of Giving Voice to Values seems mere common sense. Gentile herself claims that "the ideas we have gathered in our interviews, research and piloting of the Giving Voice to Values approach is not rocket science." Agreed-knowing what your values are is not rocket science, but knowing how to act on your values in the workplace is more difficult to achieve. This is where Gentile excels-by forcing the reader to examine and analyze exactly how to act on values while avoiding conflict and, if conflict does arise, learning how to deal with it in an appropriate manner.

Facing values conflicts in the workplace of any job or industry is inevitable, and Gentile believes employees would take career-threatening risks in service of their values. This is a broad and confident assumption. Though some value-driven employees may sacrifice their job for their beliefs, the sad truth is that most put their paycheck before their principles.

Though Giving Voice to Values is full of case studies, insight, research and interviews directly relating to the topic, the 266-page book could have undoubtedly gotten the point across using half (maybe even one third) of the words written. Though long-winded, Gentile will hopefully motivate and guide her readers to recognize and empower those not-so-self-evident values.
Emily Holbrook is the founder of Red Label Writing, LLC, a writing, editing and content strategy firm catering to insurance and risk management businesses and publications, and a former editor of Risk Management.