Shortcomings of the Single Values Approach - Corporate Governance and Business Ethics

As long ago as 1961 Gordon Allport suggested that value priorities are the “dominating force” in life as they direct all of an individual’s activity towards the achievement of his/her needs. Similarly, Allport (1955) emphasizes that individuals’ value priorities influence their perception of reality. Therefore, values can be considered to be deep-seated emotional states and beliefs that are oriented towards individuals’ underlying needs and motivations. Some characteristics of values are worth highlighting.

Understanding of and previous research into values has suffered from focusing on a single-value approach that (i) results in low reliability, (ii) ignores more equally or more meaningful values, and (iii) ignores that there are trade-offs among competing values. Values form a part of an individual’s value system. A value system exists for each person and is more important to understand than a single value (Schwartz 1996; Hambrick and Brandon 1988; Rokeach 1979). Each individual has a hierarchy of values and values are organized in a hierarchical system ordered by relative importance to one another (Schwartz 1992; Rokeach 1979). Although there are universally held values, an individual and groups will hold and espouse a dominant set of values: “At the top of each person’s system are a small handful of dominant values of paramount importance” (Hambrick and Brandon 1988). Values theory also suggests that a key characteristic of values is that they are needs-based. Value systems are created by our (changing) underlying needs (Maslow 1970; Allport 1955). Maslow (1970) identified three distinct need types which led to dominance of differing elements in his taxonomy. The basic model of the Hierarchy of Needs provides three levels of needs as shown in Figure.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a model of human psychological development that facilitates understanding of the basis of human values and the way they can change over time from birth to death. Maslow’s experience and qualitative research led him to the insight that, as human beings, we are all born with a set of needs that drive our perception of reality and behaviors. These needs are complex and form our “value system”. His theory illustrated the nature of the changes in values systems through the life of every person. The changes are hierarchical in nature, i.e.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Some needs need to be met before other needs become important as a determinant of attitudes and behaviors.

The first level is called Sustenance Driven needs. At this level the individual is driven by basic physiological needs for air, food, water, sleep, and sex (in post puberty individuals). Once this need is met, the need for safety motivates the person, and eventually the need for belonging kicks in as a motivator of attitude and behavior. Once this nest of needs is met, and significant proportions of national populations never satisfy these needs, the next level of needs to be met is based on esteem, initially the esteem from other and, once that is met, the need for self-esteem drives attitudes and behavior. These are called Outer Directed needs. Once the need for self-esteem is largely met, the values system of the individual changes again. In this third stage of development the needs for a deeper understanding of life, in the understanding of the interdependence among all life, and eventually the transcendence of all needs drives the life of individuals. These are called Inner Directed needs. Having briefly introduced a theory-driven approach to values, the next section summaries three value systems in UK Society.

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