"A 21st Century Challenge to Corporate Values: From Functional Successes to Context As Everything"


David Hawk and Minna Takala


Values give business operations the possibility of meaning, and a contextual basis for their evaluation. Business values have undergone significant changes since WW II, especially during the most recent decade. In the first half of the 20th Century business activities were organized into discrete functional camps, via 18th Century conceptions like division of labor, and 20th Century principles of scientific management. Meaning, on the other hand, was generally absent from the segmented functions that were created, coordinated and given their context by management. Design, engineering, production, distribution, marketing, sales, and accounting each had their own rule systems and whatever meaning they had was restricted to the self-referential. The value that seemed to matter most was Adam Smith’s 1776 notion as advanced in his An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, that each individual acted, and should act, so as to do the best for themselves. Added to this was Babbages’ 1836 work in On The Economy of Machines, which built on Smiths’ thesis, and where the highest value was granted to valuing the rules. Dilemmas, arising from separated operations, that failed to relate to other operations, or operations set up to do the wrong, were not the concern of functionaries. Questions of integration were the prerogative of management.

This situation has undergone change since the mid-1960s. Functionaries are increasingly expected to relate their acts to the larger organizational mission. Meanwhile, managers are finding it almost impossible to understand, let alone integrate, the various functions under their “control.” The composite situation often appears beyond management. Managers and value systems need to find innovative ways to better accommodate the contexts within which they operate. The challenge in this is as great as the need. Presented herein is a research project and two business education programs that illustrate the situation and ways for helping people respond to it.

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David Hawk and Minna Takala, "A 21st Century Challenge to Corporate Values: From Functional Successes to Context As Everything", Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Conference of the International Society for the Systems Sciences at Asilomar, California, June 27 to July 2, 1999.

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