Monday, June 18, 2012

Book Review: Giving Voice to Values

Being a tad impatient - one of my thoughts while reading many management books is "Get to the point!" - I was frustrated with the beginning of Giving Voice to Values by Mary C. Gentile. That was unfair and I should have tempered my expectations. She is, after all, a research scholar at Babson College and the book was published by Yale University Press so it was wrong to assume that we'd get an Elmore Leonardnesque plunge into the topic. Around 50 pages in, however, Professor Gentile decides to cut loose with the preamble and seize the subject. As her book notes, it is one thing to be ethical but how can we talk about ethics without turning off our audience? How can we surface ethical concerns in a manner that is likely to encourage ethical behavior?

I found the most helpful part of the book to be her "A Tale of Two Stories" exercise in which participants recall times when their values conflicted with a nontrivial management decision and they spoke up versus a similar time when they did not speak up. The idea is to identify the "enablers" and "disablers" that affect a willingness to voice ethical concerns.

Gentile does a thorough job of examining the rationalizations for failing to address unethical behavior and she proposes ways to voice ethical values that are, as she puts it, "more likely, more comfortable, and more apt to be effective." Even savvy practitioners of office politics who are familar with some of the techniques will find the collection of these approaches to be helpful and the book includes an appendix that summarizes key areas.

Gentile's book will be a great source for stimulating discussions of ethics at staff meetings. [I will be using it in the ethics workshops that I teach to managers.] Its framework should be accompanied by a caution that being ethical can involve significant risk. Although these approaches can stiffen some spines and reduce the likelihood of a backlash, they may not remove all dangers. Sometimes, our "voicing" will go only so far and courage is required. At those moments, we must be willing to pay a price - perhaps a heavy one - if we are going to be ethical.

Book received from publisher
Version: Paperback, 273 pages

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