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The Five Valence Relationships

Page history last edited by Mark 14 years ago


The Five Valence Relationships


Economic (Value Exchange) Valence


Clearly the most obvious and historically dominant connection among organization members, the Economic-valence relationship lies at the heart of both modern and ancient[1] organizational discourse. All participants speak to the value they individually contribute to their respective organizations, and each is explicitly cognizant of the economic ramifications of those contributions in the context of their specific organization. Interestingly, at the extreme ends of the BAH-UCaPP spectrum, the directional Economic-valence connection from organization to individual seems to be largely independent of the individual’s contribution to the organization (that is, the connection from individual to organization). Stan, from Organization M, describes this as a dysfunction of the union’s presence (Stan-1-67; also Frank-2-52 regarding Organization A); Inter Pares’s Sam frames this as decoupling compensation from responsibility as part of their explicit “analysis of power” (Sam-1-97). Analogously, both Organization A and Unit 7 – each situated on either side, and more towards the centre, of the spectrum – create an explicit reciprocity in the Economic-valence relationships between members and the organization—more along the lines of the iconic expression, receiving value for money.


It is important to note that, in general, the Economic valence is not defined in terms of an organization specifically providing money for services rendered by its members, or vice versa. Nonetheless, Economic valence expresses a tangibility, reification, or performativity on the part of members (individuals and component organizations) and organization itself. Thus, in addition to services or production exchanged for money, Economic valence could also be enacted by means of explicit demonstrations of being valued, as in the case of Unit 7’s inclusiveness of relatively junior members in key, strategic, organizational deliberations. I will expand on this idea later in this chapter.


Despite relatively recent approaches such as Balanced Scorecard (Kaplan & Norton, 1996; Maltz, Shenhar, & Reilly, 2003) and Triple Bottom Line (Elkington, 1997; Hacking & Guthrie, 2008), the Economic valence tends to dominate organizational considerations, particularly in modern-to-contemporary discourse[2]. This discursive dominance often results in other valence connections being subordinated, conflated, and expressed in economic terms. Thus, one advantage of a Valence Theory analysis is that it can provide a fundamentally balanced approach to the foundational relationships that bind organizational members.


Knowledge Valence


Peter Drucker can be credited (if not blamed) for reframing knowledge as a production commodity through his popularization of the term, “knowledge economy.” He characterizes “knowledge industries[3]” as those that “produce and distribute ideas and information rather than goods and services,” noting that America had “changed into a knowledge economy” since World War II (1969, p. 263). He goes on to describe how,


…knowledge has become the central “production factor” in an advanced, developed economy. … Knowledge has actually become the “primary” [i.e., resource production akin to agriculture, mining, forestry, and farming] industry, the industry that supplies to the economy the essential and central resource of production. … Knowledge is now the main cost, the main investment, and the main product of the advanced economy… (Drucker, 1969, p. 264)


It is therefore not surprising that, over the ensuing four decades, knowledge has acquired a connotation of “property” (as in, “intellectual property”), and is often considered as much an economic commodity as are iron, coal, or timber. Unlike those commodities, of course, knowledge is inherently non-rivalrous – unless artificially constructed as such, as in the case of Organization A – and non-excludable—with a similar proviso. In fact, its action is quite the opposite: the more one shares the knowledge in one’s possession, the more new knowledge can be produced by others for the benefit of all[4].


Nonetheless, individuals construct their connections to the organizations of which they are members, in part, by contributing and receiving skills, expertise, information, experiences, opportunities—all aspects of both tacit and explicit knowledge. Nonaka, together with numerous co-authors, describes the organization as the place – actually, various sites or locales – in which knowledge is socialized (converted from tacit to tacit among individuals), externalized (tacit to explicit), combined (explicit to more complex explicit), and internalized (explicit to tacit) (Nonaka & Konno, 1998; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995; Nonaka, Toyama, & Konno, 2000). I will return to the idea of the place of knowledge, shortly.


Identity Valence


Ashforth (2001) crosses two theories of role performance and argues that, “the salience of a role identity to an individual in an organizational context is determined by both … subjective importance and situational relevance” (p. 29). Subjectively, “the greater importance one attaches to a given identity the more weight it carries in determining one’s global sense of self” (p. 30). That is, people become vested in their personally assessed, subjective importance of a role based on a feeling of obligation and normative values expectations associated with a sense of belonging or membership in the context of a particular social group or role category. For instance, a manager or director role tends to have a greater perceived importance ascribed to it than, say, the role of retail worker or clerical staff. As well, that subjective assessment is influenced by a variety of associated extrinsic motivating factors, such as reward, recognition, status, and reputation.


Additionally, Ashforth identifies that a particular role enactment becomes situationally relevant by virtue of the “degree to which a given identity is socially appropriate to a given situation (i.e., a specific context, setting, or encounter). By socially appropriate, I mean that the identity would be considered by others to be legitimately applicable to the situation” (2001, p. 32). Jean, at Inter Pares, explicitly recognizes the difference between speaking in role identity as opposed to expressing her personal opinion:


As a manager, I would say something different than I would say as Jean. And, as a manager out there, I’m careful to remember that it’s not me that I’m representing, although it’s also me because I’m part of this institution, but it is the institution. (Jean-1-53)


When these distinctions remain sublimated – when the individual cannot clearly distinguish among the role, the organization, and the self – decisions, approaches, and consequential actions sometimes become problematic. This can occur when an individual tacitly accepts ascribed behaviours that may situationally accompany the assumed identity associated with a role.  However, it is not necessarily the case that identity is passively accepted and worn by those who enrobe themselves with a particular role. In many cases, according to Peter Callero (1994), roles are embodied as “tools in the establishment of social structure… and that human agency is facilitated and expressed through the use of roles as resources” (p. 229). Baker and Faulkner (1991) further argue that, rather than an individual’s role being the manifest consequence of a social position, roles are claimed and enacted prior to becoming located as a social position, and thereby serve to establish that position within a social network.


Collier and Collero go on to extend the constructive nature of role as cultural objects – meaningful and structuring with respect to interactions – suggesting that roles comprise cognitive schemata,


…that individuals use to understand and act in their culture… However, when roles are employed as resources for the construction of identity, the same cultural schemata serve to organize the self. … These role-identities are then used to enable a wide range of individual and collective acts” (Collier & Callero, 2005, p. 55)


In other words, roles connect behaviours and individual construction of social position as important in the development of social identity within a particular social network. Thus, one’s Identity-valence connection to an organization often fulfils an additional capacity than merely to (passively) identify an individual’s social standing, status, and attributed capability—one’s bureaucratic fitness for office, so to speak. Identity valence can additionally bolster social capital, both for the individual and for the organization to which the individual is connected (Oh, Chung, & Labianca, 2004).


Socio-psychological Valence


In the context of understanding the motivation behind peer-production in large-scale, commons-based software endeavours[5], Yochai Benkler identifies what he calls,


social-psychological rewards, which are a function of the cultural meaning associated with the act [of contributing to an open source software project, for instance] and may take the form of actual effect on social associations and status perception by others, or on internal satisfaction from one’s social relations or the culturally determined meaning of one’s action. (Benkler, 2002, p. 426-427; emphasis in original)


In Benkler’s analysis, social-psychological rewards can both offset direct, economic remuneration and be mitigated by financial exchange[6]. As a mode of connection with an organization, Socio-psychological valence creates one’s affective connection and comprises, if not the source of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, then their manifestation and means of action in the individual (Federman, 2005b). Additionally, it enables people to compensate, or at least self-justify or rationalize, otherwise unsavoury behaviours on the part of the (larger) organization. If there is a strong Socio-psychological-valence connection to a smaller, sub-organization like a department, workgroup, or team, individuals are able to compensate for more unpleasant or demotivating aspects of the general work environment. Organization A’s Roxanne, for example, describes “creating an environment, and putting some value in the job connecting people together and get[ting] connected to people, and that is the part of that I enjoy and it’s very pleasant for me” (Roxanne-2-58).


The importance of affective connection for group cohesiveness and effectiveness is the specific object of study for Oh, Chung, and Labianca (2004), mentioned earlier. Additionally, Casciaro and Lobo (2005) report on an extensive study of mostly ad-hoc, voluntary work relationships in which affective connections in the emergent workgroups prove to be more important than job competency in individual self-selection of work-mates. These results are consistent with those of Nardi, Whittaker, and Schwartz (2000, 2002) who demonstrate that, among other things, individuals will reconnect and reconstruct organization with those who have provided favourable experiences in the past.


It is clear that there is a complex entanglement among all of the aforementioned valences that is, perhaps, most easily demonstrated via the Socio-psychological valence. A person will likely feel a strong, positive, affective connection to her/his organization if s/he has a well-paying job (Economic), with a relatively high-status title (Identity), that both is challenging and provides great opportunities (Knowledge). Change the Knowledge-valence component, as in the case of Japanese madogiwazoku – literally, “the tribe (group) that is beside the window[7]” – and the individual’s organizational connection is broken (Hideharu & Hideharu, 1999). Alternatively, alter the construction of status and rank (Identity), as happened in Unit 7, and again, the employee may choose to sever their organizational connection (e.g., Roger-1-189). And, assuming a reasonable fluidity in the employment market, it is not unknown for employees to change employers for a better income, especially if the individual links financial worth with self-worth.


Conversely, Rowena Barrett (2004) reports on how, in some circumstances, Knowledge connections trump more tangible, Economic connections among workers in Australia’s software industry. And, it is very common for a prominent individual to assume a “$1-per-year” position as the head of a charitable endeavour, creating their organizational connection through both Identity- and Socio-psychological-valence connections.


These examples are not meant to be definitive. Rather, they illustrate that Valence Theory considers organization to be an entity emergent from amidst complex interactions of the various valence relationships among its members; that unlike a more linear, deterministic model, valence relationships cannot be considered to be so-called independent variables.


Ecological Valence


In the late 1980s, the World Commission on Environment and Development framed a definition of sustainable development (WCED, 1987), one that became widely accepted within the ground of a scientifically and industrially dominated (neo-classical) economic paradigm. This model is predicated on an industrial process conception of organizations, and consequential production models of interaction, mutual dependence, supply and consumption, functional decomposition, and utility value of natural resources. For writers like Herman Daly (2002), the opportunity was lost to engage in discourse concerning the overall objectives of sustainable development; what emerged was merely an ongoing debate about the process of achieving industrial-economic goals. Fergus and Rowney lament,


The opportunities to achieve this type of discourse will only come about once our epistemological thought stance changes. … we do believe that the processes of developing those changes need … a foundational ethic of value, where the measure of value is in terms of social, environmental, and economic values, as opposed to a blinkered domination of economic values. (Fergus & Rowney, 2005, p. 200)


They conclude their argument by reiterating the prevalence of the economic-dominant paradigm within which businesses exist, and the near impossibility to change the nature of sustainable development discourse by those operating within that ground. They call for a fundamental change in the “cognitive reality” in which business managers exist, integrating “various values, ethics and perspectives during the process of decision making” (Fergus & Rowney, 2005, p. 205). To accomplish this, they suggest that business managers “will encourage employees to view the organization as embedded in a larger society and, in turn, both these organizations and society are embedded within the natural environment” (p. 205; emphasis added).


This final observation by Fergus and Rowney provides an important additional consideration for the proposed Valence Theory: the environment itself is an important actant in the organization collective. This is especially true – and in retrospect, perhaps even obvious – when one considers the particular instance of the UCaPP organization. After all, to what is humanity more ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate than the natural environment?


Moreover, the natural environment can be considered to be a foundational, ground actant. When two individuals come together to form what one might consider to be a proto-organization by establishing various valence relationships between them, they do not do so in the void of outer space. The natural (and sometimes unnatural, as in an urban setting) environment is always present. Further, it continually and perpetually contextualizes the nature and scope of members’ interactions, regardless of how many additional members – be they individuals or other organizations – may join.


Under an industrial paradigm, and consistent with the instrumental ground that originally contextualized the BAH organization, the natural environment is rarely acknowledged except as an externality or, at best, as an adjunct consideration to the instrumental image-marketing operations of the business (Laufer, 2003; Ramus & Montiel, 2005). In a Valence Theory conception, considering the natural environment as a foundational actant suggests that the fundamental ground valence of any and all instances of organization is an Ecological-valence relationship whose importance is no less than that of any other valence-relationship consideration.


The nature of Ecological valence[8]


An organization’s relationship to the natural environment can usefully be characterized as its sustainability—the net degree to which it utilizes natural capital. Daly (2002, 2004; also Daly & Cobb, 1994) describes two definitions of sustainability. Utility-based sustainability is consistent with that of the Brundtland Commission (WCED, 1987), namely, sustaining a level of resource usage that presumably meets the needs of the current population such that future generations will be able to meet their own needs. Daly points out two major limitations in the utility-based definition: first, utility to meet current needs is not measurable; second, the definition imposes today’s conception of “needs” on future generations without acknowledging the socially contextualized, not to mention political, nature of need. What is clear is the industrial-context mentality that informs the Brundtland definition—a mentality that is consistent with the prior cultural epoch rather than the UCaPP nature of the contemporary world.


Instead, Daly favours a throughput-based construct of sustainability specifying that “the entropic physical flow from nature’s sources through the economy and back to nature’s sinks, is to be non-declining” (2002, p. 1). Throughput can be measured as the amount of energy consumed by all physical entities, both human and non-human, on earth. All energy originates in nature, is transformed multiple times through various industrial, agricultural and other processes, and then ultimately reverts to nature. Daly’s definition specifies that the amount of energy actually “consumed” by entities on the planet – that is, not returned to nature via consumption of non-renewable resources or production of non-decomposable waste – should be limited so that all other energy flows are at least maintained, if not increased. Thus, one possibility is that Ecological valence could be measured in terms of net energy exchange between an organization and the natural environment via a complex network of interactions and transformations.


In general, ecological, environmental, and sustainability considerations represent a relatively recent set of concerns in the contexts of both modern and contemporary organization, compared to the concerns manifest in the other four valence relationships that are literally centuries old. Hence, there is yet considerable opportunity to problematize and frame the issues that may lead to an even more appropriate and useful specification of Ecological valence, associated empirical investigations, and models of praxis consistent with UCaPP organization.


Read on: The Problem of Knowledge, and the Two Valence Forms

[1] See, for example, Cummings and Brocklesby’s (1993) description of the composition of ancient Athenian phylei, that were specifically designed to balance economic exchanges among rural, urban, and coastal demes.

[2] For an acknowledgement of this claim, and interesting responses to its perceived deleterious effects, see Unerman and O’Dwyer (2007), and Harvey (2007). In the former article, the authors identify the risks incurred when direct economic considerations dominate; in the latter, the author describes how the economic discursive dominance contributes to dismantling egalitarian societal institutions.

[3] Drucker attributes the term, “knowledge industries,” to Princeton economist, Fritz Machlup’s 1962 book, Production and Distribution of Knowledge in the United States.

[4] Consequently, a so-called knowledge economy should be, more or less, counter-capitalist in support of the traditional construct of the commons. There is considerable discourse concerning various approaches to a knowledge commons, with nodes in the FLOSS, Creative Commons, and Open Access movements, among others.

[5] For example, those that produced the Linux operating system, the Firefox browser, and other, similar, FLOSS projects.

[6] For example, a person of a particular social class with a reasonable income may volunteer to serve at a soup kitchen, but may not choose to accept employment there. As a volunteer, SP reward is positive; as an employee, SP reward may be perceived as negative.

[7] As a form of constructive dismissal, long-time organizational members in large, Japanese firms who are deemed past their prime, or are being organizationally punished, are given an office with a large window, but no responsibilities. They spend their days gazing out the window, hence the colloquial form, “window gazers.” It is a sign of significant loss of respect, and represents tremendous shame for the employee and his – in the culture, madogiwazoku are almost always male – family.

[8] The empirical study upon which this thesis is based specifically investigated the nature of interpersonal relationships that are encompassed in the other four valence relationships. In that sense, Ecological valence is a “theoretical” construct, but one that, in my view, is critically important in a UCaPP world faced with contemporary realities of climate change, depletion of habitat, and over-consumption of natural resources. As the later discussion will include relatively little concerning Ecological valence, I am choosing to briefly explore its nature here, noting that there is considerable opportunity for future research in this area. This section acknowledges the inspiration of Prof. Laurent Leduc, whose course, Corporate Ethics in the Global Economy, informed my original conception of Ecological valence.



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