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Contextualizing Valence Theory

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Contextualizing Valence Theory


Valence Theory comprises: a new definition of organization founded on five fundamental relationships through which its members – be they individual members or other organizations – connect, unite, react, or interact; two forms each of the five valence relationships – fungible and ba – that account for the differences between BAH and UCaPP organizations; and a process that expresses organization’s tactility by marrying intentionality and complexity among the reciprocal interactions of individual members via the valence relationships’ effects. Through Valence Theory, I distinguish between a primary-purposeful organization and a valence-conceived organization in their relative ordering of priorities. The former begins with a vision, from which a mission is created, that defines the requisite objectives, goals, and outcomes for the organization as a whole. These are decomposed into tasks fragmented for its component units, from which individual tasks, and generally instrumental interactions and relationships are created. The latter – a valence-conceived organization – emerges from a common place of collective values, expressed as the intended effects the organization will create among those constituencies whom the organization will touch. These are enacted via complex combinations of relationships among the members, from which the organization’s purpose and subsequent objectives emerge.


A UCaPP organization can be expressed only in Valence Theory terms. A BAH organization, because of its heritage, is usually a primary-purposeful organization; it could, hypothetically, be expressed in valence terms, especially if its members respect the importance of balancing the five valence concerns, rather than giving predominance to the Economic-valence relationship.


From this comparison, simple behavioural dichotomies are easily seen and explained. Milton Friedman’s (in)famous exhortation, “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits” (1970), clearly comes from the primary-purposeful camp. Interface Inc.’s founder and chairman, Ray Anderson’s epiphany, that corporations are “blind to … externalities, those costs that can be externalized and foisted off on someone else” (Anderson, in Bakan, 2004, p. 72) expresses his shift to a valence orientation. As reported in both Bakan’s book, The Corporation, and the subsequent film documentary, Anderson’s company transformed every aspect of its operations after his new realization, effecting balance among the five valences even though it retained certain BAH aspects (i.e., fungible-form valence relationships). Semco (Semler, 1989; 1993) is another organization whose transformation can be understood in terms of balancing and effecting ba-forms among the five valence relationships.


Grounding Valence Theory in the Research


The empirical study that forms the basis of this thesis discovered seven areas of distinction between BAH and UCaPP organizations: change, coordination, evaluation, impetus, power dynamics, sense-making, and view of people. Framing the distinctive behaviours in Valence Theory terms enables an understanding of each type of organization in a way that allows organization members to effect a transformation from one type to the other. Unlike more descriptive and prescriptive methods that essentially suggest emulating behaviours to effect change (e.g., Adler & Heckscher, 2006) – reminiscent of a cargo-cult approach – understanding the fundamental human dynamics bound up among complex interactions of interpersonal relationships, may enable situational approaches for individual circumstances.




BAH organizations seek to maintain control—holding as much of a status quo as possible in the face of unforeseeable circumstances. In other words, BAH organizations seek equilibrium, not emergence, through what Castells’s describes as “the reproduction of their system of means” (1996, p. 171). Thus, there is an emphasis on successful precedent and well-honed, consistent, procedures. An organization can ensure such consistency by focusing its members’ activities according to their well-defined f-Economic and f-Knowledge valence contributions (especially if the two are conflated via the knowledge-economy discourse). This emphasis can be manifest in well-defined job descriptions and enforced functional boundaries as seen in Organizations M and A, created through isomorphic functional structures as in Organization F, and by imposing individual performance measures according to “counting widgets,” as Organization A’s Karen describes their work-production tracking system.


An environment enabled by Economic-ba and Knowledge-ba offers the possibility of individual members offering, and being exposed to, more and diverse opportunities. When members are demonstrably valued for, and given the opportunity to initiate significant change, they will do so enthusiastically, as Unit 7’s experience shows. Conversely, Stan’s experience in Organization M of being restricted in his potential contribution (limiting f‑Economic) has the effect of limiting potential change to the entrenched system. Change and innovation, as I discussed previously, organically emerges from conditions of organization-ba. Changing circumstances and opportunities are managed – accommodated, as I describe it – in the context of an organizational culture that values inquiry: for example, Loreen’s signature question of, “for the sake of why?” in Unit 7. When directed at intended and emergent effects, systemic inquiry is the vehicle that provides an important aspect of effective theory’s environmental sensing and anticipatory feedforward.




In the findings, I draw a discursive distinction between teamwork, specifically contextualized in a BAH organization as being based in explicitly coordinated, interdependent action, individual responsibility, and leader accountability; and collaboration in a UCaPP context. Collaboration in this sense is constructed in the context of organization-ba, enabling individual autonomy and agency, collective responsibility, and mutual accountability.


“As a manager, I would say something different than I would say as Jean” (Jean-1-53) expresses the granularity of one’s enactment of Identity-valence relationship, here in the case of Inter Pares. When she continues the thought – “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” (Jean-1-53) – Jean describes the effect of a complete, integrated collaboration as organization-ba in the UCaPP context.


When a person’s Identity-valence relationship to the organization is predominantly fungible, there is, by definition, a tradable value associated with the status, class, and privilege that the Identity connection conveys. It becomes difficult for that individual to separate a personal view from that of the organizational role since it is nearly impossible for someone so constructed to publicly separate his or her self from that f‑Identity-valence connection. Thus, it is not uncommon for an individual to feel compelled to assume either an untenable, illogical, seemingly irrational, or unethical position with respect to a particular issue because s/he presumes – often incorrectly – that is the appropriate position for the Identity-role to assume. Because the person cannot separate him/herself from that f‑Identity-valence connection, s/he (to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan) loves her/his label – Identity – as her/his self[1]. Amidst the dehumanizing influences that characterize BAH organizations, a strong, extrinsically created, f‑Identity-valence connection helps to disconnect the individual from acting on personal judgements, feelings, and core values.


Where the Identity-ba valence connection is predominant in an organizational culture, morally, ethically, and tactically ambiguous decisions that an individual might face are considered in the context of collective morality, ethicality, tactics, and values. Rather than putting on a role and acting out in the way that the individual may conceive, or project such a character may act (Ashforth, 2001; Goffman, 1959), the person draws from his/her shared sense of what it means to belong to their particular group. S/he is then able to appropriately represent the will of the collaboratively constructed Identity(-ba) of the group. By virtue of the way in which organization-ba is created, individuals may hold diverse opinions on particular subject matters, but the underlying values, common sense of purpose, collective will to action, and shared tactility ensure that, more or less, the individual can, in good conscience, represent the will of the organization with individual autonomy and agency.


Put another way, a BAH manager will ask him/herself the f‑Identity question: “What decision would a manager in my position take; how (that is, through what defensible process) would s/he come to that decision?” In contrast, a UCaPP manager would ask an Identity-ba question: “What decision accurately represents the collective values of this organization to create the intended effects – the tactility – to which this organization aspires?”


Considered in a slightly different way, understanding the action of f‑Identity can help explain seemingly arbitrary, onerous, or self-righteous decisions that occasionally occur in BAH organizations. For example, Organization A’s insistence on the “right” credentials to be accepted on the technical pay plan (Karen-1-97), and requiring employees to report any run-ins with the law (Adam-2-38) are both expressions of f‑Identity constructs; specifically, the connection from the organization’s perspective to the member contributing to the instrumental construction of the organization’s identity. Similarly, as I describe in a blog post of July 21, 2008 (Federman, 2005-2010), the firing of tenured professor, Colin Wightman, from Acadia University for an alleged sexual liaison with a woman not otherwise associated with the university (Vaisey & Wainwright, 2008), can be understood (but not necessarily justified) through a f‑Identity analysis.


These cases clearly demonstrate the reciprocal nature of the valence relationships. An individual creates aspects of her/his own identity through the instrumental association with an organization via social capital cachet, or ascribed attribution of skills and capabilities, among other qualities. Similarly, organizations construct aspects of their identities through analogous f‑Identity-valence relationships. One need look no further than University of Toronto’s own “Great Minds” advertising campaign to observe this in action.


The other major coordination theme identified in the empirical findings is the spectrum-defining duality of checking-up vs. checking-in. Checking-in originates in a place of authentic concern for mutual accountability and a sense of collective responsibility. Checking-in not only reveals and enables the instrumental aspects of f‑Knowledge in its action. It is also driven by Socio-psychological-ba, manifest as intrinsic motivation and common concern for the entire group, as well as Knowledge-ba in creating an environment that actively encourages socializing information, experiences, opportunities, and expertise.


Almost diametrically opposite, checking-up – “the discipline of making sure,” as Loreen calls it – activates a f‑Socio-psychological connection through (often tacit) extrinsic, coercive motivation, exclusively fungible Knowledge connections, and expressed f‑Economic ties to the larger group (for example, in the case of a project manager doing the checking-up among project contributors). One could make an argument that an organization for which checking-up is part of the deeply embodied culture has, in effect, entrenched f‑Knowledge and tied it almost exclusively to f‑Economic. In such cases, Knowledge-ba – freely offering the benefit of one’s experience and expertise in the environment – is all but precluded other than as an exception. Both Karen and Adam from Organization A explicitly mention this phenomenon, as does Organization M’s Sean.




It is clear that BAH organizations base their evaluation criteria primarily, if not exclusively, on f‑Economic considerations – the accomplishments of one’s nominal job requirements in exchange for financial remuneration. The presumed reciprocity between achievement and reward as extrinsic motivation (f‑Socio-psychological) is not necessarily a direct connection – a Pavlovian response, if you will – as some of the early practitioners and theorists such as Taylor (1911), Herzberg (1964), and Vroom (1967) suggested. One’s income is often considered a proxy for other ascribed attributes, conveying as much social capital as financial capital; it plays to f‑Socio-psychological, certainly, but often in close conjunction with f‑Identity. When ascribed and enacted status is decoupled from income – that is, when those respective fungible connections are transformed to ba-form connections as in the case of Unit 7 – a person who relies exclusively on fungible connections will sever their association with the organization, irrespective of income or positive performance evaluations (Roger-1-189).


On the other hand, UCaPP organizations use a different aspect of Valence Theory on which to base their evaluations, both of individuals and of the organization as a whole. Rather than measuring performance strictly in terms of specific achievements relative to a list of outcomes and goals, an organization like Inter Pares takes an effective theory approach. The annual retreat extended check-ins, and the reference group established at six months and one year for new members, and after seven years for long-serving members, focus on the overall effects created by the member being assessed within their total context. Expressed another way, a UCaPP assessment does not judge a person according to their contribution to realizing the organization’s vision, but rather to achieving its tactility. At Unit 7, a stellar quantitative performance by a decisive, forceful, or even charismatic leader can be seriously diminished by an inability to enable organization-ba as a referent leader.


As a BAH organization attempts to become more humanistic, it may (nominally) place more emphasis on what Organization A’s Robert calls, “quality-of-life objectives” as part of its annual goal-setting and evaluation exercise. As Robert describes it, quality-of-life objectives include areas like morale, communications, diversity, technical growth, and for managers, developing their subordinates. Organization A frames morale in terms of fostering professional growth of individuals through training and opportunities in assignments and leadership (Robert-1-65). These aspects seem to map mostly onto Knowledge-valence and the assumed relationship between Knowledge- and Identity-valences, and Knowledge- and Socio-psychological valences in the context of an organization of so-called knowledge workers. But, before achieving the tangible and explicit recognition of a promotion (thereby reinforcing f‑Identity and f‑Socio-psychological connections) an individual is still restricted by the necessity of the organization having an available opportunity based on a pre-designated business need. So, although the manager can set and facilitate these quality-of-life objectives, there must be an alignment of the business need to actualize the morale objectives’ nominal intention (i.e., effect). The individual can accomplish the f‑Knowledge component; it becomes the organization’s onus to follow through on enabling the corresponding Identity and Socio-psychological components. Otherwise, quality-of-life and morale objectives have the potential to become an exercise in frustration for the otherwise high achiever working primarily in a fungible relationship space, as Stan recounts in Organization M. I would describe this particular dysfunction as an organizational discontinuity, representing a potential disconnect among espoused, in-use, and effective theories for the organization as a whole. It is important to note and contrast, however, the example of Karen, who often works in more of a self-created ba-space, for whom the instrumentality of extrinsic motivators dependant on a business need is not as strong[2].




By now, it should be evident that primary-purposeful organizations (that would include most, if not all, BAH organizations) activate impetus through an appeal to nominal vision and mission, attempting to align employees’ hearts and minds – not to mention active discourse – with the goals, objectives, and received culture of the organization (Fleming & Spicer, 2003; Gee, Hull, & Lankshear, 1996; Ogbor, 2001). The classic division-of-labour premise (Fayol, 1949) suggests that, in a BAH organization, only legitimate leaders – those typically higher in the hierarchy – possess sufficient information, vision, and scope of knowledge to provide appropriate impetus that is consistent with achieving the organization’s overall purpose. That is, in fact, the leaders’ purpose – the fungible, Economic commodity in which they, as leaders, individually trade – in a primary-purposeful organization. Because the individual relationships that create the organization are primarily or exclusively fungible, only legitimated leaders have the privilege of providing leadership; everyone else is busy providing their own unique, f‑Economic valence commodities.


According to Valence Theory, a UCaPP organization enables common knowledge, appreciation of effects, and volition towards common action via the ba-form valence relationships that, enacted together, create the emergent phenomenon of organization-ba. Organizational impetus becomes an emergent property of the complex processes that create the UCaPP organization itself—impetus that does not flow from the top down, but emerges from, and is distributed among, all members. I shall reflect further on the nature of collaborative leadership in a UCaPP context, shortly.


Power Dynamics


In the discourse of the knowledge economy, knowledge is literally power. Aaron, from Organization F, for example, identifies that in an organization that values f-Knowledge – especially when it is reified via formal credentials – the knowledge authority that often accompanies it helps to establish a control hierarchy based in that knowledge authority (Aaron-1-61). Consequently, as a more traditional BAH organization may create status (and therefore, control) hierarchies based on role- or title-legitimation, or simple seniority (all of which are expressions of f-Economic and f‑Identity), a more contemporary BAH organization may create an analogous status hierarchy based on f‑Knowledge in a manner that appears to be a more equitable and supposedly merit-based. Just as there are subjective valuations assigned among certain f-Economic or f-Identity exchanges and constructions, there is often a tacit assumption that certain knowledge and experience is more valuable than others, and that there is an external designator that establishes that relative value, be it an academic degree or ascribed position in the status hierarchy or organization chart.


Sam, from Inter Pares, specifically speaks to the “conscious reflection on power” that occurs throughout the institution as a way to retain equity and non-hierarchical status among the membership. Although there are clearly individual hubs of very specialized expertise – f‑Knowledge – the corresponding promotion and protection of Knowledge-ba as a vital aspect of the embodied culture among the members precludes expertise from becoming a source of structural power.


Where there is legitimated, structural power, for example, in the body of a personage like a CEO, whether that individual constructs his/her connections to the organization primarily in fungible- or ba-forms seems to reflect the differences in how they react to the exercise of power. Earlier, I referred to how each of Organization F’s Matt, and Unit 7’s Loreen, reflect on their respective uses of executive power. Matt’s more instrumental view arises from his own fungible-valence connections, and his projection of similar fungible connections on the part of others. Loreen, when faced with exercising a veto on content, or terminating a member’s employment, experiences a challenging polarity tension: having to exercise all of her fungible connections to the organization (f‑Economic, f‑Knowledge, f‑Identity, and f‑Socio-psychological) in order to promote, preserve, and protect the ba-connections that exist throughout the environment, including her own. This, perhaps, serves to illustrate that organizational circumstances understood from the ground of complexity are not necessarily consistent with respect to obvious action; ideally, they should be consistent with respect to effect.




The findings analyses of Organizations M and A prompted me to raise the question, does a BAH organization have the ability to perceive quality? Certainly, among all of the fungible-valence relationships, specific instrumentation can be (and often is) constructed to quantify the extent to which particular criteria are, or are not met. These criteria, derived as a form of abstract empiricism (Daly & Cobb, 1989), purport to represent a quality standard against which the specific performance of both individuals, and the organization as a whole, are measured. It seems reasonable that in the context of (almost) exclusively f‑form valence relationships, little else can be accomplished: there is little space for subjectivity if the fungible transaction with respect to any of the valence relationships is, or is not, appropriately completed.


Jeff, from Organization F (which, as the reader might recall, was in transition from relatively more-UCaPP to more-BAH during the course of the study) relates a dilemma founded in the dissipating collaboration within his organization. He asks, “is that the way we should spend more time working on these [collaborations], or maybe spend less time and get it done faster and move faster?” (Jeff-1-69). Essentially, Jeff defines the polarity tensions of his organization’s collaborative, participatory, sense-making process (relative to developing product technical specifications)—quality vs. speed. As the organization gradually suppressed its ba-form relationships in favour of greater instrumentality via the f‑form connections, speed won. The transaction-oriented code production exchanges, well-defined job specifications, and steady customer growth numbers all served to mask various subjective indications of a loss of quality—in the product itself, in enacted demonstrations of customer interest and engagement, and among staff (Aaron-1-49; -2-64; -2-68; -2-78; -2-80).


In stark contrast, Unit 7’s Frances refers to the meditation on quality that comprises Robert Pirsig’s classic book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974):


It’s what we both perceive to be true. So quality is not innate in this coffee. The only quality it has rests between me and it. Or it’s like Buber: I-thou. The quality is not in the objectification. The quality is in the conversation and the interaction. … So, even in this interview, you and I don’t know each other, but the quality that we experience in each other comes from the interaction we’re having right now. It lies between us on the table. And whatever we each bring to that or derive from that. (Frances-1-5)


As Frances describes Pirsig’s construction, quality is not a descriptive attribute but an active process: quality is the event that occurs in the relationship between subject and object, when one recognizes that attribute in the other. Quality, as she perceives it, (not surprisingly) seems to be an emergent property of Nishida’s basho, existing in the interaction of relationships. Presumably, quality in this sense would also manifest in the nature of the ensuing effects, metaphorically represented in the fuel/air ratio of Pirsig’s motorcycle engine at high altitude, or reified in the coordinating activities between Unit 7 and its Client R that Frances describes as, “fantastic … one of the healthiest examples that I’ve seen” (Frances-1-172).


Thus, I would contend that indeed, a BAH organization has no ability to perceive quality because its fungible-valence construction has no means to perceive the necessary ba-form relationships that define it; the best BAH can do is assign procedural and empirical proxies to measure an abstraction of quality.


View of People


Earlier, I observed that,


What is clear above all else in an instrumental (BAH) versus relational (UCaPP) view of people is that in a UCaPP organization, someone disrupting collaborative relationships and the organization’s social fabric is equivalent to not performing one’s assigned job requirements in a function-oriented, primary-purposeful, BAH organization.


In a Valence Theory construction of organization, the rationale behind this observation becomes almost self-evident. BAH organizations emerge from individuals connecting primarily through fungible-valence relationships. These define instrumentality, not only with respect to job requirements (f‑Economic), but also with respect to all the other constructs of the contemporary organization, including assumed sources of motivation, career development, contributions of intellectual property—even adjunctive performance of corporate social responsibility.


UCaPP organizations emerge from the place of organization-ba, created from a relatively more balanced set of ba-form valence relationships. Instrumental considerations themselves emerge from reflexive processes involving intended, actualized, and subsequently reconsidered effects. These represent the organization’s tactility—the ways in which the organization socially and materially touches the various constituencies with which it is in relation. And, an organization’s tactility is an expression of its members’ collective values. A disruption of basho, quite simply, is pernicious to the UCaPP organization.


Read on: New Meanings

[1] From McLuhan’s Counterblast: “Love thy label as thy self” (1969, p. 35).

[2] I have known Karen in the context of Organization A for over ten years and, although she is in the same business area as Robert, she has never once mentioned quality-of-life or morale objectives, despite numerous conversations about the organization’s goal-setting, tracking, and evaluation regimes.


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