Shared values as organising principles in complexity

Doctoral Thesis


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This study seeks to understand the role of organisational values as an apt candidate for organising principles to manage and adapt effectively in complexity. A starting interest of this research was the reflection that a strong set of shared values has the potential to enables a range of positive outcomes, particularly in complexity, where shared values act as schemata to guide behaviour and enhance an organisation's reflexivity and resilience in times of turbulence. My stance is informed by the pragmatist research paradigm, recognising the interrelationship of research, action, theory, and practice. The literature review draws on two theoretical lenses, values theory and systems thinking, to trace the parallels between the developments in systems thinking and management thought. While the chosen topic ranges across a wide scholarly terrain, it is grounded in the narrative of a particular organisation, a South African clothing retailer facing challenges in the face of increasing volatility and change in the market. Case studies are narratives, which can provide a rich and descriptive picture of the investigated object, portraying the complexities and ambiguities of the context and a socially constructed world (Tsoukas & Hatch, 2001). We live in a world with ever-increasing uncertainty, inter-connectedness, and interdependence. Businesses are increasingly challenged to redefine how they manage and develop in complexity and adapt during turbulent times in their environments. Conceptions of management practices are being challenged by increasing unpredictability brought forward by technology, global trade, and the speed of cultural change, amongst other variables. One of the starting deliberations of this thesis is whether in such times, informal behaviour-guiding principles, such as values, gain importance to enable the emergence of systemic outcomes. The project does this by articulating an analytical framework of systems thinking and values research and synthesising a combined lens for the primary case study. I utilise a mixed-methods approach for the organising of data, including interviews and documentation. Values arrange what we do in organisations, and during change, can be effective and meaningful rudders for direction and adaptation if they are shared among members of the organisation and successfully influence decision-making and behaviour.