Mod 5 Week 9 Initial Post

In this last discussion week, the focus shifted to how organisations deal with conflicts that arise when values do not align. In this week, I was introduced to the moral stage developmental theory of Graves (1970). Graves’ eight levels does a good job at describing the worldviews of each of those levels and is a useful tool in predicting potential value conflict if an organisation comprises units or individuals at different levels. I used Graves to outline the tensions present in my old institution during their period of faculty restructuring.

It needs to be pointed out that Graves has not been fully verified. A Ph.D. in 1979 (Hurlbut, 1979) and one in 1983 (Lee, 1983) partially confirmed some aspects of construct validity in Gravesian theory, but more questions were raised than answered. If I had time, I’d update the state of the field because of many theories, Graves is more comprehensive than most and could be a very potent tool for values researchers.

Graves, C. W. (1970). Levels of Existence: an Open System Theory of Values. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 10, 131–155. doi:10.1177/002216787001000205

Hurlbut, M. A. (1979). Graves’ levels of psychological existence: a test design. North Texas State University.

Lee, W. L. (1983). A reliability and validity study of the selected levels of psychological scale. University of North Carolina.

P.S. I have just updated to Word 2016 and have accepted their default styles for APA settings with just one exception, the typeface change to Times New Roman.


The notion that values lie at the foundation of institutional objectives is problematic (Karadal, Çelik, & Saygın, 2013). On one side of the debate, Branson (2008) argues that inattention to the processes of values alignment triggers conflict during organisational change. The success of any change initiative is predicated on an understanding of the nature of the mutual interdependency of organisational culture and values (Branson, 2008). Branson’s theoretically based argument contains a tautology. He separates organisational values from organisational culture, but Schein (2004)maintains that these two notions may be different sides of the same coin, and that a study of organisational culture can help uncover hidden assumptions and values. In other words, culture is less of an interdependency on values as a demonstration of them. Richmon (2004) makes a useful distinction between “inquiry into values” and “inquiry involving values”, a division many writers ignore (Richmon, 2004, p. 340, emphasis in orginal). Burnes and Jackson (2011) support Branson’s conclusion but evade the tautological weakness by inquiring into the meaning of the values. They specify a 70% ineffectiveness rate in strategic planning of organisational change management caused by a misalignment between two sets of values: those of the organisational members and those values inherent in the change process itself. This process-analytical approach also avoids Mueller’s(2015) attack centring on the lack of evidence supporting claims related to organisational values’ role in the management of strategic planning. Williams (2002), for example, draws upon the likes of Kotter (1995) as evidence, yet Kotter’s piece is a non-empirical magazine article. In this short exposition, I follow Burnes and Jackson and draw upon Graves’ (1970) work into diverse levels of existence that give rise to different values. I use this to describe an organisational restructuring process in my old institution.


Year-on-year falling enrolments led the Board of Directors (BoD) to reconsider the educational package at TBGU, an institution whose primary mission is to train professionals in various supporting health related occupations. Concurrently with the decrease in the numbers of 18-year-olds, the rising elderly population demands more health care. Two faculties were requested to merge, and all faculty members from the affected units were required to create proposals for this merger. No proposals were acceptable to the BoD at the time I left the institution.


Graves (1970) describes eight levels of existence. Each level’s primary motivation and value differ in relation to the condition of the level. Space forbids an exposition of Graves’ theory; suffice to mention here is that in any single organisation multiple value sets are likely to exist simultaneously. Such complexity predicts a “delicate matrix” of the “social, moral and economic lives” experienced by the staff at TBGU (Heuser, 2005, p. 8). The variability among members was evidenced by the types of proposals the BoD received. Very few ideas reflected the university’s core mission. Dunphy and Stace (1993) describe ‘fit’ as the harmonisation of the “strategy, structure, people and processes” in an organisation (p. 917). Yet most proposals chose instead to limit the notion of ‘fit’ to the people, and presented various iterations of classes and teacher schedules that allowed all current staff to retain their positions and teach their current classes. The BoD’s mandate, a restructuring model that would maintain the university’s mission, contained the values of community, belonging and inter-dependence, the sixth of Graves’ existential levels. The BoD wished to place the educational product of TBGU at the social level, but the teaching staff could not see beyond their own existential threat. They saw the restructuring process as an illustration of a power struggle between the haves and the have-nots. Their level three value set—of individual survival, power maintenance and continuity—informed their proposals. The BoD saw the restructuring as having teleological and evolutionary force, a view informed by higher-level Gravesian thought, where the unit of change was the entire organisation (Van de Ven & Poole, 1995). I do not believe that the BoD wished that any faculty member resign or be terminated, yet it is an open question as to amount of social capital the faculties felt they had during this time. Heuser (2005)requires social capital to be present prior to social cohesion. The failure of cohesion at TBGU rested on the mismatch of value levels which in turn produced a culture of fear, worry and mistrust.


Branson, C. M. (2008). Achieving organisational change through values alignment. Journal of Educational Administration, 46(3), 376–395. doi:10.1108/EL-01-2014-0022

Burnes, B., & Jackson, P. (2011). Success and Failure In Organizational Change: An Exploration of the Role of Values. Journal of Change Management, 11(2), 133–162. doi:10.1080/14697017.2010.524655

Dunphy, D., & Stace, D. (1993). The strategic management of corporate change. Human Relations, 46(8), 905–920.

Graves, C. W. (1970). Levels of Existence: an Open System Theory of Values. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 10, 131–155. doi:10.1177/002216787001000205

Heuser, B. (2005). The ethics of social cohesion. Peabody Journal of Education, 80(4), 8–15. doi:10.1207/S15327930pje8004

Karadal, H., Çelik, C., & Saygın, M. (2013). Corporate Values on Strategic Planning Process: A Research about the Universities in Turkey. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 99, 762–770. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.10.548

Kotter, J. (1995). Leading Change – Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Harvard Business Review, 59–67. doi:10.1225/95204

Mueller, R. A. (2015). Do values drive the plan? Investigating the nature and role of organizational values in university strategic planning. Tertiary Education and Management, 21(1), 41–55. doi:10.1080/13583883.2014.998270

Richmon, M. J. (2004). Values in Educational Administration: Them’s Fighting Words! International Journal of Leadership in Education, 7(4), 339–356. doi:10.1080/1360312042000224686

Schein, E. H. (2004). Organizational Culture and Leadership (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. doi:10.1080/09595230802089917

Van de Ven, A. H., & Poole, M. S. (1995). Explaining development and change in organizations. Academy of Management Review, 20(3), 510–540. doi:10.5465/AMR.1995.9508080329

Williams, S. L. (2002). Strategic planning and organizational values: links to alignment. Human Resource Development International, 5(2), 217–233. doi:10.1080/13678860110057638


About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a private university.
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