Structures Enabling Our Ability to Act Per Our Values

Brad C. Anderson

Structures enabling our ability to act per our values include an organization’s culture, supportive bureaucratic rationalities, and the values that motivate individual behaviour.

Recall from Chapter III that even though social structures have the power to influence behaviour, individuals can act to either reinforce or change those structures. The structures below are the ones individuals would want to create and support to promote people’s ability to act per their values.

Organizational Culture

Just as the beliefs, behaviours, and values of an organization’s culture can lead its members to commit morally ambiguous actions, so, too, can they promote courage and strong ethics.

Professions such as firefighters and smokejumpers, for example, maintain cultural taboos against cowardice and share stories that exemplify desired moral ends. Members of such organizational cultures develop rituals and rites that test newcomers. These tests dramatize hazards and moral quandaries people are likely to encounter in their job to see how they act under pressure. The culture, then, quickly excludes any newcomer who fails to adhere to appropriate standards during these rituals.[1]

Supportive Bureaucratic Rationality

Recall from earlier chapters that bureaucratic rationality reifies power. Bureaucracy is the means through which organizations and societies control the behaviours of its members.

Dysfunctional bureaucratic structures may stifle action and cause harm. Effective bureaucratic structures, conversely, facilitate effective action. Members of an organization can support ethical behaviour by creating bureaucratic structures that enforce accountability, transparency, and disclosure.[2] Additionally, creating systems that protect whistleblowers’ identity and reputation further reduces the risks people face when challenging the actions of their organization.

The Values and Moral Convictions of Individuals

These structures that promote ethical behaviour–and, indeed, facilitate organizational wisdom–can only exist if people create them. Herein we return to the problem that opened this chapter. Wisdom is action-oriented, but taking action requires effort and risk. What motivates people to turn off the TV and champion a cause in the face of resistance and danger?

The answer is a person’s values. When we see a cause aligned with our values, we are driven to act. A person’s moral convictions give them the courage to face significant risks in pursuit of their goal.

Earlier sections, however, highlighted several structures that guide people away from their values to engage in questionable actions. How can we avoid those traps that lead us away from wisdom and incentivize us to continue perpetuating harmful actions?

Understanding those structures that promote poor behaviour combined with continued vigilance to spot such structures in your environment is a start. Choosing to support and develop structures that enable people’s ability to enact their values is also vital.

Another way to ensure your ability to act per your moral convictions is to pursue careers and work with organizations whose values align with your own. The first step to either of these processes, though, is to develop a strong sense of your values. What is it that you stand for?


Key Takeaways

  • Structures enabling our ability to act per our values include:
    • Organizational culture
    • Supportive bureaucratic rationalities
    • Your values and moral convictions

  1. Beyer, J. M., & Nino, D. (1998). Facing the Future: Backing Courage with Wisdom. In S. Srivastva & D. L. Cooperrider (Eds.), Organizational Wisdom and Executive Courage (pp. 65–97). San Francisco: The New Lexington Press.
  2. Jurkiewicz, C. L., & Grossman, D. (2012). Evil at Work. In C. L. Jurkiewicz (Ed.), The Foundations of Organizational Evil (1st ed., pp. 3–15). New York: Routledge.


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Structures Enabling Our Ability to Act Per Our Values Copyright © 2020 by Brad C. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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