Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Personal Value Systems and Decision-Making Styles of Public Managers

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Personal Value Systems and Decision-Making Styles of Public Managers

Article excerpt

"[A] decision is a judgment or conclusion reached or given. This definition emphasizes the choice, the selection of a single option based on a variety of factors.... Further, once there are a number of options, the values inherent in the options will influence the decision-maker's selection. The more the options vary, the greater will be the role of those values."

Montgomery Van Wart

Changing Public Sector Values, 1998

If Van Wart is right, the relationship between public managers' values and the way they make decisions bears examining. That is the purpose of this study, which was conducted by the authors on a sample of one hundred sixty-one state government managers. This article presents the results of that original research. Details of the research are spelled out below.

Writing in this journal a few years ago, Posner and Schmidt (1) described values as lying "at the core of personality, influencing the choices individuals make, ... and the way individuals and organizations alike invest their time and energy." Of course, they were not the first to posit a relationship between values and decision-making. Interest in such things dates back many years. Values have been systematically studied by behavioral scientists since at least the mid-1930s. (2) That attention increased with the publication of Milton Rokeach's landmark Beliefs, Attitudes and Values, (3) leading to a substantial growth in the conceptual and empirical literature on personal values. (4)

Contributions in the last several years have ranged from attempts to integrate the values concept into middle-range theories, (5) to massive empirical studies. (6) Public-sector managers' personal values have been the focus of a number of such inquiries. (7)

With the exception of studies such as that by Homer and Kahle, and Sagiv and Schwartz, most past research has concentrated on the effects of single values, thereby neglecting the complex nature of value structures. Past research also has suffered from a failure to view value systems as integrated wholes that entail tradeoffs among competing value priorities. (8) Thus, as we have argued elsewhere, (9) despite this increase in research activity over the last three decades, a number of interesting and important questions have yet to be asked, and a number of interesting and important relationships have yet to be examined.

As noted above, the purpose of the present research was to investigate one such relationship, that between personal values and managerial decision-making. (10)

Values, Attitudes, and Behavior

With all the work being done, it is fair to say that a consensual definition of "values" has emerged over the past few decades: (11) Kluckhohn defined values as "a conception, explicit or implicit ... of the desirable which influences the selection from available modes, means, and ends of action." England views values as composing "a relatively permanent perceptual framework which shapes and influences the general nature of an individual's behavior." For Williams, the core phenomenon is that values serve as "criteria or standards of preference." And in his elaboration of Kluckhohn's concepts, Rokeach defined values as "abstract ideals, not tied to any specific object or situation, representing a person's belief about modes of conduct and ideal terminal modes...." Values, therefore, are global beliefs that "transcendentally guide actions and judgments across specific objects and situations."

Values are distinguished from attitudes, which do focus on specific objects and situations: "An attitude is an orientation towards certain objects (including persons--others and oneself) or situations.... [A]n attitude results from the application of a general value to concrete objects or situations." (12)

Values may be conceptualized, therefore, as global beliefs (about desirable end-states or modes of behavior) that underlie attitudinal processes. …

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