Index of Memetic Materials
"Company Values" and "Personal Goals" and such may, ironically, and for basic memetic reasons, have the opposite effect from that stated, i.e., to make an organization behave more fairly, adhere to higher standards which are meant to produce better performance and more profits.
Obviously, one problem is that just saying something doesn't mean you're actually doing it. Another problem is the "you're" in the previous sentence -- who is "you" in this context?
Organizations are not consumers or producers of memes -- people are. As with parenting(1) a child, every time one lays down rules or principles, whatever, it's an opportunity for the child to "push a button". As a parent, I'm creating MIAOs, which act as hard, raised buttons on the surface of my relationship with my child that they can grab on to and yank on, specifically point to, whenever they feel like they need more power in the relationship.
The real illusion is that that "power" exists.
So as soon as I make it less about "we care about each other" and more about "rules", then the stage is set for conflict and disappointment. For instance, "You said I could keep the telly on as loud as I want until nine on Tuesdays [so I don't have to turn it down just because you've got an important phone call]" and so on.
The problem is that not only does making rules and stating values usually do very little, and even harms morale if it quickly becomes clear that there is no organizational change behind the policy statements, it actually causes even more harm by allowing members (and outsiders!) to bully the organization using its own new rules!
In a way, rules are really just an end-run around building a system of true morals.
This is all very well, but how does it look from a memetic standpoint?
Values and Rules are Bullying Opportunities
Whenever a rule is made, a value is stated, or whatever, it's a bullying opportunity for everybody in the organization. Obviously organizations function more efficiently when the "rules" are enforced by the members themselves and not by some designated enforcer cadre. However, the rules being enforced or the way in which they are enforced tends to become organic. One problem in making rules and stating values is that you lose control of this. This may be one of the great strengths of Common Law, by the way -- it's a series of interpretations of laws and interpretations of past decisions on past laws. Courts and judged become memetic nexuses around whichever decision they are working on at the time, as opposed to everybody speculating about it separately and reaching separate conclusions.
A stated value becomes a MIAO, and as with any MIAO polysystemic anchoring is possible, i.e., that memes from multiple memetic systems may anchor to them. This may be why religions, governments, companies, et al, are so worried about their symbols and logos not being used by others for "heretical" purposes.
If an employee has an idea, or thinks they see a violation of a rule or value, assuming things are so well thought out that they have somewhere to address their issue, they propose it. At this point the employee has an idea of a MIAO, i.e., the words of the policy, e.g., "We shall not waste company resources", and their own conception of what that means, and they have come up with an idea (a meme) of how that could be furthered, or how that's getting violated and wanting to report it.
Up to now, there has been nothing to guarantee that the employee and the "organization" are on the same page about what this "value" means, or in more real, memetic terms, which memes are and are not attached to the MIAO of the stated value/rule. This relates to the idea of internal branding, by the way, developing a kind of narrative around the organizational behavior.
The Priestly/Rabbinical Class
Here we see how just flopping out a rule or value and hoping for the best can be not only a useless gesture, but actually very harmful. What the rule/value actually "means" in terms of behavior must be laid out in the form of a collection of narrative anecdotes. Why? Because that's how the human brain makes such determinations. If we lay it out merely in prescriptive language, there's a risk, nay, a certainty, that the words will go differently interpreted.
Since MIAO purity and unambiguïty are so important, religions, companies, military corps, et al, tend to rely on a dedicated "priestly/rabbinical class" in the form of, well, priests and rabbis, marketing people and legal staff, and propagandists, to protect the organization's MIAOs from pollution by outsiders and from "memetic drift" by answering challenges and also by continually pumping out memes to attach to the existing MIAOs (and sometimes creating new ones), thereby "packing the memespace". In other words, actively preventing others from adding memes that deflect the organization, usually by adding more of their own than by pruning.
It may be possible to enlist the whole of the organization in this "priestly class", in the process of generation of culture. I shall have to reflect further on the benefits and pitfalls of such an approach, but it seems like it might not be without merit. It might be beneficial for subgroups to develop their own MIAOs so long as those were anchored to the central MIAOs and the organizational values.
The Illusion of the Power to Complain
There are a couple of illusions present in the idea that "we have a policy/rules/values" and "we intend to enforce them". There is no "we" here. There is no "Big Other" who listens to the complaints of cohort members and then acts on them in some weird sort of anthropomophized fashion.
As in improv comedy, the urging to "make an offer", in this case "deploy a meme" to do with recognizing a new value or rule, where it's being violated, a chance to do it better, and so on, comes with it the promise that a resonating meme will be deployed in response. This makes it worth the while of the employee who stands up. However, as noted above, "there is no Big Other", and we are left with some other employee who has to make the response by the first one.
The trouble is that many organizations leave it off a couple of steps before that. There are multiple stages: 1) raising the issue, 2) receiving the issue, 2.1) putting the issue in a "box", 3) Pulling the issues out of the "box" (and discussing), 4) Assigning issues to work groups, 5) Solving issues.
If there are not memetic rewards at each of these stages, then the humans who are to carry them out will not step up, or if they are assigned to them, will deprioritize them over other activities, especially if their supervisors are comparably under-motivated.
The Eternal Bugaboo of Anthropomorphicization
Organizations as "pretend super-hero people" have very high morals and strong values, but as collections of people who actually implement them they are rather more ambivalent. Nailing a list of values or rules or what-have-you up on the door and leaving it at that is effectively propping up a MIAO or two which somehow represent the organization itself or these new rules/values, but unless one carries on to wrap these MIAOs in a thick coating of memes, and a good number of anecdotal narratives, rather like in Common Law, elucidating the rules/values, they risk to become polysystemically anchored, meaning different things to different people.
Among these narratives and memes attached to the value/rule MIAOs, it's critical to elaborate a set of memes (scripts) that allow for participants to reap memetic rewards at each stage from raising the issue, to listening to complaints, to dealing with them, to solving them.
In that way it won't all just be talk, and it will have much less risk of backfire.
(1)Reprehensible use of "parent" as a verb -- sorry, everyone!!