Value Networks and Latter-day Saint Organization

I just spent three enlightening days going through training for Value Network Analysis – an incredible tool for understanding business models and organizational behavior. Forget process mapping and org charts – they neglect how things really work and miss the all-important exchanges of intangibles (knowledge, trust, etc.) and even some of the tangibles between the various parties involved. The Value Network approach identifies the human roles that are involved in an operation or portion of a business or organization and then maps out and analyzes the important intangible and tangible transactions that occur between the people in the roles. By properly constructing and analyzing these maps, one can get insights about what is broken, what is missing, what is healthy, etc.

The Value Network approach is all about relationships between people in their various roles, not about the systems that supposedly are in place. In examining these roles and the transactions they participate in, one focuses on the human element and the realities of system behavior, not delusional fantasies about how things are supposed to work on paper. This methodology is truly on the cutting edge of knowledge management and organizational behavior. It is foreign to most business experts, as are many of the enlightened principles associated with it. And I think it has powerful potential as a tool for understanding the operations of the Church at various levels, especially at the local level.

The methodology was developed by Verna Allee, a remarkable woman who is now one of my favorite people. She and her German associate, Oliver Schwabe (another of my favorite people), recently provided three days of training and insight that opened up many new ways of thinking about business – and perhaps even thinking about religious organization.

Here’s one example, attempting to quote Verna: “All companies say that people are their most important asset. But it’s a lie. Look at their reports and balance sheets: people are always treated as an expense, not an asset. But a few leaders in knowledge management have begun to ask, ‘What if companies began to behave as if people really were their most important assets?’ How would that change they way we do business?”

Our trainers emphasized what should be obvious: organizations operate based on relationships between people, and the network of relationships and the exchanges of information, trust, etc., between the people is something that must be nurtured and strengthened.

Now this training wasn’t just a lot of feel-good philosophy. There are rigorous tools for analyzing network metrics, for visualizing complex relationships in 3-D space, for exploring alternate scenarios, etc., and there is a vibrant international ecosystem of qualified Value Network practitioners sharing and developing tools through an open-source model nurtured by Verna Allee and her peers.

But the human-centered concepts that she taught, many of which challenge standard corporate thinking, made so much sense. And in many ways, there are consistent with the principles that are taught to Church leaders for operating their units. Yes, there is a hierarchy and organizational chart, but the real work of the Gospel occurs through personal relationships, through love and charity and service, that don’t show up on the org chart but which can be and should be sustained and nurtured by inspired callings, by prayerfully organized home teaching, by personal interviews with Church leaders, by attention to charity and examples of goodness that help leaders lead by example, by efforts that recognize the the uniqueness and agency of the members, helping them to build their own networks to help them and their peers become fellow citizens in the household of of faith.

Have any of you been exposed to Value Network thinking? Any of you met Verna Allee or Oliver Schwabe? I highly recommend her most recent book, The Future of Knowledge. I hope to have much more to say about all of this later.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

21 thoughts on “Value Networks and Latter-day Saint Organization

  1. Is this what you mean?

    I once attended a charismatic-evangelical church where one of the prominent leaders of that church kept talking about management systems. A few weeks later, it seemed that the rest of the congregation started to adopt these management buzz-words as part of their Christian service.

    I just don’t know what to think about such things…I’m always VERY skeptical of when people bring originally secular terms into Biblical living. It would be like bringing in Freudian pscyho-analysis or Sartre’s existential psychotherapy into Chirst-centered church life…

    Such themes can be useful if only to understand human behaviour…but overall, I find it dangerous…I don’t exactly know why though, but I do know that I need to reflect on this further…


  2. The danger can be in elevating man made theories above gospel principles (ie. I learned at my business conference that the church does it all wrong). There is nothing wrong with non church related learning being applied to the church and our understanding of the gospel.

    Jeff’s insights that the people are what matter in the church and the warning that it can be lost among administrative duties is a valid one that should be remembered.

    I’ll have to pick up her book, the ideas sound interesting.

  3. Yes, I agree. If the subjects for comparison are between the people and the administrative duties…then people, must, must, must come first.

    I know nothing of how businesses work – I was never cut out for working within that realm, but I often hear (even Christians) when business partnerships break down for whatever reason, they would usually say, “Yeah, but that’s just business”. As if it was reasonably ok to progress at the other person’s expense. I wonder how many lies, unresolved grief and out right deception have been blanketed over by this so called, ‘business is business’ excuse.

    The other thing that I find quite interesting is when we err the other way when we might adopt the it’s the people that matter subject above God Himself and what it says in His Word…

    The church must always, always, always be Christ-centered. It must always, always, always be Gospel-centered. The minute people stray away from the gospel and start listening to the whims of un-biblical ideation, the church will become just another glorified social club who is happy to be blown from one way to another, with its leaders acting merely as spin-doctors.

  4. Hear, hear, NM. I believe this has not been seen more clearly than the recent escapade with the public exposure of J. Willard Marriott’s hotel franchise and its sale of pornography to its customers. At first, I was doing my best to give Marriott every benefit of the doubt, but when I saw that he directly defended the practice to American Decency Association (he cited reasons that the providers could not separate the pornography from their programming packages), I saw that a serious lapse in moral courage had taken place.

    While we are expected to be realistic, realism can all too easily becomes relativism. I have seen stockholders’ meetings where a major (though not majority) stockholder will force a vote, knowing full well that he will lose, but does so anyway so that his position might be known. Would that Marriott have done the same thing. I truly pray that we as BYU students have not been bought off with Marriott’s financial generosity to the point that we are unwilling to take a stand against the most-oft talked about sin in priesthood meetings.

  5. NM, perhaps the most important people-serving activity in the LDS church is the “Home Teaching” program. It is where the lay ministers (basically all males age 12 and over) are assigned in pairs (at least one of whom is an adult) to serve certain families/individuals to see that both their temporal and spiritual needs are met.

    This is how the LDS get by with a lay bishop (pastor/minister/preacher). He is supposed to have dozens of helpers in the ward (congregation).

    In this way, everyone who is willing to receive “home teachers” is covered. One goal of the program is to make sure that no one falls through the cracks, that everyone has a friend, and if the home-teachers can’t meet a certain need, they go back to their quorum (men’s group) or to the bishop to help that family/individual obtain what they need, perhaps a job, help around the house, a widow who needs roof repair, shoveling snow, etc.

    Home teaching is one of the biggest “people managing” activities in the LDS church. So I can see how Jeff’s eyes might have lit up when he discovered a new “paradigm” or model of looking at people relationships other than the top-down heirarchy of an organizational chart.

    The up-side of home-teaching is that everyone “should be” covered.

    The down-side is that you as a home-teacher and the people receiving you both know that you’re an “assigned friend.” And that you have to report back to your superiors in the quorum (and the reports eventually get back to the bishop, at least in terms of numbers and percentages) about whether you visited that family/individual, and if they have any needs that they’d like other church members to help them with.

    Therefore, the receivers know that you “have to” be there, and you’re only there because you were “assigned.” So the challenge is to develope Christ-like love for people you may not know yet, and then _demonstrate_ that love in offering your service and fellowship.

    So, the question is whether “Value Networks” may be a tool with which to organize, or a wheelbarrow with which to carry the gospel message, and to feed/clothe/visit the hungry/naked/lonely, and at the same time overcome the “you’re just here because you were assigned” hurdle.

  6. Russell,

    I don’t know who J. Willard Marriott is. But I’ve had a look at the mighty wiki. So, I take it that Mr. Marriott is a LDS…

    But, yeah I agree with what you said that people will easily sway from realism to relativism…such is the absurd air that we breathe and get choked by without knowing it…


    Thank you for what you have shared – the honesty of your answers in a previous post. I appreciate it =)

  7. Hi Jeff —

    Thanks for your post and welcome to value networks.

    The value network perspective applies to any purposeful organization, whether business, government, civil society or institutional. Any purposeful network needs to understand its financial flows and its very human flows of knowledge sharing and support.

    Value networks are not business as usual, but is grounded in a fresh perspective that regards intangibles as the true wealth of individuals, organizations and even nations.

    Here are some salient parts of the ever-expanding value networks ecosystem —

    Open Content (value networks users)
    Value Network Consortium (industry value networks)
    Reflections Blog (value networks researchers, stakeholders)
    Wikipedia (value networks supporters)
    SourceForge (value network analysts, developers)



  8. So interesting to have a visitor from the outstanding KMBlogs area, a blog I just began reading this week. Thanks for the resources!

  9. I prefer William Edwards Deming “Quality improvement” and Tom Peters “In search of Excellence” but I am also concerned about using to many man made management tool in place of the scriptures and the Holy Ghost.

  10. Hvaing said what I did, my experience is that generally, the more earnest the search for truth (from all of its sources), the more the Holy Ghost can work with a person. As G.K. Chesterton once noted: “The more a person knows what good is, the more s/he will be able to see good in everything.”

    If we limit our studies to the scriptures, we’ll probably be little better than a sectarian priest with a touch more truth. I say–learn everything you can, all the while with your eye to the glory of God. Truth is strong enough to carry its own weight.

  11. I have found out that truth does not come from man made programs if so just replace the church programs with much better man made programs. I have 1000 of them, one for all programs in the church. Next time you need to promote someone on the church we can use the 360 program for filling the position. Better to stick with the scriptures and the Holy Ghost and be thought of as a sectarian priest rather than putting man before God.

  12. As you know Jeff, while I did not attend these training sessions with you, I attended two application sessions with you. I agree that this is a leading edge, valuable tool for many useful applications, plus has much development opportunity … think much fun for us!

    You may remember that my related PhD dissertation was about informal technical communication roles. Thought that I would share one of my favourite, albeit old, organization behaviour textbooks that introduced me to role behaviour: Katz/Kahn; “The Social Psychology of Organizations”, 1978. I highly recommend this reference to everyone.

    rich schmidt

  13. Jeff, Once a bishop, always a bishop. The more I think about it, I’m sure you drew a parallel from “Value Networks” to home-teaching, and the cartoon light-bulb above your head turned on, shortly after you discovered it.

    I think the concepts of Value Networks applied to home-teaching would help the elders and HPs “catch the vision” of home-teaching.

    I was a bishop’s exec-sec for a few months about 2 years after I joined. I learned a lot from those early morning bishopric meetings. One is that when home-teachers “catch the vision” that home-teaching goes smoother. Two is that when home-teaching goes smoothly, the bishop’s job is a lot easier. From what I recall, that bishop’s number one priority was the youth. His number two priority was home-teaching.

  14. I do not have a PhD and I have not been in leadership roles in the church but have learned much from them and I remember as a young convert missionary in the church how all the talk was about this sells technique and this management style or talking how the church is orgnized. Ofcorse this was when the big push was if you are righteous then you will be rich and successful and there were all kinds of books showing you just how to do it. I was not very smart about keeping my mouth shut I pointed out how Christ used 17 teaching methods to get his message to the people. This was determined to be to boring and not as exciting or complex enough. I would still rather use the example of my Savior rather than earthly examples. Besides I am sure all the smart ones in SLC are up on all the latest programs that are out there.

  15. Jeff,
    Would you be willing to email me with some more information about your friends and how you got training with them? This is within my area of interest (from my former career days) and I would like to know more about this.

    mulling_and_musing at hotmail


  16. BTW,
    I doubt that most of us would disagree with the idea that the gospel is of course our most important resource. But for a business setting, it’s helpful to have tools and methods that can bring good principles into a secular setting. Truth can be found in various places, and it’s exciting to me when the business world can grasp on to any degree of light to improve things.

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