Insights from: Mary Gentile

Written by: Debra Newcomer

Newswise — I've known Mary Gentile and her work for more than a decade. I was first introduced to her Giving Voice to Values (GVV) approach when I was in business school. The core idea behind GVV is that rather than treating ethics as an entirely cognitive problem — using frameworks and models of ethical reasoning — it can be more impactful to provide opportunities for individuals to literally pre-script, rehearse and peer coach effective ways to enact values-based positions. 

A few years after studying GVV, I took over as the head of a small, global nonprofit that helped companies and individuals to be more values-driven in their work. We partnered with Mary to do a number of in-person workshops that gave attendees some time and space to discuss not only the ways in which values-driven leadership could be advantageous for them as individuals and companies — research shows that when we can bring our whole selves to work we are more engaged, more loyal, and more productive — but also how to act on those values effectively. 

It was remarkable to see firsthand how the GVV approach made sense to people at all levels in an organization. But when I did the math, it was clear that in order for us to truly shift the landscape around values in the workplace, we needed to share these lessons at a scale well beyond what is possible in in-person trainings. 


Thinking at scale means figuring out how to leverage technology. And while it’s getting better, digital training or e-learning has a fair number of problems that make it challenging for potential learners. Add a topic like values, and the doubt and hesitations really begin to set in. 

I now work in the digital learning space and I have heard firsthand the knee-jerk reactions many people have when you start to explore adding a digital component to a values-based training: 

•    “People don’t want to talk about their values.” 
•    “People won’t talk about their values online.” 
•    “We’ve tried digital tools in the past, and no one liked them.” 
•    “This may work in some countries, but neither the technology nor the content will work with this audience.” 
•    “It may work with leadership of an organization but not with our factory workers or administrative staff.”  
•    “Legal would never approve of this.”

But I’ve also seen digital tools be a tremendously successful avenue for discussing values broadly and learning the GVV approach specifically. In many ways, talking about values and practicing how we might voice them can actually work better in the digital space. Here are four key reasons.


1.    We live and work through our digital tools: You’re likely reading this on your smartphone, tablet or computer right now. We interact with friends and larger communities through social media. More and more of our actual work is shifting to digital platforms — both individually and in how we collaborate. We “talk” to each other via Facetime, Skype and text. Globally, today’s community organizing, activism and advocacy has reached a new threshold through (and because of) digital channels. We crowdsource everything from restaurant recommendations to funding for our dream vacations. So if we want people to engage in new thinking or new training it helps to provide it via the tools they use everyday. 

2.    Values issues are not separate: Not only does it make practical sense to shift our learning to the tools we spend our time on — it also makes the more symbolic point that values issues shouldn’t be separate from the rest of our day-to-day work. One of the keys to GVV is the act of normalizing values conflicts — both for ourselves and for our organizations. Digital is the new normal, but it also provides a place for us to: keep track of our thoughts, favorite for easy access the elements that we find particularly useful, and help us practice talking about values in the channels we use each day. 

3.    There’s room for everyone: The digital revolution has created the ability for connections and communities globally that were previously unimaginable. It has opened up the ability for us to seamlessly and cost-effectively interact with people from every corner of our organizations and all areas of the world. Going through a values-based training with that kind of connectivity allows for the sharing of more (and varied) perspectives, an instant community to learn with, and a network of people with whom to work through your conflicts, test ideas and build solutions. And, perhaps most importantly, I’ve seen that if the content is engaging and it’s accessible via mobile, with the right mix of incentives, people across all levels — from factory floor to C-suite — not only have the time, but make the time to join the discussions. 

4.    Digital allows for more customization: As a former teacher, I would be remiss not to mention that digital learning tools (when created with these goals in mind) can be more effective ways of meeting individuals where they are; allowing everyone the time and space to reflect on concepts before requiring responses; being equally powerful experiences for introverts and extroverts; and creating a sense of shared understanding and a shared language with which to talk about any issue. And this is particularly valuable for learning the skills needed to voice our values effectively. 

The digital GVV tools like the Coursera MOOC and Nomadic’s Field Manual Program are already increasing the reach of GVV. As the digital tools get smarter and GVV becomes more integrated with things like machine learning, AI and virtual reality, the impact and scale of the GVV approach inside organizations and within our global communities will grow exponentially. And we will see the impact not only professionally, but in all areas of our lives. 

To experience values-driven leadership development in the digital space firsthand, please see Darden Executive Education’s Giving Voice to Values Digital Program page.

Debra Newcomer is senior vice president and senior partner at Nomadic Learning. 

About Mary Gentile: 

Recently shortlisted for the Thinkers50 Ideas Into Practice Distinguished Achievement Award and dubbed “the Practical Ethicist” in Compliance Week’s 2017 Top Minds Awards, Gentile is an authority in values-driven leadership. Author of the award-winning book Giving Voice to Values, her curriculum of the same name has been piloted in more than 1,000 business schools and organizations around the globe.

In addition to her roles as creator/director of Giving Voice to Values and professor of practice at Darden, Gentile is senior adviser at the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program and consults on management education and leadership development.

B.A., College of William and Mary; M.A., Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D. and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.