Above is a graphic of the individual values Shalom Schwartz found in his long and distinguished career as a leading researcher on the topic (e.g. Schwartz, 1992). He discovered that the values of human beings, wherever in the world they came from, varied along ten major dimensions shown above.
One of these dimensions is conformity, which I find to be much misunderstood. When people see the word, they think it must be intrinsically bad to have a high score on this dimension.
After all, doesn’t this suggest a sheepish following of other people’s instructions, or the accepted way of doing things?
What conformity really means is a belief in the value of rules, and a respect for them. It also suggests a tendency not to want to unnecessarily offend others. Let’s look at the implications of this.
- You can’t have teamwork without conformity. Teamwork relies intrinsically on the formation of team rules – “what we stand for” and the willing commitment of team members to them. We have tested many groups on the Schwartz Personal Values Questionnaire. Whenever people report high levels of teamwork in their group we also find high levels of conformity in their SPVQ results.
- High conformity scores mean less bad behaviour. At SACS we have undertaken a number of research projects into Counterproductive Work Behaviours and whether they can be predicted. CWBs come in two flavours – bad deeds against colleagues or other people, and bad deeds against the organisation. Bad deeds against people include bullying and harassment, and bad deeds against the organisation include theft, taking sick days when you are not really sick, and ignoring safety rules. When we try to predict these bad behaviours using a range of psychological markers, the value of conformity proves to be one of the best predictors. So, employees who are high on the value of conformity do less bad things to their colleagues and the organisation.
On balance, conformists are better employees than non-conformists for most purposes. Learn more about how to measure values in individuals or groups.
Schwartz, S.H. (1992). Universals in the content and structure of values: Theoretical advances and empirical tests in 20 countries. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, M. Zanna, San Diego: Academic Press