Providing psychological assessment feedback: The VO

October 22, 2021 | By Maretha Prinsloo

If you would like to be notified when new content is posted to our website, Subscribe to our email alerts.

Subscribe Now


The Value Orientations (VO) assesses the complex issue of human consciousness in terms of the Spiral Dynamics (SD) model of Graves. It indicates the lens by which people perceive their world; their level of consciousness; perceptual and decision-making frameworks; valuing systems and cultural memes. A person’s values will determine their philosophy of life and how they are likely to apply themselves, including their goals, cognitive capacity, personality as well as intra- and interpersonal functioning.

Of all the constructs which are psychometrically measured, including those of personality, intellect, emotional-intelligence, and integrity, a person’s level of consciousness and thus value orientations remain the most important in predicting their behaviour and sense of being.

The practitioner

Inherent to the SD model, which is holonically organized, is the concept of altitude. It refers to the phenomenon that emerging levels of consciousness incorporate and transcend their predecessors. To effectively provide feedback to a candidate on their VO profile, the practitioner should thus ideally show at least the same or a higher level of consciousness than that of the candidate. To explain this in terms of the colours depicting the various SD levels, a practitioner with a “Blue” SD orientation is unlikely to fully understand the worldview of a candidate with “Orange”, “Green” or “Yellow” orientations.

Those who provide feedback should also be well-versed in the theoretical considerations of the Spiral Dynamics model as well as that of other related psychological development models including those of Kohlberg, Loevinger, Perry and Piaget, Wilber, May and Myss.

These and other models are all explained in the following publications: Consciousness models in action: Comparisons, and Understanding human consciousness: Theory and application

Accreditation on the VO e-Learning course is a prerequisite for providing feedback on VO results.

Feedback and outcomes

The practitioner can begin with a brief explanation of the orientations on the spiral while investigating the nature of the candidate’s work and life contexts. No in-depth theoretical explanations are, however, necessary.

As is the case with CPP feedback, candidates often want to be characterized by the “highest” values of the holonic Spiral Dynamics model. It is, however, important that they be introduced to the concept of “flow” which means that for maximum effectiveness and happiness, their value orientation should ideally match the SD requirements of their world.

The VO feedback should be practical, and the candidate can be prompted to do most of the talking. Many candidates also want an opportunity to discuss the value orientations of their partners, family members, or society as a whole – and should be allowed to, as this may be part of the process by which they make meaning of the concepts involved. The practitioner should respond in an uplifting and insightful manner to their comments. This will, however, only be possible given a well-developed theoretical understanding of the topic.

The desired outcomes of VO feedback include to:

  • create an understanding of the concepts of values and culture, including the benefits of diversity,
  • contribute to the self-insight of the candidate,
  • provide a practical interpretation of the person’s valuing systems and how these may affect their fundamental life decisions,
  • explain to the employee the organizational culture; the values of team members; and strategies to deal with these issues,
  • contribute to the adoption of a “language of culture” in the organization by which various and even contradictory contributions can be appreciated.

Development of worldviews

Organizations which have their executive teams assessed, often request coaches to “develop” or to lift the value orientations currently reflected by the organizational culture to a higher level. However, there seems to be no blueprint for constructively effecting such changes. The techniques that can be used depend on many factors including the valuing systems involved.

In terms of the development of higher levels of consciousness of individuals, Graves provides sobering advice to the practitioner. Because of the complexity involved in the development of a particular bio-psycho-social system as described in Graves’ SD model – also referred to by him as the “Emergent Cyclical Levels of Existent (ECLET) model”, the physical nature of the human system plays an important part. Certain biological and hormonal factors may thus be prerequisites for the emergence of new levels of consciousness which may involve long-term processes.

However, circumstances conducive to personal development include:

  • an impetus for change which can be either external or internal,
  • the necessary discomfort as well as energy to change,
  • the bio-psycho-social potential for change,
  • the absence of serious, unresolved problems,
  • the individual’s understanding of their own worldview, why it currently is inappropriate, as well as available alternatives,
  • an understanding of both external and internal obstacles to change,
  • support during the process of transition.

The development goal should not be to merely change others but to ensure greater effectiveness in their situational context.

Organizations Within the corporate context, the values of the executive normally permeate and dictate the organizational culture. This is partly because those who comply with the company culture tend to be promoted to managerial and executive levels. The executive cadre then tends to use their positional power and status to enforce rules and strategies in line with their own worldviews. Employees who find this unacceptable are likely to leave over time.

It should, however, be kept in mind that complex systems require a diversity of value orientations to remain flexible and resilient as each valuing system offers unique perspectives to ensure creativity and adaptability to change.

Leaders and mentors can act as change agents. Facilitative conditions include the mentor possessing a depth of understanding of the value orientations of those being developed – perhaps by sharing at least one of their valuing systems as well as the next hierarchical value in the spiral.

When those being developed show little potential for growth, the leadership approach should approximate their specific level. In general, the mentor or leader should not be too far ahead on the spiral as followers may not understand the leader’s perspective on matters, which in turn may cause alienation.

When the group being developed is diversified, the leader should preferably come from the most complex system represented in the group. Alternatively, the mentor should be “Yellow” in orientation as that indicates a deep understanding of the full spectrum of valuing systems and the flexibility to resonate with others regardless of their orientations. The development process will thus be derailed if the value orientations of followers are more complex than that of the leaders or mentors. The leader should also show potential for change – if not, they will fail to innovate and adapt to the changes arising from the dynamically evolving characteristics of any organisation over time.

In conclusion Compared to alternative tests of values and culture, VO assessment results and feedback offers a unique and integrated approach for talent management and organizational development purposes.

Some examples of initiatives include:

  • individual and team development,
  • selection and placement,
  • career guidance and pathing,
  • executive coaching,
  • leadership succession,
  • diversity and inclusion,
  • job- and organizational structuring, and
  • marketing and communications.

The effectiveness of practitioners working in these areas is substantially strengthened by the incorporation and use of Graves’ holonic SD model.