Why Are Values Strategic?
“What we can or cannot do, what we consider possible or impossible, is rarely a function of our true capability. It is more likely a function of our beliefs about who we are.” Anthony Robbins (American adviser to leaders)
See what YOUR values suggest.
When I talk about “Strategic Values” that naturally leads to the question, how are values strategic? There is nothing that shapes us more, or that we identify with more, than our values. This is true whether we are talking about individuals or organizations. It is equally true that most of our values are tacit, they reside below our conscious and rational minds. This is why we can say one thing and do another. I’ve never worked with an organization that would tell me they did not want their people to be honest. Yet I have worked with many an organization that has fired people for telling the truth. Why this discrepancy?
Chris Argyris talks about the difference between their “espoused theory” and their “theory in use” which creates dissonance between what they say and what they do. Because people believe what they say, how do you how can we address this problem as we move forward into a whole new way of interacting with each other and the environment?
"It takes a lot more energy to fail than to succeed, since it takes a lot of concentrated energy to hold on to beliefs that don't work.” Jerry Gillies
The values we work with come in systems and there are three systems we work with; the Protective, the Effective and the Sustainable. Each of these systems makes certain behavior likely and other behavior preferred or unlikely and disruptive. Strategy is similar, each strategic initiative requires certain actions to be successful. The conundrum comes when the actions and behaviors required to successfully implement a certain strategy may conflict with the values that live in the culture.
It is culture that is the Achilles Heel of successful strategy implementation. If there is a conflict between the values the culture believes in and those required for strategic success the culture will win - every time.
I’ve chosen to use assessments that I’ve developed to get at the often hidden agendas people hold. I have about 8 to 10 that I use when working with companies, but two have been the most useful. The first is the assessment I use based on the Birds of a Feather™ model I developed to help people better understand their culture and the hidden drivers in it.
Culture is developed by employee’s as they try and understand leadership behavior. As such, it is something that leaders can actually change, by changing their behavior. This is not an easy or fast process but it is doable. Culture is important because it is the “keeper of the flame” and the stories people tell in an organization support certain behaviors and disallow others. From a strategic point of view this is critical as all strategies require specific behaviors to be successful. Therefore it is of extreme importance that the behaviors needed to implement strategy are quantified so that the resulting management style and leadership behavior can be developed to ensure that those behaviors will actually live in the organization.
“It's not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean.” Tony Robbins
Of the four Grand Strategies; cost, differentiation and speed, speed provides the strongest driver for culture alignment. It matters not if the speed is time to market or customer response the behaviors needed are the same. Speed and innovation both require employees in love with their job, clear on company goals, and knowledgeable enough that they can take intelligent risks. They need to know they have the authority to act as they see appropriate and the information and trust that allows them to do so well. A tightly controlled and obedient culture will not allow for the flexibility and experimentation that speed and innovation require.
My values assessments are the other tool in my arsenal that directly supports the alignment of leadership and culture. Because my approach to values is complex and unusual, I’ve taken the time to write this booklet to explain it to you. Each of the three systems of values I work with has its own profound impact on culture. Depending upon the strategy that impact can be useful or detrimental.
Yes, values can be detrimental, and more importantly, misused, they can create corruption if mis-applied. Knowing this is incredibly important because it means that we can have profound legal and other consequences when we think we are acting from our highest and most closely held values.
The environmental situation that we face calls for new behavior. We can work on new behaviors and many people are, but under duress we will go back to old behaviors because we believe that they will work, even if they don’t. This was proved for corporations in the 80s and 90s when authors like James O’Toole and Tom Peters were writing about the changes in behavior companies were undergoing. After their best sellers came out several years later they went back to their star performers and discovered that as market conditions changed they reverted back to old behaviors even though those behaviors were contraindicated.
“Change can either challenge or threaten us. Your beliefs pave your way to success or block you." Marsha Sinetar
Behavior shifts will not last when pain and fear enter the picture. So what can we do if we need to act differently to survive? The key seems to rest in beliefs and it is the beliefs that inform the behavior. We see examples of this when looking at pessimists and optimists.
If an optimist’s purse is stolen she will say it was an anomaly, just a blip and she will not expect it to happen again and that experience will not change her belief system. If a pessimist’s wallet is stolen, however, he will see that as a justification for his belief system, even if it is returned. The return is just an anomaly; just a blip and that experience will not change his belief system.
The beauty of these assessments is that they show the difference between beliefs and behaviors. People will do as the culture dictates, even if they believe otherwise because they feel pressured to do so. That indicates that if the culture changes, then so will their behavior. By measuring to see if there is a desired behavior that fits with the desired shift in culture it is possible to discover how easy such a change would be and the likelihood of its success.
“...This may be the common phenomenon Russ Ackoff has observed in the workplace, but, frankly, he's looking at outcomes rather underlying drivers. Someone with serious credibility needs to remind Russ that, if you change the system you can completely change the way people in organizations think and see the world.” Alan Meekings, Landmark Consulting, UK