Achieve Lasting Change Through a Values-Driven Workforce

Achieve Lasting Change Through a Values-Driven Workforce

ISE Magazine May 2020 Volume: 52 Number: 5

By David Poirier


Sustainable change eludes most organizations. Not-withstanding large investments in time and money, fewer than 10% of businesses successfully execute change initiatives.

As evidence of this, 65% of organizations have an agreed-upon strategy for corporate change management, yet only 14% of employees understand the strategy and fewer than 10% successfully execute it.

What would it take for companies to achieve truly sustain-able results? The answer lies not just in having the right skills, tools and processes – as important as these are – but also critically on having the right attitudes, values and beliefs.

What intentions do employees have when they come into work in the morning? What purpose or meaning do they derive from their work? What attitudes do they have around the organization and their co-workers?

Questions of such intentions are among the most important any of us in business can ask. Intention is key to achieving sustainable change management and competitive advantage. Strategy, tactics, processes and systems are important, too, but without intention, you have a rocket with no booster and no way of leaving orbit.

Harnessing the power of intention

Intention concerns the attitudes and beliefs that management and employees hold about their work, roles and relationships with others and the values underlying them. Intention may be conceptually abstract, but it can translate to real results, provided the right systems and processes are in place.

Too many organizations, unfortunately, get it wrong. Traditional change management initiatives often fail due to an absence or weakness of intention. Even when immediate objectives are achieved, there may be larger lost opportunities.

Change management initiatives rooted in intention, how-ever, can deliver benefits far beyond stated objectives. They can ramify cultural change throughout the business, positively affect other groups and divisions and improve organizational behavior and competitiveness overall. This is true change management.

In this article, we look closely at intention, what it is, the values and beliefs underlying it and why it’s critical to long-term sustainable success in any change management initiative. Further, we’ll look at the steps companies can take to establish, uphold, nourish and maintain cultures of the right intention to create lasting change

Traditional approaches

For decades, companies have been run largely as mechanisms: their systems, processes, functions, departments and people seen as so many cogs and drive belts in a giant machine. Businesses have been successfully built, restructured, reinvented, combined and disassembled based on this paradigm. And for many, this approach continues to be the default.

But in an age when there is greater worker mobility than ever and a skilled and engaged workforce has never been more valuable, that model is insufficient.

Traditional change management is outmoded for the same reasons. Whether in implementing new processes or technology upgrades, too many businesses rely on models that focus narrowly on systems, roles, responsibilities and hierarchies. They may strive to gain buy-in and raise awareness of the need for change but they do so without understanding how to tap into what motivates employees. In such cases, organizations have failed to ask why change needs to happen and what success looks like beyond immediate objectives. Over the medium and long term, most traditional change management efforts are unsustainable.

The competency model that follows distills organizational success and failure to three key ingredients: competency, intention and mechanism. We’ll be returning to this model a few times:

  • Competency. This is the foundation of all change and company success in general. You need people with the right skills to effect desired changes. A nurse practitioner’s desire to be a doctor is not enough; specialized training is needed.
  • Intention. Employee attitudes and how they identify with the organization in terms of service, goals and success – collectively, an organizational will to succeed
  • Mechanism. The tools, technology, processes, methodologies and systems that enable change and the achievement of peak performance levels

In order to thrive, companies must be highly functioning in not one or two but all three areas. Intention without mechanism means organizations are highly motivated but have no-where to go. Mechanism without intention, on the other hand, provides a clear process for reaching a target state but no sense of urgency, excitement or ownership. Combine mechanism and intention with the right competencies, however, and you can get extraordinary results.

Core values

Intention is anchored in values and beliefs, which in turn impact attitudes and behaviors. Individuals who exhibit four core values in their behavior best exemplify and attract trust. These values, are as follows:

  • Serving. Finding fulfilment by helping others. Ego concerns are set aside. Employees counsel and coach each other.
  • Excellence. The drive to perform a task to a high standard. Results, though influenced by external factors, depend on individual effort. People who score highly in this area tend to see mistakes as learning opportunities rather than reflections of self-worth.
  • Integrity. Keeping our commitments to others and oneself. Valuing and treating others well. Freely expressing views and feelings while respecting the opinions of others.
  • Learning. An individual’s desire to grow and self-actualize. The quest for personal fulfillment. A balance of realism and creativity

Think of the core values (center column) as being on a scale from 0 to 10. The behaviors associated with each value on the left represent a 0 (e.g., arguing) and on the right a 10 (e.g., listening).

As Stephen R. Covey details in his book The Speed of Trust, businesses with employees who exhibit 10 out of 10 behaviors are more likely to succeed. Employees are more motivated, en-joy greater work satisfaction and find meaning in relationships and teamwork. Further, they find fulfillment in getting results, whether in terms of quality, customer service, profitability or sales growth. Their positive behaviors lead to positive results.

Putting the concepts to work

This diagram can be facilitated working sessions with companies. It’s extremely useful in challenging each individual’s assumptions about what they and, by implication, the business are capable of achieving.

Almost everybody agrees organizations that exhibit behaviors on the right-hand side of produce better results over the medium and long term. People are happier, feel more engaged and are willing to contribute. They also understand – and this is key – how the behavior on the far right is exhibited. Almost everyone knows someone who is a 10 out of 10 in one or more of the values in the graphic above who can serve as a model for them to follow.

That said, there are impediments in people’s lives that prevent them from being a 10 out of 10 every day. Organizations, as a result, are hampered in achieving sustainable competitive advantage. Removing these impediments is key to long-term sustainable success.

Where do you and your organization fall on the scale and what are the things preventing you from attaining a 10 out of 10 in each of these values?

Going through this process helps executives and employees gain clarity on the obstacles to reaching their own path to full potential and begin to clear them away. Do that on a large enough scale and – again, providing the mechanisms and competencies are in place – the entire organization shifts.

This is not a one-off exercise. The process is reinforced through practice. Organizations must manage intention consciously from the top down and make it clear what must be accomplished. Otherwise, old habits will prevail and people will snap back like elastic bands to what is familiar. Executives must be prepared for the challenges they will face in the transition by ensuring the vision of the long-term solution stays front and center for everyone.

It could take a few years to build an organizational culture like this, but once these values and behaviors are established, it’s extremely hard for the competition to seize and replicate. You can’t steal or copy a culture like this, but you sure can feel the difference, and your customers will, too.

Too many leaders forget that their organizations comprise people who yearn for purpose. They focus instead on change strategies centered on mechanism. Change without vision isa Band-Aid fix. The priority must be on leading employees toward the behaviors associated with the four core values described earlier, hiring new workers who best exemplify those behaviors or both.

Sustainable change, change with the greatest potential to benefit the organization broadly, requires competency, intention and mechanism in combination. Intention must be about much more than getting buy-in and support or building consensus. It must be about shifting the organizational culture toward both personal and organizational purpose and values. This is what makes the fundamental difference.

Source: IISE Magazine May 2020