When Change is Values-Deep

Leading Change Series - Part III

In every competitive environment, organizations evolve to survive and thrive. Society, Markets, and Warfare are ever-changing and so must those who want to succeed in them. Changing systems is a fight in and of itself. But, what if the change required is deeper than spreadsheets and efficiency reports? What if the organization’s values and behaviors aren’t aligned? I used the word “fight” intentionally. Make no mistake, when change is values-based, you are fighting for the heart and soul of your organization. To create a values-centered change, leaders steer the individual to driving the organization, communicate a clear and collective vision, model and steward the change, and empower their team.

Changing Values Requires Clear and Shared Vision

This is Part III of our Leading Change Series. Over the last two weeks, we explored the art of change with Kurt Lewin’s Change Theory in Part I and how Leaders create safety in change in Part II. Each piece stands alone, but is better understood on the structural foundation and support beams of the earlier post. I recommend reading both parts to better conceptualize, understand, and participate in this journey.

Redefining Values: Drive the Individual to Steer the Change

The core belief remains, change – even organizational change – is people focused and individually driven. Lasting change comes from reshaping the foundation of the organization through beliefs and values. This process is called cognitive restructuring. Values influence and motivate individuals; moral judgements, personal commitments, and belief systems keep individuals focused and provide the “why” for daily tasks. When values (who we are) are connected and aligned to the vision (why we do what we do), the daily “grind” and minutia (how we do it) have meaning. If we agree that values guide individuals; how are organizations any different? Organizations are the collaborative and collective grouping of individuals bound by common ideas, values, beliefs, standards, and goals. Values provide the foundation of an organization and are a fundamental cause for its successes or failures.

Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” – Start with Why

Values based change is thus the most critical and, aptly, the most difficult to guide. Imagine trying to rebuild the foundation of a house that is currently standing without causing the complete collapse of the entire structure. This may be impossible when taken as a literal problem – in the case of physical construction – but, thankfully organizations are not houses. People make up organizations. Creating lasting change starts with the first step, or more accurately, the first person.

Be the Change: Leaders Model Change

Talk is cheap; don’t just talk about it, be about it. Behavior is contagious; good leaders epitomize the change they wish to see in their organization. The effect one single human can have on an organization, good or bad, is an amazing phenomenon to witness. That effect is exponentially more powerful, and more crucial, when the individual is the leader. Through positive and effective influence, a leader can shape the future of an organization and refocus it on a common goal exercised through mutually held values. Conversely, when the leader models the wrong behavior or succumbs to an existing culture, the negative effects are pervasive. Consider a young Platoon Leader taking the platoon over during an intensive train up to deploy, fight, and win:

Communicate and maintain the standard, but do so with genuine love.

The Lieutenant may think he/she has limited influence and defer to the experiences of those in the platoon. Respecting and considering the experiences of those you lead is important. But, we can’t abdicate responsibility for the values and mission of the organization. This Lieutenant continues a culture of complacency, cuts training short and wastes resources such as land and ammunition. The new Platoon Leader promotes, or even just allows, a defeatist attitude toward the higher organization. Phrases such as “this is just training; we aren’t at war” or “that’s not how we have always done it” are common place in the platoon. Soldiers regularly see and hear the Lieutenant undermining the unit’s mission and higher authorities. 

This leader succumbed to the status quo. It is no surprise that when deployed, the platoon struggled. Muscle memory led the unit to travel down a cognitive and emotional path to victimhood.

Steward the Change

It is easy to blame circumstances or the previously established culture of the unit. Many would fall into the trap of believing the whole unit is without discipline or morale. Instead, consider the effect a single catalyst – established leader by rank/position or not – could have on the situation. The Battalion Commander replaces the Platoon Leader with a different Lieutenant who establishes an expectation of standards built on shared values. With the excavation of a single cancerous attitude and the insertion of a positive catalyst, the organization turns around. Platoon Leaders, or even executives, aren’t the only offenders. It can come from anyone with influence. But, when it is the leader, the effects are more prevalent. Where the leader goes, so too will the organization.

Part of modeling change is being a catalyst for the change. Empowering individuals as citizens of the organization and bearers of the shared standard, provides the permission to take ownership of the change. To change the values of the organization, leaders need the permission of their citizenry. The responsibility to lead change comes with the position. But, the authority to build effective and lasting change comes from the led. It requires trust earned through congruent words and aligned deeds.

The Micromanagement Pothole

Many leaders fall into the micromanagement pothole. They think, “I have to lead each step along the way – I have to micromanage the change”. The micromanagement pothole is the destructive construct. It is an enslaving belief. Leaders start to think they are the sole arbiter of change. They believe only they can determine, define, and implement the change. Leaders are involved in transitions, but they shouldn’t restrict their constituents’ freedom. Empowering your team gives them ownership of the change. When leaders imbue their team with ownership, they create a collaborative environment. This culture serves as a breeding ground for trust, commitment, and growth. Delegate authority, but never abdicate responsibility.

Join the discussion next week as we review the single greatest personal and organizatioal attribute needed for lasting change – perseverance. The power to stay the course, through setbacks and triumphs, will provide the endurance to achieve results. In the meantime, participate in the dialogue with #LeadingChange on Twitter and Facebook.

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