As an organization enters the final stages of completing a strategic plan, there remains a critical conversation—how to bring the plan to life so that the employees share the vision, embrace a changed organizational structure and focus on the execution of an ambitious plan versus seeing the plan as merely words on paper?
Employees become engaged when they feel that the company is headed in a direction that aligns with their own beliefs. They work hard when they understand how to behave in a way that is congruent with how the company plans to succeed.
This doesn’t happen organically. Getting employees to truly connect to the business and its goals requires leadership’s deliberate effort and a well laid-out plan.
An important step in achieving employee acceptance is realizing that a new strategy or set of goals is a change from the status quo. All change creates some heightened energy in an organization. Whether it is positive or negative is an outcome of how well change is planned, communicated and executed.
It is well known that addressing corporate culture (shared values and behaviors) and gaining employee buy-in when launching any change efforts are critical to success. This advice holds especially true when the change is a new strategy.
Not only does attention to culture help enable strategic change, cultural focus has been shown to actually create greater business success. In fact, in their book Culture and Performance, Harvard professors Kotter & Heskett, show that companies that have the tightest connection between their strategic direction and their shared values have revenues that are roughly four times higher and have returns on investment that are as much as 15 times higher than companies that don’t focus “at the people level”.
We often see organizations struggle with leveraging the culture to enable business goals. We believe there are specific, defined steps so that the culture becomes a business enabler, not a roadblock.
We call this step-by-step process: values integration. Values are a corporate belief system. They give people a rallying cry as well as guideline for conduct. Without a plan to integrate the values, employees go back to business as usual and the changes necessary to execute the strategy never occur.
Values and Competency Alignment
Organizations often overlook the importance of defining their values and integrating them into the organization. Those who are able to define their values and bring them to life within the context of their business strategy are more effective. Organizational success is dependant not only on what you do but who you are.
Step One: Defining the Values
Values hold the organization together. Making them explicit allows people to see what the organization stands for and how they must act. If values unite employees around the goals and strategy, then the first thing leadership must do is clearly define them.
The goal is to define a list of values that are integral elements to the organization’s success going forward. We engage the Leadership Team to capture a collective view of values and ensure that they are clearly linked to the current strategic thinking of the organization.
Step Two: Identifying the Competencies
Once the values are defined, it is critical for theorganization to identify the core competencies that are necessary to reflect these values and execute the plan.
In order to integrate the values into daily conduct, the values must be translated into reinforcing behaviors or competencies. It’s important to define the behaviors and competencies that support these values.
Step Three: Anchoring Values and Competency
When the values are set and the core competencies are clear, employees have a framework for their actions. They know when their efforts will move the company in the right direction. And just as important, managers know when employees are taking actions that are not in line with the company direction.
Merely exposing the values and competencies isn’t enough to guarantee success. There are several key reasons why change fails and a comprehensive values integration program needs to counter each of these pitfalls with what we call a success anchor.
Here are a few reasons why organizational change fails:
- Belief that leaders don’t support or embody the desired change
- Poor communication about why the change is necessary
- Inability to understand “what’s in it for me”
- No help when change gets hard
- New hires don’t embody the competencies and
represent the old culture prior to the change
- No accountability or measurement of change during performance reviews
In a comprehensive values integration program such as this, we ask a group of employees to come together as the change agents. They will learn why change fails and collaborate to ensure their values integration will “stick”.
The groups work together to find tactical and practical ways to ensure that the most common anchors to change, (communication, development/support, reward/recognition and hiring) are robust.
Because it is crucial that upper management play a part in the process, the working team presents its ideas to the Leadership Team for insight, approval and help needed.
Step Four: Organizational Roll Out of Values and Competencies
When agreement is reached on what activities the organization will undertake to anchor the values, the change team holds a roll out meeting for the remainder of the organization. At this meeting the team describes the vision, the values, the appropriate behaviors/competencies and their plans for ensuring the values come to life.
The final step in the process is to appoint a long-term values team. Their role is to make iterative adjustments to the programs so that they stay fresh, current and relevant. They are also the voice for the employees to the leadership regarding how well the change is taking hold.
A values integration program builds congruence. In other words it ensures that the organization’s culture reinforces the leadership goal and the employees embrace the concepts. When an organization has a culture/strategy match, success is a natural outcome.