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Creating Alignment for Change Through Values

Posted on December 8, 2017

Creating Alignment for Change Through Values

In this post, I want to explore the role of values in shaping alignment around making a significant change. Here I use the word alignment to describe when all those involved in a change process are working from a shared understanding of the problem and work collaboratively from this agreement to find the best solution. As with the previous posts in this series, many of these concepts are also applicable to our work with clients.

Let’s start our exploration by discussing key elements of emotional and intellectual engagement that are necessary to ensure alignment around a change process. Successful change processes require strategic thought into getting the right people involved, fit, and engaging them in a democratic collaborative decision-making process. As mentioned in previous posts, getting leaderships’ buy-in and participation is critical to significant changes such as working to integrating the trauma-informed paradigm into an organization’s or system’s operations.

Besides leadership involvement, those leading the change effort should identify people throughout the organization who are a good fit for this process. In accessing fit among current staff or members of a system requires (at a minimum) that those chosen to represent a critical aspect of the system or organization and demonstrate excitement in the process as this energy will translate into motivation to see the change successfully implemented. While the involvement of leadership is vital, getting representation from all parts of a system or organization ensures that the right expertise and energy is at the table from the very beginning.

As mentioned in the emotional engagement post, values are deeply held beliefs that provide a moral compass for decision-making. Shared values and a strong moral compass helps people determine what activities are acceptable as a change process proceeds. If an organization, group, or system lacks shared values, the change process is at risk of failure from the very beginning.

The research and author Jim Collins found that the great companies he studied paid a great deal of attention to the establishment of shared values and worked to ensure alignment with these values in every aspect of the organization. In the helping professions, where our organizations have altruistic missions, values play even a more critical role. If you currently do not have shared values for your organization or change team, Collins provides a self-directed tool on his website that I have used many times in facilitating shared value processes.

As part of this process, Collins provides a method for evaluating values which help show why they are such a powerful force for alignment to a mission, vision, or change process. His evaluation is for organizations but easily adapt to a time-limited change team who are not operating under an already existing set of values.

  • If you were to start a new organization, would you build it around this core value regardless of the industry?
  • Would you want your organization to continue to stand for this core value 100 years into the future, no matter what changes occur in the outside world?
  • Would you want your organization to hold this core value, even if at some point in time it became a competitive disadvantage—even if in some instances the environment penalized the organization for living this core value?
  • Do you believe that those who do not share this core value—those who breach it consistently—simply do not belong in your organization?
  • Would you personally continue to hold this core value even if you were not rewarded for holding it?
  • Would you change jobs before giving up this core value?
  • If you awoke tomorrow with more than enough money to retire comfortably for the rest of your life, would you continue to apply this core value to your productive activities?

Note: if you are wondering if your organization has strong shared values try this exercise. Stop ten random people in the hallway and ask them, “can you tell me our shared values?” If most get reasonably close to naming them, you are doing a good job! If people do not know your values or you have not established them, do not worry, I find most organizations are in this position. Spending time developing values is a great team and morale builder, and Collins’ website provides you the tools you need to take this critical step.

The establishment of shared values gets everyone on the same page, helps them to hold each other accountable as the change process moves forward, and provides a moral compass for evaluating each discussion on the way to accomplishing the ultimate vision and goals of the change process. With this expanded knowledge of shared values, let’s revisit the value-based decision-making process introduced in the emotional engagement post.

  1. State the decision to be made
  2. Identify decision maker(s)
  3. Name all possible values for the decision, all that matters
  4. Consider importance for all potential stakeholders
  5. Conduct an advocacy round
  6. Decision maker selects driving value(s)
  7. Make the decision
  8. Report it out, including the downside, without equivocation (Bennett & Gibson, 2006)

The above process helps us organize the concepts presented so far in this series. Steps #2 and #5 ensures that we pay attention to fit and steps #3 and #6 guarantees our moral compass play a central role in the process. Values also provide a sense of trust and safety for team members and all those involved in the change process as everyone understands what we are doing and why we are doing it.

This alignment becomes a lens we use to evaluate current practices, policies, and procedures. While we will spend a great deal of time discussing how to implement new practices in future posts, there is another critical part of any change process especially when we focus on something as powerful as integrating trauma-informed practices. Some of the most important steps we take in the process concern de-implementation of practices that fall outside our values or knowledge about a subject like trauma.

If we do the up-front work of creating shared values and getting adequate representation of expertise, many practices that are out of alignment with our vision or values will immediately come to the surface. In the early stages of a change process, it is essential to identify these practices. Identification does not mean we take immediate action as those not on the change team will not have the information or chance to contemplate adequately and plan for the change. Acting too quick, skips the later steps of the value-based decision-making process and will result in resistance throughout the system or organization.

Patience is often difficult for those on the change team. When we identify that our actions do not align with our values or prevent us from reaching our vision, it creates a particular type of stress, cognitive dissonance. For an individual considering a change, cognitive dissonance brings forth motivation for action. The difficult, and often overlooked, part of a more extensive change process is that while the team might feel a motivation to act, the rest of the organization or system is in the same psychological place.

Here steps #4 (Consider importance for all potential stakeholders) and #5 (Conduct an advocacy round) extends the shared mental model to others who eventually will experience the consequences of the change. While the change team continues to play the critical role, these steps give everyone a voice and bring in additional ideas, expertise, and innovation into the process. Change is a dance, and successful implementation relies on a critical mass of people moving to the same beat!

Two final notes on this post on alignment and value-based decision-making. First, huge thanks to Kevin Lindamood, President/CEO of Health Care for the Homeless Baltimore, and Jenny Metzler, Executive Director of Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless. I had the great honor of partnering with these great leaders at the 2016 National Health Care for the Homeless Conference for a workshop on values-based leadership and decision making. I sit in awe of these two and how they use values to create and maintain amazing organizations.

Second, I want to provide some research on shared values. Kouzes and Posner (2007) found that organization with shared values have the following outcomes:

  • Revenues increased four times
  • Job creation increased by seven times
  • Stock prices grew five times faster
  • Profit performance was 750% higher
  • Strong feeling of personal effectiveness
  • High levels of company loyalty
  • Facilitate consensus about key organizational goals
  • Fosters pride in the company
  • Better understanding of job expectations
  • Increased effectiveness of teams

In all my research on leadership, few things match the power of establishing shared values!

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