I am in the process of going through a lot of old files and filling up recycle bins. Most of this stuff was collected back in first half of the 1990’s when the world wide web was just gaining critical mass, and a half day on Alta Vista, or the brand new search engine, Google, turned up new stuff all of the time. It disappeared just as fast, so the rule was “if you want it, copy it.”
A lot of this material comes from the TQM community. But what struck me enough to sit down for a minute and write about is checklists that include values like “respect for people,” “openness and honesty” and “teamwork.”
This was an era when companies were creating “values statements” and publishing them.
Many of them followed by trying to measure compliance with those values, putting them in performance management reviews, etc.
Of course since the mid 1990’s we know better. . . don’t we?
Values are tricky things. Certainly if a company is sincerely trying to change its culture, the values are going to have to shift. The question I have is not whether this is true, but whether writing them down and trying to enforce them is an effective way to go about it.
Consider how a company with a long, entrenched culture of conflict avoidance is going to transition itself into one which truly respects people?
In a conflict avoidance culture, the people who are truly open and honest tend to ruffle feathers and find themselves in the “out” crowd, isolated in the eddies, and often are never told why.
The people who have flourished in that culture now are saying they want to change it.
Let’s assume that the handful of people at the top – whose behavior has likely been rewarded by promotion throughout their careers and possibly even molded the rest of the organization, can even see that they have not been respectful of people.
If they truly want to change the values of the organization, the only way I can see for this to happen is if they, personally, are totally open and honest that (1) What they have been doing is holding the company back, and is disrespectful of people; (2) They intend to change it starting today; and (3) Ask for help and support from others around them to make a personal change.
If these things don’e happen, then it really doesn’t matter what they put on the wall or say they want everyone else to do.
This is a tough one. It is what Peter Senge calls “personal mastery” and what Jim Collins talks about in “Level 5 Leadership.”
Honestly, I don’t think it is a hard prerequisite for a fair degree of success. I know a few companies who have done pretty will without ever addressing this issue.
But I also know they are hitting the limits of what they can accomplish. As I am someone who sees things in terms of their potential I just wanted to take a couple of minutes and toss this one out there for everyone to think about while we (in the USA at least) stuff ourselves with turkey.