Can strategies succeed without aligned values?

Discouraged about developing strategies that achieve desired outcomes? I have found that when people tell me their last strategic plan failed, and the plan itself doesn’t look bad (so many do!), there were two main reasons:

  • The plan was developed by a tiny group of leaders with little input from staff and often none (or none that was respectfully listened to) from clients and community.
  • The plan took so long to develop that it was out-dated before it was even written down, let alone approved.

But I knew I was missing something in describing that first scenario. It wasn’t the input to strategies that mattered as much as the input to outcomes and values. If you don’t want to reach the same desired world, and you don’t share the ethical values involved in creating that world, the strategies are not that relevant.

Last week, I was fortunate to be at a presentation by Consilient Inc. ( entitled How to Ensure the Organization’s Culture Does Not Eat Your Strategy for Lunch. It confirmed a lot of what I had learned from experience, and presented the ideas with beautiful simplicity, supported by a lot of data collection and great real world examples.

changeIn summary, the presentation said, “How we do things around here” can affect how we get from where we are to where we want to go. And that’s especially true with top-down plans that don’t take existing values in the organization into account.

Culture is even more likely to defeat the plan when external conditions change if the values have not first been aligned. Consilient describes values as a stabilizing force when aligned, and a destabilizing force when they are not aligned. Did you know last month, Merriam-Webster declared Culture the 2014 word of the year? Everyone wanted to understand, measure and manage organizational culture.

So often, I find organizations want to leave the values discussion for “some other time” and get the plan finished. Leaders may identify the values consistent with their plan, but don’t check whether their new Values Statement resonates with those who will implement their plan. And they may not consider ethical values specific to chosen priorities at all, yet these may be needed to supplement the core ethical values.

Often, the Values Statements are so vague and motherhood that no one understands what behaviours are or are not consistent with them. Sometimes the statements are even directly against key ethical and professional values held by the staff members. Sadly, the leaders were out of touch. Words are powerful, and reactions to certain words change dramatically in fairly short time periods. A positive term becomes jargon, buzz word or even an insult. Last month I learned that people were getting negative reactions to the word “potential”!

What if organizations involved everyone in developing draft values statements, then double-checked by asking:

 What parts of these DRAFT values statements do or do not resonate and why?

 Is different wording need to express the positive intent of each statement?

 What would it look like around here if we live these values?

 How would that be different from how we conducted ourselves in the past?

 What conditions would have to change to reinforce conduct consistent with these values statements?

What strategies are needed to create those conditions?

You can post codes on a wall, make people sign off or even make them attend annual training. Guidance can help people behave in accordance with the code, but only if the cRowers Rowing Boatulture isn’t working against the code. Peer pressure can be exceptionally strong. How do you do things around your place?

The research and measurements reported at the Consilient presentation confirm the importance of taking the time up-front to clarify ethical values throughout the organization. And sometimes, leaders need to work on aligning values before embarking on significant change.

What’s the point of creating a plan quickly if you haven’t created the conditions for success?

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)