ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - June 2000

Issue Highlight - Safe Return Doubtful
--- Much of the attention in human resources seems to be about how to recruit and retain good people. The conventional wisdom is to offer people the possibility of big benefits and instant wealth.

In This Issue...
The Real World At MTV
A New American Revolution
Basic Training
Bringing Values To Life

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change

Sites Unseen
Diary of a Shutdown

The Artistry Of Bringing Organizational Values To Life
Creating a High Performance Work Culture is a Messy Practice Where Patience is a Virtue

--For the past three years, Joe Haberman has worked as an organizational development specialist for the city of Portsmouth, Va., implementing a checks and balances system designed to bring corporate value statements to life.

--"Detailed strategic plans and vision statements themselves do not improve organizational performance," he explains, "and hanging a corporate value statement on the wall can actually fan cynicism and worsen performance."

--Haberman proposes a systematic conversion of such statements into behavioral change. The result: A high performance work culture that fosters teamwork, learning and innovation.

--Before these wheels can be set in motion, Haberman stresses the importance of organiza-tional leadership-the cornerstone of any viable performance model. Based on the model for organizational performances developed by John Pickering, Ph.D., and Robert Matson Ph.D., Haberman notes that "if organizations don't get leadership right, none of the other components-vision, values, strategic plan and organizational structure-are going to make any real difference in the long run."

--Only by activating communicated values at all levels of an organization, not just at the top, is a sense of personal responsibility achieved, and thus the desire to participate in defining the behaviors that best support the company's values. "In this sense," he explains, "leadership is not understood as a position or a person, but as a set of essential functions. Anyone within the organization who is helping to perform any of these functions is performing the work of leadership, regardless of their position in the hierarchy."

Making It Work
But the question remains: How do we gain the necessary support for such independent leadership roles? Haberman calls upon an individual analysis of discretionary effort-or the amount of work one deems fit to pitch in for a positive outcome-as a good first step.

--As the level of this effort continues to rise at our jobs-when just showing up has become only half of the battle-a call for additional effort, knowledge and creativity has come into play on a day-to-day basis, making the need for a maximum discretionary effort imperative to the success of any company.

--"In a negative, exploitive environment, where ideas are shot down and their efforts micromanaged, this discretionary effort is withheld," explains Haberman. "Too few people are doing the thinking and there is no balance between the doing and the thinking. You might be able to order someone to show up on time, but you can't order someone to help you solve problems."

Breaking it Down
Assuming that the given company has already agreed upon a set of values that they believe should be the driving force of the business, the next step involves morphing the "pie in the sky" values statement into something tangible. According to Haberman, the best means to do this is by repeating the process at various unit/divisional/departmental levels, giving each person a chance to focus only on those values as they relate to the work each individual initiates from day to day. Haberman explains, "The way a corporate value may look in a sales and marketing work group may be quite different than the way that same value is seen within an operational division." By operationalizing the process at each level, each employee is given a sense of ownership of the behaviors they identify through this process, and are then more open to feedback from their colleagues.

Translating Values into Observable Behaviors
Once the foundation is in place, participants are ready to embark on the process, a virtual journey toward turning their corporate value statements into reality. The five steps that Haberman suggests are to be repeated for each identified value. To begin, the group facilitator asks each person to list observable behaviors that support the chosen value in the work environment. Next, the group repeats the exercise for those behaviors that do not reflect the value. "This helps the groups to identify the kinds of things that must be dealt with as they occur, if the old culture is to be replaced by the new." All submissions are recorded on a flip chart.

--The third step involves a careful check of each list: Is there any duplication? Is it clear? All "item contaminants," or things that would make implementing change based on such feedback difficult should be eliminated.

--Next, the resulting list should be used to construct a Likert-style questionnaire. In order to gain periodic feedback (the best possible outcome for this procedure) each employee gives the surveys to his/her peers, and is then turned around directly, without running it through the hierarchy and possibly confusing the process with a performance evaluation. "This feedback is intended for personal development, and to help create and maintain the work culture we have defined from the values," reminds Haberman.

--After studying their individual results, subjects meet with their work groups to discuss the results and voice any improvements they intend to make based on the feedback. Because results are passed directly to employees, they are free to pick and choose their own improvement goals, ignoring the feedback they feel is off target. "Generally, the only shared expectation is that everyone participating takes it seriously and identify some goal of improvement based on the feedback," explains Haberman.

--Following the discussion, the group must then establish some sort of set process for ongoing feedback, increasing the pace with which participants feel comfortable both giving and receiving feedback. "If this becomes a desired part of the group's process," says Haberman, "employees will gradually become less defensive and uncomfortable, and they will be able to offer increasingly accurate feedback up and down the chain of command."

An Exercise in Patience
The success of such large-scale organizational efforts can be difficult to quantify and the process can be slow in coming, but it is clear from Haberman's work in the city of Portsmouth that there is as much to be learned from the missteps as from the successes of such an initiative. "One of the obstacles I have encountered is the tendency to see this as an evaluation and to use the values behaviors as feedback in areas where formal feedback was not being done," he says. Another hurdle Haberman has had to jump has been the tendency to approach the work as a single event rather than an ongoing process. "This kind of change seems to require commitment to a continuing process," explains Haberman.

--In the end, the success or failure of Haberman's proposed plan for converting values into behaviors is measured by the workplace atmosphere. "Every organization has the workers it needs to turn itself around," says Haberman. "They need only create a climate conducive to thinking differently on purpose, to embrace organizational challenges."

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