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  • Writer's pictureAndy Goram

Moving Your Culture From Meh. to Yeah! Part Two - Ownership Transference

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

Written by Andy Goram, Bizjuicer

Ready To Hand Over The Baton? Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

In Part One of this three-part series we looked at the importance of the words you choose to communicate your company’s Core Values, including which ones to avoid, as part of building a positive business culture. In this second part we concentrate our focus on handing over the baton and transferring the ownership of these Values to your people. After all, your objective here is to encourage people to act on them and ultimately live by them, and people are more likely to do that if there is a strong sense of ownership. But how do you go about doing that?

Some ubiquitous values on a mouse mat
Standard issue: Values On A Mouse Mat

Mistakes #1 & #2 My Way & Mouse-matting

Firstly, the two biggest mistakes I see are what I call “My Way” & “Mouse-matting”. I’ve combined them here, as they often happen together as part of one terrible solution. They normally take the form of an Exec team, or even just the MD or the CEO, deciding, behind closed doors, what the Company Values will be. Often these are closely related to their own personal values aka My Way. These Values are then announced and printed on cards or items like mouse mats (yes, I know!), so people can’t forget them. The values are then considered launched and on their way to being embedded, aka Mouse-matting. Sound familiar? In this scenario the transference of ownership is rather like throwing a rubber ball at a wall. As soon as the ball (the Values) hits the wall (the Employees), there is a brief moment of absorption as the ball collapses into the wall, but very quickly the ball bounces back off the wall, onto the floor and rolls away.

Look Behind The Lanyard

I recently attended a session looking at team dynamics within a company. The subject of Company Values came up. The employees gathered, all pronounced confidently that the company had some values. Yay! On asking what they were, there was a slow, mumbled response of a few words, but no-one could really put their finger on what they were exactly. Now one of the characteristics of this company was, like a lot of places today, that everyone wore a lanyard. It had a bright coloured ribbon on it and a panel which held their ID card. During this conversation, a colleague wondered over to one of the delegates and politely got hold of their lanyard to inspect it. They slowly rotated the plastic card to look at the reverse of it. Low and behold there was a clearly printed reproduction of the Company Values for all to see. There were audible gasps from around the room, as one-by-one employees flipped over their lanyards to reveal this set of guiding principles that had been silently laying against their chests for goodness knows how long. Nobody, not one of them, knew they were there.

So just printing the words, no matter how physically close they are to your people, is no way to transfer ownership for them. As we discussed in Part One, we want the Values to be used, not just remembered.

Headmaster flexing his cane
Mistake #3 Administering Values Like An Old Headmaster

Mistake #3 Headmastering

The third mistake I see is, “Headmastering”. This is where an organisation takes its Core Values and assigns a prescribed list of expected behaviours that need to be adhered to by employees, to ensure the values are upheld.

I’m actually all in favour of having separate Values as the guiding principles, and Behaviours that convey how those Values can be evidenced within the organisation. But where “Headmastering” goes wrong is that this ends up feeling like the Values and Behaviours are being “done to you.” Is this the best way to elicit continued, desired behaviour and behavioural change? I don’t think so, at least not for the majority of people. In this instance there’s no connection to where the Values or the Behaviours have come from, so how can you expect people to readily and consistently adopt them?

Emotions are what make people take positive action. If there’s no emotional connection, don’t expect any action, no matter how many times you call them into your office to tell them they need to change their behaviour. So, what’s the solution?

Group of employees working together
Involving Trusted Employees Brings Huge Dividends

Involvement From The Beginning Is Vital

Whilst it absolutely has to be led from the top team and only commence when you have a clear business strategy laid out, it is important to involve trusted employees in the process of defining your values that we covered in Part One. This can take many forms, depending on the organisation. It can range from emailing all your employees and asking their opinion, to running focus groups and using them to vet, test and offer alternatives. They will feel involved and part of the creation of the content. This will give them some skin in the game and help with creating a greater sense of ownership of the final results.

Share Your Thinking With Trusted Employees

Share all your thinking with a set of trusted employees. Explain why you're doing this, what’s behind your thinking and ask them for help in shaping it. I say trusted, because I think this is vital in ultimately achieving the cultural change you seek. There’s a temptation to involve everyone. This sounds great, but I don’t personally believe this is the best course of action at this stage. Ultimately you are trying to effect positive change and at this point, not everyone will be “on the bus” and willing to change, yet. A lot of time is wasted, and great ideas watered down by trying to get your message to appeal to everyone at the beginning. Honestly, at this stage, that’s folly.

Bell Curve Showing Culture Change Momentum
25% Is Around The Tipping Point For Cultural Change

Getting To The Tipping Point

Change will happen, I mean really happen when you reach that tipping point.

If you imagine a classic bell curve, you’ll have about 2.5% of your employees who are the Innovators, who’ll love this stuff, be at the front of the queue and be driving change forward for you. They are followed by the Early Adopters, some 12-13% of your employees who will see the change and jump on board very quickly. You then move into the two biggest groups of the Early Majority and Late Majority, both of equal size and making up approximately 68% of your workforce. Then you are left with the final group – the Laggards, who make up the final 16% of your team (yes, Bell Curve purists, I have grouped together the last two groups). These guys will only ever change because doing something the old way is no longer an option.

They need to see someone else change first

Wise men say the tipping point for cultural change is around 25%. The key to getting to this point, is getting the Early Majority on board. But the key to getting movement from the Early & Late Majority groups is that they need to see someone else change first. They won’t make the move without that happening. So, you should concentrate your efforts on the Innovators and Early Adopters first. Get them going, doing and showing and the rest will follow.

One Set Of Values. Multiple Sets Of Relevant Behaviours

The most effective way of starting to transfer ownership of Values and Behaviours to your people is to allow them time to make sense of the Values that have been created and to fully understand what they mean to them and why they are important.

Then task your different teams or departments with considering what types of behaviours would be required, in their daily duties, to consistently deliver the Company Values. In doing so, you maintain one core set of Values, that everybody can understand but importantly, the associated behaviours are personalised and made relevant to your people and the tasks they undertake. They have ownership, because they have created them. They haven’t just been dropped on them.

Oh! That One Doesn't Apply To Me Because...

The benefit of this approach is that you avoid the issue of tarring everybody with the same brush. Not everybody does the same thing, not everybody has the same lists of customers and stakeholders to deal with. When you try and inflict one rigid set of behaviours on everyone the relevancy can easily be lost and you start to hear the dreaded words, “Oh! That one doesn’t apply to me because…” Before long there’s lots of examples of “that doesn’t apply to me because” and you’ve already failed at the first hurdle of change.

Where it goes wrong is when the actual Core Values are changed for every team or department. That’s not what I’m advocating at all. Keep one universal set of Values for the company, but have and encourage multiple sets of personalised, relevant, team behaviours, created by and owned by the teams that created them, all charged with the consistent delivery of those Core Values. Make every effort to share these team behaviours across departments, so people know what to expect. Encourage teams to self-regulate. That doesn’t mean creating an over-zealous bunch of Values Police, who write out tickets for off-values behaviour, but it does mean open sharing and celebrating the good stuff, but also ensuring that teams are confident and happy to highlight things when they go awry.

Involve, Share, Personalise and Make Them Relevant

So, to start to transfer ownership of your company’s Core Values, start with a clear view from your leadership team, but involve trusted employees in their creation. Share the ideas and drafts. Listen and respond to the feedback and take the time to explain why you're doing this.

Encourage the personalisation of the Values by getting your teams to create and communicate the relevant behaviours that will result in consistent delivery of those Core Values, that actually relate to what they have to do every day.

Finally, don’t be afraid to focus your initial attention on the innovators and early adopters in your business. The quicker and more consistently you can get them to espouse and show these values in action, the more change momentum you will bring and the faster you will reach your cultural transformation tipping point.

In Part 3, we’ll discuss how to embed your Values in your business, moving them from inspiring words to consistent actions and a new way of doing business.

Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer– a consultancy that improves business performance by helping organisations become stickier, more engaging places to work. Get in touch here.

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