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Nine Step Process

There are nine key steps in whole system change. These are show in following diagram and described in the subsequent paragraphs. (Click on diagram to enlarge)

Nine key steps in a whole system change

Step 1: Commitment and ownership
The process of whole system change begins with the personal commitment of the leader and the leadership team to their own personal transformation. Why is this necessary? Because a commitment to change means a shift in motivation, and a shift in motivation means a shift in values and beliefs. This means changing the culture of your organization. 

If you want to transform the culture of your organisation, you must either ask the leaders to transform or you must change the leaders. Organisational transformation begins with the personal transformation of the leaders. If there is no commitment by the leader and his or her leadership team to a shift in values and behaviours, it will be pointless embarking on any form of whole system change process.

A whole system change initiative must be owned and personally supervised by the leader of an organisation.  It must also be fully supported by the leadership team. Cultural transformation is not something that can be delegated, nor can it be handed off to a team of outside consultants. It is something that the organisation has to do for itself, and it is always ongoing: It is not a project. It is a process! Culture has to be managed. 

At this stage, it will be important, if the leader has not already done so, to hand pick his leadership team. Getting the right people on the leadership team and sitting in the right seats is extremely important.

It is quite usual in a whole system change process for there to be one or two naysayers in the leadership team who are not willing to sign up to personal transformation. They are happy for others to do it, but they are not interested themselves. This is the point where they have to decide to get on or off the bus. There is no room on the bus for anyone who is not a willing participant and committed to the process. Usually at this point, the naysayers start looking for alternative employment. It is important that the leader be aware that this might happen, and is willing to go ahead for the success of the initiative and the good of the company.

Step 2: Baseline measurement
After the leader and the leadership team have made a personal committment to change,  the process begins by carrying out a cultural values assessment of the whole organisation, and, at the same time, building a scorecard of the organisation’s current performance—revenues, employee engagement, customer satisfaction, cultural entropy, values alignment, etc. The idea here is develop a set of baseline measurements from which you can measure the progress of your whole system change initiative. 

Step 3: Vision and mission
After you have completed your baseline measurements, the next step is to define where the company is going and how it is going to get there. It is time to develop an internal and external vision and mission for the organisation using the Four Why’s process described in Liberating the Corporate Soul. If the organisation already has a vision and mission, it will be important to revisit it, especially if there are new people in the leadership team.

Setting the vision is the job of the leadership team: this task should not be delegated. The direct reports of the leadership team (the leadership teams of the members of the leadership team) and a cross section of the rest of the leadership group should be asked for their comments once the leadership team is comfortable with the vision statements they have produced.

The vision and mission statements should be:

  • Short and easily memorable
  • Inspire people in the organisation to make a difference

Step 4: Values and behaviours
As part of the process of the developing a vision and mission for the organisation it will be important also to define the organisation’s values and behaviours. The results of the cultural values assessment will be useful in this regard. To the extent possible, all employees should be involved in this process. The values should:

  • Be single words or small phrases that are easily memorable
  • Support the vision and mission
  • Not more than five
  • Include relationship values as well as organisational values

Once the organisation’s espoused values have been chosen, two or three behaviour statements should be developed for each value. The purpose of developing behaviour statements is twofold:

  • To give clarity to what each espoused value means in the context of the day-to-day operations of the organisation
  • To provide a way of evaluating executive and employee performance. 

Because behaviours are always contextual, it is not unusual for different behaviours to be used for the same espoused values in different parts of the organisation. The behaviour statements should:

  • Be short, memorable, one-sentence statements
  • Describe the actions that support the value they represent
  • Be appropriate for the context of the work unit

The underlying purpose of creating a vision and mission, and a set of shared values is to develop a sense of internal cohesion in the organisation—a foundation and capacity for collective action.

The process of building internal cohesion should begin with the leadership team. The leadership team is a cultural fractal of the whole organisation. If you don’t have internal cohesion in the leadership team you will not have internal cohesion in the rest of the organisation.

The only way to build internal cohesion in a leadership team is to create a climate of trust. This requires that the leaders and team members spend quality time together getting to know each other at more than a superficial level.

Step 5: Compelling reasons for change
There must be a clear understanding among the executive population about why the organisation is embarking on a whole system change process. The change process must be grounded in reality, and driven by realistic optimism that provides the employee and executive populations with hope for success. People want to be associated with success. In companies that are suffering from low performance, the compelling reasons for change are usually obvious. The issues that underlie the poor performance can easily be identified from the results of the cultural values assessment.

For high performing companies, the compelling reasons for change should focus on three factors—how the company can stay adaptable, position itself for the future, and build its long-term resilience.

Step 6: Personal alignment
Personal alignment should begin with the leadership team. To this end, it will be important for all members of the leadership team, and the extended leadership group, to focus on their own personal mastery by seeking feedback and, if necessary, coaching, using a 3600 instrument such as the Leadership Values Assessment (LVA).
Once the leadership team has embarked on a process of personal mastery to enhance their emotional intelligence, the direct reports of the leadership team should follow suit. Eventually, everyone in the organisation that has a management or supervisory role should participate in some form of training process that involves learning how to lead self and lead others.

Step 7: Structural alignment
The purpose of the structural alignment programme is to reconfigure the the structures, systems, processes, policies, incentives and procedures so that they fully reflect the desired vision, mission, values and behaviours of the organisation, thereby institutionalizing them into the culture. The systems and processes that may need to be reconfigured include:

  • New employee/executive selection
  • New employee/executive orientation
  • Employee/executive performance evaluation
  • Employee/executive promotion criteria
  • Selecting talented performers for fast track development
  • Leadership development programmes
  • Management training programmes
  • Values awareness programmes.

In large organisations, structural alignment can take up to 2 to 3 years to implement. The responsibility for this usually falls to the Human Resource function. This step is the one that is most frequently forgotten in cultural transformation initiatives.

Step 8: Values alignment
The purpose of the values alignment programme is to inculcate the espoused values and behaviours of the organisation into the executive and employee population. Apart from the informational content, the programme should give participants the opportunity to explore their own values, and understand and practice the concept of values-based decision-making.

Step 9: Mission alignment
The purpose of the mission alignment programme is to inculcate the vision and mission of the organisation into the executive and employee population. Apart from the informational content, the programme should give participants the opportunity to explore their own sense of mission and vision, and see how their role supports the vision or mission of the organisation. It is very important that everyone in the organisation has a clear line of sight between the work they do each day and the vision and/or mission of the organisation. Without a clear line of sight, people are not able to value their contribution and understand how they make a difference.


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