“At the end of the day, you just ask yourself, ‘How did our vision and values influence decisions I made today?’ If they did not, then they are pretty much BS.”
• Peter Senge, systems scientist
Core values are vital to engaging your team and creating a culture of positivity, productivity, and purpose. Yet all too often, organizations create a set of values that grow dusty on paper and are rarely expressed through their people. So how can change leaders place core values at the heart of a vision for change? Consider using value stories, a key tool in integrating core values into your change initiative.
Stories that highlight and honour the expression of core values speak to the heart as well as the mind.
Value stories are short narratives that focus on a moment where an individual, team, organization, or community fully honours and expresses a core quality or strength. Values that may have been invisible become visible.
The strategies for involving this tool are only limited by your imagination. Weaving value stories into the process of leading change helps to embed core values in your organization’s culture. For instance:
• Start or end meetings with the sharing of personal, team or organizational value stories.
• Share value stories in communication messages.
• Dedicate meeting rooms or hallways to a particular value and the story that accompanies it.
Leading change is all about developing new norms in attitudes and behaviour. Weaving value stories throughout the transformation process of changing climate, mindset and culture allows each person to live and breathe into the change. Here we explore how value stories might be incorporated into a change initiative.
Use value stories to establish a sense of urgency.
Clarifying core values is the first step in inspiring change and moving forward into a new way of being. To understand which behaviors can take you forward and which ones need to be left behind, first examine your organization’s existing value stories. Honour old value stories for their usefulness in the past, and use them to address any ‘ghosts.’
Previous managers and social norms can haunt an organization, long after an individual has left or standards have outlived their usefulness.
Change leaders can use this history to push the level of urgency up. Ask questions of your team, such as
• Why is it important for transformation to happen?
• What’s at stake if we remain complacent?
Use value stories to create strong change leadership teams.
New habits and attitudes are often required to develop teams strong enough to lead lasting behavioural change. Value stories can be a tool in creating a safe and courageous space. This helps team members to get up close and personal to new behaviours demonstrated by change leaders, without having to take the initial risk.
“Stories are the flight simulators of social life.”
• Keith Oatley, psychologist and novelist
The flight simulator effect of creating, collecting and honouring the value stories now becomes paramount. Include value stories about leading change through teamwork. These stories help teams understand how to guide others to and over the edge of change.
Use value stories to reinforce your vision.
Vision and values are intricately woven. Core values complete the portrait of your organization as you develop a vision and strategy for moving forward.
Develop value stories that highlight your organization’s future potential. This helps to ground the vision for change, highlighting how stepping into intentional attitudes and values can overcome challenges to a desired change.
Use value stories to communicate a vision for change.
Now, use those future potential value stories to reinforce your vision, showing others a portrait of the attitudes, behaviours and actions required to implement change. Communicating the change vision involves much more than simply sharing through words. Your vision must be communicated through deeds. Values in action say more than words, and the actions of your change leadership team must be congruent with the change vision.
Your team is watching! At this point, value stories are useful in acknowledging and appreciating those who honour core values. Showcase individuals and teams who are already demonstrating required behaviours. Sharing these values stories heightens the awareness of others to what is expected and needed.
At this stage in a change initiative, nothing disempowers change leaders and change leadership teams more than an individual not fully on board with the need for change. Those unable to demonstrate the required values in action must be confronted, and either demoted or asked to leave.
Use value stories to generate short-term wins.
Story plays a huge role in acknowledging wins. Remain aware of the story arc of change, be clear on when wins are needed, and acknowledge those wins. Sharing short-term wins helps your team to see progress, shows the required attitudes and behaviours required, and encourages your organization to keep supporting the change initiative.
Use value stories to consolidate gains and produce more change.
Hiring and supporting people and teams who can implement the change vision is essential at this stage. The beauty in fully honouring core values is that hiring and succession planning becomes easier. Individuals with core personal and team values that align with core organizational values can be quickly welcomed on board.
Ask potential change leaders and change leadership teams to use value stories to express how their personal and team values align with the values of the change vision. This easily highlights who you should hire, promote and develop, and sends a clear message of what is required.
Use value stories to anchor your evolving culture.
John Kotter, a Leading Change expert, warns against the myth that the biggest impediment to creating change is the organization’s culture. This myth leads to attempts to change corporate culture right from the beginning of a change initiative.
However, values can’t be forced. Instead, amplify them through expressing and honouring value stories. Keep in mind that without values in action, there can be no stories to share.
Remember, creating, collecting and sharing value stories throughout the process of leading change will serve any change initiative well. At the end of the process, remember to record your value stories, creating a portrait of a change leadership team and an organization transformed.
Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, She coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems.