Countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars are expended in organizations in developing "Visions", Mission Statements, Partnership Agreements, etc. designed to make dramatic improvements in organizational effectiveness through changed organizational cultures. Invariably, even years into efforts to change the culture and increase organizational performance, employees at all levels and in every area of the organization consistently complain that their leaders - union and management alike - are not walking the talk.
Experience in a large number and variety of organizations suggests that leaders not walking the talk occurs for one or more of the following reasons:
- Visions, Mission Statements, Partnership Agreements, etc. are often worded in very general and amorphous terms; e.g. a world class company, participative and open environment, etc. These statements are so general that there application is open to very wide variations of meaning and interpretation. Leaders may very well THINK they are walking the talk as they understand the words in the documents.
- Even when definitions and examples are used to clarify meaning, some leaders simply are not aware of how their behaviors are perceived by others. When they are given feedback that feedback is in such general terms, that the receiver of the feedback is not clear what concrete behavior he/she should change. You just don't listen! You are not participative.
- When causes 1 and 2 above are addressed, many leaders don't know HOW to go about changing the undesired behavior. Where can he/she go to learn new skills? How can she/he go about unlearning behavior?
- Lack of support, reinforcement, coaching and positive recognition for trying to change is still another reason for failure to walk the talk.
- Still another reason that people don't walk the talk is that they simply lack the capability to alter their behavior.
- The last reason in the chain of events for failure to walk the talk is that the person simply doesn't want to change his/her behavior!
Accepting that the series of reasons outlined above may well be accurate, the following process has proven to be very effective in helping individuals and groups of individuals increase the frequency of others perceiving them to be walking the talk:
How Will I Know It When I See It?
The people who craft the Vision, Mission and/or Partnership Statement work together to describe - in concrete, observable, and measurable terms - what "walking the talk" would look like. In other words they HWIKIWISI [How Will I Know It When I See It] the Vision, Mission or Partnership Statement. A list of more than two hundred behavioral statements has been developed with various clients over the past 30 years which can be used to begin this discussion.
This task is most effectively accomplished when the framers of the respective document work together to arrive at a consensus list of concrete behaviors that - in their view - will demonstrate, through action, their commitment to the words within the document. The list of concrete behaviors is a list that the framers believe are appropriate for them!
Step 2: Validating the list
Upon completion of this initial list for themselves, the individuals then circulate this draft to a broad segment of employees for their review and critique. In other words, they ask those with whom they work AIf we were consistently demonstrating (or not demonstrating in the case of negative behaviors) the following behaviors, would you perceive me/us as walking the talk? Using the feedback generated, the list is modified to take into account that feedback.
Step 3: How am I doing?
Once the list of concrete behaviors is finalized, they are formatted into a data collection instrument which can be used not only for self-evaluation but feedback from others aswell. While a variety of methods can be used, the most effective seems to be converting this list of items into a data collection instrument that enables respondentsto indicate how frequently and infrequently they observe the individual to be demonstrating each specific behavior.
How frequently do you observe the following behaviors being demonstrated in the actions of (individual) ?
The individual as well as his/her peers, subordinates and others with whom the individual works, should complete this instrument.
The data is then collected, anonymously, and entered into a computer program which will provide the individual with mean scores from each of the three groups as well as overall for the total set of respondents.
These data are then discussed in private one-on-one sessions (no one other than the individual and the resource assisting him/her ever see the data) with each individual participating in the process.
Step 4: What am I going to do about what I have learned?
During the one-on-one private discussions, each individual participating reviews the data to determine those specific items that are perceived to be strengths by the respondents, those items that are perceived to be weaknesses, and those items that are perceived to be in between those two anchors.
The perceived strengths are areas upon which the individual can build. In addition, these areas of strength are areas in which the individual could serve as a coach to others. The perceived weaknesses are areas in which the individual needs to focus attention and develop a development plan/process.
Step 5: Taking action
Once the individual discussions have been completed, the entire group meets to share the results of this process. Each individual is asked to report ONLY what he/she decides to report. Ideally, each individual would discuss his/her areas of perceived strength and offer to serve as a coach to any other member of the group for whom this area is perceived to be a weakness.
The individual then reports the areas of perceive weakness and what he/she intends to do about improving in that area as well as any assistance the individual would like to have from others within the group.
The resource assisting the group and individual reports only the results for the group as a whole. If there are areas of perceived weakness for the group as a whole (which usually occurs), the group can then determine what, if any, group development needs it has and establish a plan of action for improvement.
Step 6: Follow-up
Periodic reassessment - every 12 - 18 months - provides the individuals and the group with data to determine the progress (or lack of progress) being made both individually and collectively.
A number of very positive effects result from the sincere and effective implementation of this process.
First of all, people within the organization begin to see that the leaders of there organization are very serious about changing the organization. Holy Cow! These guys/gals must be serious. They are actually trying to change their own behavior. Second, each individual involved in this process gains extraordinarily valuable insight into how his/her behavior is perceived by others in concrete terms that allow him/her to know what improvement action is needed.
Third, the organization gains a lot of insight into its own development and learning needs. In other words, this process can become the learning agenda generator for the individuals involved.
Fourth, the role model and example set by the leaders can serve to encourage others within the organization to embark on a similar process for themselves.
If you aren't really serious about taking the lead in bringing about change - starting with yourselves - DON'T ADOPT THIS APPROACH! This process invariably establishes expectations on the part of others within the organization that you will - in fact - change! If you don't, one more time the expectations of others within the organization will be dashed and the likelihood of others following you to an new place goes down dramatically.