Beliefs Drive Action, Part III: An Organization or Group's Beliefs Are Impactful and Its Core Beliefs Will Determine Its Future
" Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way." - Abraham Lincoln.
It doesn’t matter whether the organization or group is a small business, a corporation, a hobby club or a country – the dynamics remain the same. Beliefs, especially core beliefs, will influence the group’s future in much the same way that beliefs affect an individual. Beliefs drive action and influence outcomes.
Does your group believe that the days ahead are gloomy and that things won’t improve? If so, your group will have great difficulty breaking the attitude of gloom and patterns of inaction or negative actions. There will be a tendency to complain, to not proactively go after change. Malaise and confusion creep in and may disrupt the group’s sense of identity. A self-fulfilling prophecy may set in. People quit or give up. Atrophy continues.
In contrast, does your group or organization believe that its best days lay in front of it? Regardless of present circumstances, do your group’s leaders have an optimistic outlook and attitude? Reagan’s sunny “morning in America” outlook stirred people of all political persuasions. An attitude of optimism and belief in a better future spurs the imagination. Creativity ramps up. Energy is generated, whereas the contrary attitude sows hopelessness and robs people of their power and ability to cope with present problems.
Core beliefs – especially those maintained by the leaders – get transmuted into group behavior. Companies with a top-down management style and a belief or attitude that only the people at the top have value and are worthy of respect sabotage their own future. Why? Because to devalue people is to demotivate people.
Think of the worst run corporations or organizations based on the cult of one or a few personalities. Such organizations don’t believe in and don’t empower their employees or members. Such organizations limit the production of new ideas and kill initiative. In the long haul, morale plummets. In a good economy, people leave those types of companies as soon as a new opportunity arises.
In contrast, companies that value and empower people have little problem retaining employees. People perceive value in their association with the organization – value which goes beyond the paycheck. Toyota of America is an example of a more enlightened company. So is the Kohler Company, headquartered near Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Kohler has 50 locations on six continents. It is highly committed to giving in the communities where its facilities are located and where its associates work. Kohler’s culture encourages employees to excel in the workplace and to take part in community stewardship. That’s part of its ethos. Its mission statement reads:
“The corporation and each associate have the mission of contributing to a higher level of gracious living for those who are touched by our products and services.Gracious living is marked by qualities of charm, good taste and generosity of spirit. It is further characterized by self-fulfillment and the enhancement of nature. We reflect this mission in our work, in our team approach to meeting objectives and in each of the products and services we provide our customers.”
Kohler partners with organizations such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and World Vision. Volunteering Kohler employees have been known to sport t-shirts stating “Give Thought, Take Action.” Few companies come close to Kohler’s match between its mission statement and its culture as reflected by employee behavior inside and outside of work.
We sometimes forget how important core beliefs are. Company A believes that it can make money by behaving honestly. That core belief will absolute drive the organization’s behavior. Assuming basic competency in its field, in the long term, honesty results in a positive reputation and a trusted brand. Contrast Company B, which believes it has to compromise on honesty in order to make money. It weasels out of warranties. It uses second rate parts. It falsifies information about quality or the attributes of its products. It does not keep promises or it cuts corners. It departs sharply from recognized standards. Such companies experience short term gains but consign themselves to failure and disgrace in the long run, or they are forced into extensive and expensive make-overs in order to survive. Those organizations become known by their fruits – declining reputation and excessive employee turn-over.
Core values and beliefs are critical. Does the organization value good leadership? Integrity? Is the organization focused on long term value? Or is integrity sacrificed for short-term gains? The beliefs transmuted through leaders morphs into culture. My friend Scott Faye suggests examining whether a group or organization relies primarily on its culture – a positive behavioral type of DNA – to guide its people or whether the organization constantly refers to and re-writes “policies and procedures” to guide people.
Another barometer is how the organization behaves when its leaders are away, because that’s when its real culture is evident. “People do as people see.” [John Maxwell’s “Law of the Picture”]. The real values and beliefs (not the formally stated ones) transmuted from the leaders’ behavior become evident at the departmental level, in the trenches, on the sales floor, in the lunch room and at mid-level and low-level meetings.
Is there a cure for an organization’s poor performance and lack of member engagement? Yes. Assuming an organization has a legitimate and beneficial purpose, with effort, an organization’s culture can be rebuilt. Collective behavior can be changed. What is the necessary ingredient for producing change? In a word, Leadership.
Leadership, and the ideas and beliefs maintained through solid leadership can transform the culture and transform the organization. As my mentor and friend John Maxwell says: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Our next blog series will focus on leadership and the transformative power of good leadership.