Have you ever wondered why, in spite of your best intentions and all of the evidence that they can make a huge different to a business’s results, the great initiatives you put in place to enhance the performance and happiness of your workforce don’t deliver the results you expect?

It’s not just what you do and how, the ‘why’ matters too

When you’re looking to enhance the performance of your team by introducing progressive initiatives like greater empowerment, more freedom around their work and more open communication, it’s not just what you do, or even how, but also why you and your senior team do it that affects the outcomes you’ll achieve.

Recent research has identified that the values and beliefs of senior managers have a huge impact on the effective implementation of new working practices. That’s not to say that managers are deliberately subverting your efforts; they may not recognise the impact that their beliefs are having on the business.

“I believe…..”

There are two key beliefs that must be held simultaneously by senior managers if you are to successfully introduce more progressive working practices:

  1. A belief that people-focused programmes will deliver a better return for the business than investment in other programmes that are competing for resources, and
  2. A belief in promoting the welfare of others, even when acting on that belief may harm the senior manager’s own interests (also known as “other-oriented“).

Our beliefs influence our decisions, actions and communications. Without these two beliefs being a fundamental part of your senior team, it’s unlikely that the potential return of any investment in the new initiatives will be achieved.

This raises questions about the likely effectiveness of any future government moves to influence such changes across employing organisations. And perhaps explains why, despite legislation being introduced to support and encourage it, flexible working is still something that many organisations are reluctant to take-up. 

Why the ‘why’ matters

Obviously if those making the decisions about which programmes to invest in don’t believe that people-focused initiatives will deliver the return required, then they’re unlikely to get off the ground. And if they do get started it’s likely that there will be fewer initiatives included n the overall programme and they’ll be applied to fewer employees.

But assuming that you can convince others to financially support your initiatives, or you decide to press ahead with them anyway, if members of your senior team aren’t personally other-oriented then your programme’s chance of achieving its aims is slim.

Trust

When we communicate things that are inconsistent with our values, others can sense it. It undermines their trust in us and in whatever we’re communicating. And if we’re in a senior management role, it will often undermine their trust in the company too.

The effectiveness of any new way of managing people depends largely on line managers applying it largely as you intended. And those managers need to see (and be able to trust) that the initiative is wholly supported by their senior team if that is to happen. If they sense that isn’t the case, then they may choose either not to implement an initiative at all in their area of control, or to implement it in an inconsistent or idiosyncratic way.  

How to get better results (and a more realistic view of what’s possible)

So what can you do to ensure that your people-focused initiatives deliver the outcomes you intended? I recommend the following steps:

  • Have a genuinely two-way conversation with your senior team (as individuals and as a group) about what you want to do and why. Give them the space to voice their doubts and concerns and really listen to what they have to say.
  • Identify the people-focused initiatives that can be fully supported by the senior team you have, with the beliefs they hold.
  • Work with the wider team to design and implement your change programme.
  • Communicate clearly the why, what and how of your initiatives to all employees and provide full support so that individual managers can apply them effectively in their area.

Choose your team wisely

A final word of warning. Whether you’re thinking about starting a company with someone, or you’re looking to hire or promote your first manager, remember that personal values are an important predictor of how people ‘will behave. And those values tend to be pretty fixed.

I occasionally speak to people leading companies who have very different values to their co-founders about the attention that should be paid to employee welfare. It can be a very difficult situation to be in and even more difficult to change.

So check out other people’s beliefs and values at an early stage, and certainly before you offer them a contract. With the right senior team in place, you’ll achieve amazing things. Choose wisely.