Deep Alignment - The Key to Deep Change

By Chris Chittenden

"Policies are many, Principles are few, Policies will change, Principles never do."

… John C. Maxwell (b. 1947) U.S. Clergyman

Last month I touched on the question of why change initiatives fail. This month I want to explore this more deeply and look at a key element involved in improving the chance of a successful change initiative. That element is alignment and more particularly "deep alignment".

Obviously this begs the question about what I mean by "deep alignment" when it comes to communities, bearing in mind that organisations are a subset of community? Human beings are social beings and, as such, align themselves with others. They do this as a matter of course whenever they find themselves in community with others whether that be for a short time or long time.

Without any strong foundations within a community, the members find themselves doing one of two things. They might simply fit in with their observations of those around them in order to become part of the community. This is generally a passive approach to being accepted. The other approach is for a member to seek to shape the community around their own ways of being. The success of this will depend on the authority given to that person by the community. This can be done in aggressive or constructive manner depending on the ways of being of the main character but is generally done through more forceful means.

“Shallow alignment” speaks to the idea that our alignment with others is done based on observed behaviour. In other words, we take on the culture of those close to us or seek to shape the culture to our own ends based on what we observe of others. The passive form of this alignment is characterised by the idea of “this is how we have always done things around here.” The aggressive form of this alignment stems from the declaration, "You will do what I want you to do." We can infer a set of values from our observations of behaviour however these values are generally associated with a defensive or coping approach to being part of a community. We often see this in organisations, yet people do not seem to connect these inferred values with the espoused values of those organisations.

It is important to recognise that a culture always exists when a community exists for culture speaks to the ways of relating and acting within that community. A simple question stems from this recognition. Does your community want a culture that simply evolves or does it want a culture that it designs and seeks to create? If a culture is to be designed and created then it will need more than "shallow alignment" within groups within the community. It will require a "deep alignment" to the values it wants to manifest. How we do that will be the subject in a future newsletter.

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© 2015 Chris Chittenden