Five hidden codes

I just received a copy of the graphic recording of my talk at the International Conference of the Association of Change Management Professionals in Los Angeles in April.

My talk was entitled “Collective Success: 5 Hidden Codes that are the Reason Groups Really Change and Flourish” and I started by saying that I wasn’t going to talk about change management. Or even about change. But that I was going to try to convince an audience of 400 change professionals that something was even more important: collective success. Collective success is getting different people working together, in new ways, on common objectives.

Why should we care about collective success?
– because most (70%) change initiatives fail
– because most (70-90%) mergers don’t add value
– because unproductive and disengaged employees cost $350b a year (in the USA alone)

Other speakers at the conference reinforced these sorts of themes powerfully:
– Unintended consequences aren’t costed into projects (one $240m project created $300m of lost efficiencies plus $1b of lost customer revenues)
– After decades of research and practice, we still really don’t know how to change people (39% of all employees are resistant to change; 33% believe managers don’t support change in their organisations)
– Exhortations don’t work (unwritten rules are more powerful than written rules)
– Collective intelligence is more social intelligence than the cumulative IQs of the group

I argued that one of the most important keys to collective success is having common systems of values. Not specific values, like love of animals, or a belief in the right to abortion, or that smacking your kids harms them. But having aligned fundamental ideas about five things:
1. the tribe: how important is it for us to feel safe with group traditions and rituals?
2. power: do we believe that our world is ‘dog eat dog’ and therefore, those who dominate get more?
3. authority: do we obey an external authority, and to what degree do we sacrifice individual interests for the value of certainty and order?
4. advantage: what is our conception of progress and how do we believe that individuals or groups can best compete to get ahead?
5. collaboration: do we fundamentally believe in harmony and therefore that we need to work equally and collectively?

2.Codes for success copy

You’ll probably recognise workplaces, businesses and groups that adhere to some of these five systems far more than they adhere to others. This is usually referred to as ‘culture’ and if (a) it’s well suited to the majority and (b) it helps achieve the results sought, then we can say we’ve got aligned values. So, the main question is, however, “What’s the desired cultural code for us, given our desired goals?”

And, what if we DON’T have the right values systems for our desired goals? Have a look at the final slide in my presentation . . .

Let me know if you want to see the whole presentation; drop me a line at and I’ll send you a link. If you want to know more about these hidden codes, they’re the original work of Professor Clare Graves and documented in the book “Spiral Dynamics” (1996) by Don Beck and Chris Cowan.

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