Book Review: Building a Values-Driven Organization: A Whole System Approach to Cultural Transformation

Matthew Kalman

Kalman’s Kosmoskalman photo

Richard Barrett (2006). Building a Values-Driven Organization: A Whole System Approach to Cultural Transformation. London: Butterworth Heinemann, Elsevier.

When I read on Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics Integral e-list that ” HearthStone Homes is one of the few companies that has instituted an Integral culture in the workplace” my ears pricked up. Has this Omaha-based home construction company really thrown down the gauntlet to other would-be ‘Integral’ businesses? Is it really ‘walking the talk’?

The e-list thread soon heard the Vice Chancellor of Ken Wilber’s Integral University tell us that – appropriately enough – the Integral Institute itself has also modeled an integral culture within its workplace. (Though she felt that a long description of this work would bore 99 per cent of readers, and didn’t offer one).  Ken Wilber himself told us in August that “I-I [the Integral Institute] will lead by example, showing the world that the 2nd tier organisations it so desperately needs are indeed possible.”

Luckily, the claims that the approach already used within HearthStone Homes is effective – and integral – are well documented for us all to see in Richard Barrett’s latest book Building a Values-Driven Organization: A Whole System Approach to Cultural Transformation. (The specifics of Hearthstone’s own “journey to full spectrum” are even given a couple of pages – indeed the book itself partly came out of a series of ‘Whole-system Change Summits’ funded by HearthStone CEO John Smith. See ” Fresh Perspectives: Changing Self and the World – An Interview with John Smith” in this issue of Integral Leadership Review.)

It is a fascinating book, describing how one-time World Bank Values Coordinator Richard Barrett’s evolutionary model of development (personal values and organisational culture values) has been used over eight years in 500+ companies in 35 countries and also taught to more than 1,000 consultants and change agents. Perhaps most striking is the set of tools and assessments he’s developed to put this model to practical use.

It is particularly pleasing that Barrett is so keen to integrate other tools and lenses, including Spiral Dynamics, Appreciative Inquiry, the European Foundation for Quality Management ‘Excellence’ model, Scharmer’s U-Process (Senge et al 2004) and Ken Wilber’s 4 Quadrants.

“No one was attempting to integrate them,” Barrett found in 2003, when looking around at other cultural transformation methods – which were “mostly being used in a stand-alone manner.” Overall, it is Wilber’s Quadrants, Spiral Dynamics and his own 7 levels of consciousness model that are “at the heart of” the “whole-system or “integral” approach to cultural transformation.” Indeed Barrett even states, “The concept of whole-system change [i.e. engineering parallel shifts in the 4 Quadrants] described in this book is based on the work of Ken Wilber.”

Barrett makes centrally clear the importance of all this for leadership, too: “For those of you who are leaders, your challenge is to recognise that the impact you have on the world depends on your ability to grow in consciousness – to become a full-spectrum leader.” (He lets us know that “the fastest way to grow” for leaders is combining 360-degree feedback with coaching/mentoring. He has the relevant tools for this too). Barrett’s plea for post-conventional leadership seems gradually to be finding more resonance these days. I was glad to see such a call not long ago in a leadership report, ‘Flying High’, produced by the UK’s Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (which drew partly on Torbert and Cook-Greuter’s work).

Barrett reminds us of his most well known quote (from his previous book Liberating the Corporate Soul): “Organizational transformation begins with the personal transformation of the leadership group. Organizations don’t transform. People do!”

Indeed Barrett has himself (he tells us on the final page of the book) committed the rest of his life to building a global cadre of master practitioners of whole-system change to “support self-actualised leaders in creating a values-driven future for business, for civil society, and for humanity as a whole.”

Barrett’s model, to simplify somewhat, is based around 7 – rather Maslow-like – “levels of consciousness.” His assessment tools ask people to choose their top ten personal values, as well as the top ten current cultural values (as they see demonstrated in their workplace) and the top ten cultural values they would like to see in their organisations. Over in fifteen minutes or so. What could be simpler?

The list of 80-100 values/behaviours which are offered to pick from are, says Barrett, each characteristic of different levels in the hierarchy of development. The 7 levels of personal/organisational consciousness themselves are: Survival, Relationship, Self-Esteem, Transformation, Internal Cohesion, Making a Difference and Service. The leadership foci of these levels are: Crisis Detector/Accountant, Relationship Manager/Communicator, Manager/Organiser, Facilitator/Influencer, Integrator/Inspirer, Mentor/Partner and Wisdom/Visionary.

Once the values of the individuals, the current culture and the desired culture have been made visible through assessment, Barrett’s whole-system change model can begin its work of personal alignment, group cohesion and structural alignment – including changing underlying structures, processes and reward systems (it is, of course, not a one-size-fits-all model). The cultural misalignments, the discontinuities and clashes, can soon be uncovered as personal values are compared with current organisational values, current organizational values with desired values and so on. The distribution of values across the seven levels is also indicated.

Another useful way the results are plotted is the “Business Needs Scorecard” (which divides values/behaviours into the categories of finance, fitness, client relations, evolution, culture and societal contribution categories (Kaplan and Norton’s Balanced Scorecard categories plus two new ones). Yet more valuable insights come when the level of ‘cultural entropy’ or energy used in non-productive activity is calculated. This occurs “when there is a lack of alignment between the four quadrants.” The balance – or lack of balance – among Individual, Relationship, Organisational and Societal values is also mapped.

The assessment additionally counts up the number of “limiting” values (e.g., short-term focus, bureaucracy, control) versus the number of “positive” values (e.g., customer satisfaction, empowerment,  open communication). Barrett says”[T]here are no potentially limiting values in the upper levels of consciousness.” The antidote to problem issues found in the current cultural values will always be found in the desired cultural values, he adds. The data is also assessed to find out the Common Good, Transformation, Self-Interest (CTS) ratio, i.e., aggregating all the values appearing in the top, middle and bottom of the hierarchy of levels.

With this developmental picture of culture and individuals, leaders can begin to actively manage and adjust the values, the culture, of an organisation. Barrett illustrates how a values dashboard of key performance indicators can help do this.

As part of this overall cultural transformation process, leaders share the personal development plans they have agreed in leadership coaching sessions and commit to meeting after 6-8 weeks to share progress. “Through this process we are in effect making personal transformation mutually accountable,” says Barrett. “We have seen the most hardened business types and bureaucrats begin to adopt new behaviours within days or weeks.”

With the right adjustments to cultural, structural and leadership development programs, eventually almost all the top ten current culture values will be the same as the top ten desired culture values and these values will be distributed across all levels of consciousness: full-spectrum consciousness. And market-leading success! Yippee! These days Barrett comes across full-spectrum organisations two or three times a year. Optimistically – as per the “wisdom of crowds” – he also says that the values of full-spectrum consciousness will instinctively be chosen by large diverse groups of employees as the healthiest natural state for their organisation.

With the leaders playing such a central role in transformation, fortunately just showing them their own personal values profiles is one of the best ways of raising awareness of the importance of the values alignment process. And leaders also get quite a shock when they realise that their organisational culture is lower than their personal consciousness.

Barrett’s research has also found that leadership groups tend to create one of five possible different types of culture: shadow, denial, squeeze, crisis or values-driven culture.

I’m not sure myself whether Barrett’s model is in sync with Wilber’s, which tells us that organisations themselves do not go through mandatory stages, but instead can skip them if the individuals are replaced. Wilber also says that collective holons do not have 4 Quadrants. In other words, you can’t use Maslow’s stage theory to describe groups, which Barrett seems to be doing (though he works with “levels of consciousness” relating to ego development and the unfoldment of the soul, rather than “needs,” and also offers more specificity in the degrees of self-actualisation).

Much else is included in the book too: the four-whys process to develop vision, mission and values for the organisation; calculating the financial “cost of fear;” resilience; and the shift from instinct-based or subconscious belief-based decision-making to conscious belief-based decision making, values-based decision making and even on to intuition-based decision-making, using the U-Process. Barrett also talks about the 6-hour Values-Based Leadership: Business Simulation and values awareness programs he offers. And there are other case studies, too, including Texas’ Methodist Hospital, which is now a Fortune “Top 100” best employer, with its values explicitly cited.

Just to give one instance of the granularity that can emerge with Barrett’s tools, one of the leadership values assessments (with 360-degree feedback) presents its subject to be a global-thinking passionate visionary and intellectual “who lacks emotional intelligence and creates havoc and chaos wherever he goes.” This kind of detail perhaps comes close to what might one day emerge via the personal “Integral Psychograph” idea that has been trailed in Wilber’s work for some years, but has yet to be turned into reality. (In fact it may emerge quite soon, as the Integral Institute apparently has a “massive Integral Developmental Psychometric Project” on the go right now).

I’m still getting my head around Barrett’s table depicting Spiral Dynamics value-memes and his own levels of consciousness along different axes in order to show how they relate. For instance, understanding how what Orange considers important at level 3 consciousness is different from what Green thinks is important at that level. Each Spiral Dynamics worldview spans across roughly five levels of consciousness, he writes. For Barrett, Spiral Dynamics deals with “how” people think and his own model deals with ‘what’ people think or what motivates them. In a similar vein to Barrett, Clare Graves argued that there would be a Maslowian hierarchy (of a slightly different form) within each Spiral Dynamics v-meme worldview, as each such worldview is itself a form of mature behaviour.

I’m tempted to end this review here by letting people know about Barrett’s forthcoming magnum opus, titled Love, Fear and the Destiny of Nations: An Exploration of the Role of Business and Government in the Evolution of Consciousness of Humanity, where he uses his tools to explore the consciousness of nations. It feels somewhat unnecessary to add any critical comments about Barrett’s noble and developing endeavour.

But in the interests of balance I’ll throw a few possible ones out for consideration. For a start, we might ask whether his approach is ‘integral’, in the sense of including “All Quadrants, All Levels, All Lines, All States, and All Types.” Almost certainly not. (Barrett’s model only focuses on the Quadrants aspect of Wilber’s integral approach, and does not claim to include other elements.) So, for instance, we do not find any integration of organisational personality type into his approach (e.g., perhaps Adizes’ Purposeful, Administrative, Entrepreneurial and Integrative management personality roles). I suspect, however, that such a comprehensive integral demand could set the bar so high that no real-world project, outside the realm of theory, could ever qualify. (Do get in touch with any such projects, that prove my hunch wrong!). Even the Integral Institute’s own Integral Life Practice Starter Kit doesn’t appear (yet) to explicitly include any developmental practices drawn from personality type models (like the Enneagram or Myers-Briggs) in the matrix of 62 practices that is at its heart. You might expect me to say that organisational psychodynamics and Shadow issues are neglected, but they are included, to an extent.

Some will no doubt wonder where any assessment of the statistical reliability and validity of Barrett’s model might be found. No pointers are contained in the book. (Perhaps such studies can’t exist when the templates used are customised for every client?). This contrasts to the situation with the similar Maslow-based 125-value, 8 stages (7 cycle) model developed by Brian Hall (1995). And with Human Synergistics’ “Organisational Culture Inventory.” When Barrett chooses certain examples to share with us of a successful implementation of whole-systems change, one must ask whether there might be a kind of ‘file-drawer problem’ of less successful case studies squirreled away somewhere and forgotten about. But rapidly growing usage of the tools and the return of large organisations year after year certainly don’t point to the likelihood of that.

I asked Barrett whether he is offering a closed model of 7 levels, or whether it is open-ended (like Clare Graves’ or Jane Loevinger’s models) with more levels potentially being added as the evidence for them emerges. The final stage in all such models is often problematic. In response he tells me, “Eventually one transcends the model as one moves into the space of presence and pure consciousness.” Barrett’s high end—he has previously explained—is drawn partly from Vedic spiritual psychology and Transcendental Meditation research. Wilber himself has referred to these TM findings at various times in the past to state that no practice—except meditation—has been shown to substantially increase development into the highest stages of ego development, though they remain controversial findings.

Barrett does very occasionally get a bit over-simplified, writing, for instance, “The most evolved system for group governance that the human species has devised is called democracy” (though he does not see it as ultimate).

The late Colin Morley, a London Integral Circle member, speculated to me that Barrett’s approach might be at its most powerful in those particular organisational cultures tipping from Orange into Green (rather than into Yellow, say), to use Spiral Dynamics terms. (I was in fact working with Colin to organise a meeting for the London Integral Circle on Barrett’s work when Colin was tragically killed by Islamic terrorists on London’s underground).

Some may find Barrett’s leadership-led program too “top-down.” Others such as “Learning Organisation” guru Peter Senge more strongly emphasise the potentially important roles played by informal “internal networkers” and “seed carriers” who lack positional authority.

Another possible bone of contention is the depiction of the lowest three levels in the model as characterised by self-interest and the highest three by a focus on the common good. This contrasts, perhaps, with the Spiral Dynamics notion of a pendulum-like alternation between self-expressive and self-sacrificing (individual- and communal-focused) values levels that repeats on up through the whole spiral (Interestingly, Robert Kegan decided his initial helix pattern of development alternating between orders of consciousness favouring independence and orders of consciousness favouring inclusion was wrong). (Kegan 1994)

On a more positive note, I’ll offer a suggestion for one new element that could perhaps be added to Barrett’s armoury with a few adaptations to his current online and 360-degree feedback tools: Organisational Network Analysis (aka Social Network Analysis). This offers a powerful visual illustration of the hidden dynamics within organisations, almost an X-ray snapshot. Typically it maps the information-sharing network: the central connectors, gate-keepers, bottle-necks, boundary-spanners, unsung heroes, etc. In energy maps, it can also be used to show both energizing and energy-sapping leaders. Could it perhaps make even more clearly visible the ‘cultural entropy’ Barrett describes?

The merging of such a right-quadrant systems visualisation with left-quadrant verticality could be ground-breaking and illuminating. A few people around Bill Torbert—including Steve Borgatti—certainly have an interest in both these avenues, so perhaps it’s only a matter of time. (While we’re here, perhaps Barrett could even work up an online tool to assess any transformation strategy’s quality and likely effectiveness through the number of Bill Torbert’s 27 categories of action/research it succeeds in addressing, implicitly or explicitly? Or of Wilber’s new 8—or 12—Zones.)

Oops, I’m wandering off-topic.

Great book!

Adizes, I. (1999). Managing Corporate Lifecycles: how to get to and stay at the top. NJ: Prentice Hall.
Barrett, R. (1998). Liberating the Corporate Soul Building A Visionary Organization. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann, Reed Elsevier.
Beck, D. and Cowan, C. (1996). Spiral Dynamics Mastering Values, Leadership and Change Explaining the New Science of Memetics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
Chandler, D and Torbert, B. “Transforming Inquiry and Action By Interweaving 27 Flavors of Action Research.” Submitted to Action Research.
European Foundation for Quality Management:
Kaplan, R. and Norton, D. (1996). The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action. London: Harvard Business School Press.
Kegan, R. (1994). In Over Our Heads The Mental Demands of Modern Life. London: Harvard University Press.
Senge, P., Scharmer, O., Jaworski, J. and Flowers, B. (2005). Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society. Cambridge: Society for Organizational Learning.
Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (2003). Flying High A new look at local government leadership, transformation and the power of conversation. London: Solace.
Wilber, K. (2006). Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World. London: Integral Books, Shambhala Publications, Inc.

* I’d love to receive any feedback readers may have on this review.
Matthew Kalman ( is a founder member of the Integral Institute and launched the London Integral Circle in 2000: