The world is changing in new and dramatic ways. Every industry faces challenges to its status quo. I refer to it as the Disruption Economy.
Remember the frog in a pot of water on a stove who slowly dies because it can’t sense the rising heat? Well, that analogy doesn’t work anymore. Everyone senses the heat. No status quo is safe. Things are changing and we need to jump out of the pot now!
So, how do we effect that proverbial jump in our own organization? If you are looking to build new capability, solve problems in a new way and navigate the Disruption Economy, what should you do? Applying changes to organograms will not effect that change, that is just shuffling chairs on the decks of the Titanic. This time it’s different.
This time it’s about creating a new mindset and way of working in the organization. You want your team or organization to work differently. Go beyond training to make sure the results stick and grow over time. People may or may not have to change positions. People may or may not have to go.
But they do need to be curious about what’s working and what’s not. They need to be experimental and willing to try new things. They need to be able to work collaboratively across the organization. In other words, they need to be engaged. The sad reality is that only 33% of the US workforce is engaged; the other 67% are not. In the 2017 Gallup Report "State of the American Workplace", Jim Clifton, CEO and Chairman, points out that if the number of engaged workers could be boosted to 67%, America's productivity would be doubled. He calls for a new collaborative way of working.
These are mindsets and behaviors that are critical to shaping new, successful businesses in the Disruption Economy. Those who are open to—and willing to—shift their mindset from certainty to curiosity will succeed. Those who can learn new skills in spite of feeling vulnerable will thrive.
So how do you make it happen? How do you help your organization shift its mindset and learn new skills? How do you do it in a sustained way? You’ll always have some early momentum when the ideas are new and energy is high. But what does it take to foster real change over the long haul? Don't kid yourself, change is hard. Bain and Co, in an article about transforming the organization for sustainability, reports that only 12% of corporate transformation initiatives meet their targets; sustainability projects fare even worse, the success rate there is 2%. So where do you start and how do you ensure that you are not pouring money down the drain?
Well first of all you need to decide what needs changing and how the change will affect your current vision and values. Clearly, unless your organization is totally dysfunctional, there are some values that you cherish and want to keep. For instance, if openness and honesty is part of your culture, you are halfway there, because these are values that foster creativity and are integral to the digital economy.
So start off with one or more strategy sessions that will involve your entire organization. Kick off the exercise with an explanation as to what you want to achieve and why. Make sure that everyone is aware of the change that will be coming and describe your roadmap for getting to your new vision. You may want to go public too, as we will discuss later. Keep the change top of mind with posters and slogans that hopefully engage and inspire. Remember that "culture eats strategy for breakfast" and be prepared in advance for negative sentiment and silent saboteurs. No-one likes to change and getting out of their comfort zone will cause some employees severe discomfort. It will be a bumpy ride, but the destination will be worth it.
Over the past five years, gravitytank has worked with dozens of organizations who are making fundamental changes in how they work. These organizations come from every industry, big and small. They’re looking to be more innovative, faster, and more effective at creating new business value.
From this experience, we’ve seen four tactics that make the difference in sustaining positive change. Each tactic plays a different role. Used in combination, the whole company gets involved; each person at every level can contribute to the change they are responsible for.
Be the change you want to see in the world - Mahatma Gandhi.
It is axiomatic that, if leadership is not committed to an organizational initiative, that initiative will fail. While the heading for this tactic is trite, it is true. The best way to demonstrate this commitment is by example. This is also where you want to start: at the top. It is likely that there is a gulf between the executive and employees, as this is characteristic of a company that needs to change; the organizational hierarchy is strongly established and observed. This divide may also exist at managerial level, but if it is bridged at executive level the managers will follow suit.
Better two-way communication needs to be implemented, via informal meetings and feedback sessions. the messages should be positive and non-threatening. If there is currently a "culture of blame" it needs to be eliminated, so that employees trust management and are open and honest about their work. The bosses should be equally frank.
Leaders must be supportive and receptive. They should also be actively involved in any product or service development in progress, possibly as the product owner. If they show a high degree of engagement in the product development, this will cascade down to the rest of the development team.
Training the front line staff is often the core of design thinking or innovation skills training. Whether you start with short half-day skill-building sessions or multi-day deep dives, providing the staff with the opportunity to try the skills in a low-risk learning environment is essential to seeding the new skills across the organization.
Not all staff will come out of the gate running. In any given cohort of trained employees, a few will really resonate with the techniques and begin to use them. That’s normal. But to keep adoption going, make sure you provide a communication channel to share what the early adopters are doing.
For example, the Center for Care Innovation’s Catalyst Program created a social portal for everyone who goes through the training. This portal allows the Catalysts to share experiences and ask questions of each other. It also houses ongoing supporting resources like design method cards and explanatory videos.
The result? A steady increase in confidence and successes using the methods. More than 20 health delivery organizations and hundreds of staff have started to work differently, engage each other in their work and solve problems in a new way.
Once the momentum has gathered, launch a small pilot project, which will be headed by a C-suite executive (this could even be the CEO). Assemble a team of people that can do the project well. Do not starve them for resources or set unattainable expectations. Choose a real project that is aimed at significant value creation. This is also an opportunity to explore organizational frameworks, like Scrum, and different approaches to product development, like the Lean Startup and Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
Conduct the project openly and communicate what is happening along the way as a learning experience for the entire organization. Use a videographer and content specialist to document and communicate how the project is being worked on. Share the challenges and the successes.
A visible demonstration project run well can turn on a lot of light bulbs in the organization. People appreciate transparency and can feel connected to both the challenges and successes the team is having. In the article cited above, Bain and Co recommend making your intended transformation public: if you have communicated to your shareholders and customers what your intentions are, their expectations will create an ongoing pressure to perform and deliver on your promise.
On completion of your first project, take the lessons learnt from it and apply them to your next project. Keep the projects compact and manageable and expect a few failures along the way; learning to "fail fast" is part of the new paradigm.
We took a poll of gravitytank’s clients who had started working more like us, asking what they had started to do differently. We discovered that, inspired by our tangible, collaborative and iterative way of working, all of them had created a physical space and populated it with appropriate tools. Not all companies have the space or budget to build a comprehensive innovation lab, but there is always some room and funding to create a dedicated design space.
They made a “gravitytank” room. This is a space where a team can meet, work on a big central table and put research, data and ideas up on the walls. They can work collaboratively and not have to put away the work at the end of the session.
Now it may sound silly, but there aren’t a lot of rooms left in corporate America where you can post stuff on the walls and leave it there. For efficiency reasons, we’ve retreated to email and Powerpoint to communicate and work on our projects together.
But think about it. Can we really collaborate productively with our team through an 8” x 10” screen and a keyboard? Sure, we let the genie out of the box every so often and project the screen on a wall, so we can all sit back and listen. I can assure you, this is not how America was built!
In addition to creating a space, clients also adopted sticky notes, thick markers, and half sheets of paper. These tools are the most accessible and productive way of getting started. They allow teams to get a lot of ideas out quickly, organize them and generate structure for moving forward.
Many also acquired some type of new tool or technology that gave them increased visualization or prototyping capability. The investment ranged in ambition — from a few hundred bucks for better cutting tools or a key piece of software, all the way to a $100k CNC cutting machine.
A space and new tools provides evidence that a new way of working is coming. They are far more tangible and engaging than a description of a process. When your environment and what you see in it everyday changes, it is a strong indication something important is happening. And it’s easy to give it a try.
Each tactic plays a particular role in the process of change.
Leadership have to drive the change. The executives have to be seen to be committed to making the giant leap; this will stimulate the rest of the company to follow suit. Running a pilot project and making it visible to all allows people to see the techniques used in a transparent way — including the challenges! Training staff is the backbone of long term change. Creating new spaces and using new tools breeds excitement and accessibility for trying new approaches.
If you’re looking to create meaningful, long term change in how your company approaches and solves its business challenges, set yourself up for success by planning to implement the four tactics of strategic change.
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