Give me a lever and a place to stand and I shall move the earth – Archimedes
There’s a tiny thing on the edge of a rudder called a trim tab. Just moving that little trim tab creates a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. It takes almost no effort at all – Buckminster Fuller
Change Agents move the world to change because they understand the importance of leverage. Small actions can be leveraged into larger outcomes through their work.
The Leverage of Purpose
Change agents take grievances, disappointments and frustrations and turn them into purposeful action. Crowds can easily share a grievance. However someone needs to help the group to turn abstract frustration into a shared purpose. Discovering that shared purpose in a group is a lever of influence and motivation that scales rapidly.
The Leverage of Networks
Change agents understand that networks are extraordinary ways to scale their influence. They can connect with likeminded individuals, share information, solve challenges and develop new ways of working. The network expands the influence of the change agent across their organisation and across the world.
The Leverage of Role Modelling
Change agents do. Change agents understand that the most effective way to lead change is to show others change is possible through action. For every role model there are thousands of eyes in networks who can be influenced to magnify the scale of the change.
The Leverage of Experimentation
Change agents take advantage of the leverage that comes with experimentation. If you do more often, you have had a greater impact. Rather than wait for the perfect information, change agents experiment to learn and create an example for others. Experimentation enables networks to scale beyond individual expertise and accelerate learning and change.
The Leverage of Tension
Change agents create tension. For many organisations, the existence of people pushing for change creates tension that focuses new attention on the need to change. Creating and shaping tensions in the organisation is a role that change agents play to create the ‘low pressure’ pull through the resulting focus, discomfort and action.
The Leverage of Generosity
Change agents give because a culture of giving expands influence. Working out loud with a generous intent, giving of their time and effort to help others or focusing on the needs of others are highly effective ways to move change forward and set an example that encourages others to do the same.
How is your organisation leveraging its change agents to create needed change?
Simon Terry is a Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide, a network of progressive and passionate professionals specialising in future of work technologies and practices. If you would like to understand how you can better leverage your role as a change agent or the change agents in your organisation, get in touch with Change Agents Worldwide.
Despite disagreeing with most of Liz Ryan’s piece, I have to preface this by saying that I have a lot of respect for her, having followed her writing for a long time. She regularly shares excellent thought leadership on how to change our workplaces and management practices from the cold, machine-like model of the Industrial era to more human-focused ones. In fact – dare I say it – I consider her a Change Agent in her own right! Which is precisely why I found this piece so out of character.
Let me start with what she gets right. “If you really want change, then the change has to start at the top,” Ms. Ryan writes. You won’t find many change management practitioners arguing with this statement. For traditional top-down companies (an important caveat in a world that is seeing the rise of more and more non-traditional companies, e.g. holocracies) this is indeed the best way to make change happen. I won’t say ‘only way,’ since grass root, bottom-up efforts that influence the top are possible, just much less likely in rigid hierarchies.
But the operative term in her statement is “start at the top”. While change should start with the CEO (or division president or any leader of a unit that can make significant decisions without going higher up the chain), it doesn’t begin and end with her. Unless you’re talking about very small companies, today’s organizations are too big and too complex to let the responsibility for change sit only with the CEO/leader.
To agree with the argument in the Forbes piece, Ms. Ryan is asking her readers to make a considerable leap of faith between the point at which a CEO arrives at the decision to implement change and when the desire to go with that change actually takes hold of employees. Her assertion is that once a leader shifts their view (and listens to the calls for change coming from others), there is no need for Change Agents because suddenly “everybody is in the same groove” – as if the calls for change they listened to represent the universal desires of all employees! Anyone who has spent time in a large corporate environment knows that nothing is further from the truth.
Competing strategies, varied approaches to common issues, budget battles and more abound in large companies. These can all play havoc with a CEO’s change initiative. But more than these largely political games, the real fears and anxieties of employees who will be on the receiving end of the change, whether warranted or not, are what will derail even the efforts with the best of intentions. Employee concerns don’t just magically disappear because the CEO’s got her groove on!
If the CEO and the leadership team want the effort to succeed they better be prepared to focus on the people side of change, which means taking employees by the hand and leading them through the change process, which involves a lot more than selling an initiative. It’s one thing to create the desire in people to want to change to a new way of doing things and another to enable them to do that by helping them obtain the abilities needed to thrive in the new environment, i.e. new process, system, structure, policy, etc. CEOs and leadership teams alone can’t possibly do all of this, nor should they. They should set the right tone and help engender a change-ready environment through communications and sponsorship activities. Anything more is welcome, but not practical in our busy organizations. This is where Change Agents can play a vital role, by being the guiding hand that leads a cautious and stressed employee through the chasm of change and into a (hopefully) better place.
Change Agents inside of companies can take the form of both skilled change managers knowledgeable of the complexities of change, and enthusiastic employees (usually those who have made the leap on their own) embedded in the business that can provide the employee perspective and needed subject matter expertise (as related to the organization’s work). Both are needed since formal change managers can’t personally guide everyone. They need to rely on “deputized change agents” (or project advocates) who know and can empathize with the impacted staff. The combination of both types, executed within the framework of well thought-out “change platform” (a topic for another day), provides the support, assistance, and community environment needed for employees to collectively embrace a change.
That’s how I like to think of Change Agents. Not the Mafioso-type “corporate muscle” that Liz Ryan implied in her piece. They are not “footman” or “flunkies” for CEOs. Change Agents are generally passionate employees who care about their colleagues (or clients in the case of change consultants) and have a strong desire to help them through difficult periods.
Change Agents don’t push other people’s agendas or try to sell corporate initiatives like a Used Car Salesman. Instead, they gravitate towards those projects that they feel will make a difference for their organizations and for the good people working side by side with them in the trenches of corporate life.
Change Agents can see what a CEO cannot and use that perspective to lead change from within.
Change Agents don’t blindly follow agendas; they rally people around a shared purpose and show them how the change is aligned with it.
Change Agents operate from a position of trust (which, ironically, is what Liz Ryan says is the only way to push a strategy through), rather than fear.
You can find people in companies that do what Liz Ryan has described in her piece, but one thing’s for sure…they aren’t Change Agents.
Diana Renner and I were discussing working out loud this week when Diana mentioned that she had an unpublished blog post in development that I recognised as the feeling of the ‘trembling finger’ when I am about to work out loud. This guest post is a result of that conversation. It is too good not to be widely shared – Simon Terry
It has been almost two years since I stepped into the unknown and became an independent consultant. Looking back, it feels less like a step and more like a leap. In a single gesture of defiance, I traded security for freedom, leaving behind a relatively comfortable, predictable role in a large organisation. I had never expected to end up working on my own. But the promise of freedom was alluring. It still is. At the same time freedom opens up possibilities that are terrifying.
In his book The Concept of Anxiety, Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard explores the immense feelings of dread that accompany that moment when we find ourselves at a crossroads in life. The moment when the choice to do something hangs in perfect balance with the choice to do nothing. Kierkegaard uses the example of a man standing on the edge of a tall building or cliff, from where he can see all the possibilities of life. As he looks over the edge, he experiences both a fear of falling and at the same time a terrifying impulse to throw himself intentionally off the edge.
Every edge I have stood on has provoked feelings of dread and excitement. Whether going into a first meeting with a new client, writing a few pages in my book, or facing a bored and unmotivated group, I have struggled with what Kierkegaard calls our dizziness of freedom. Just like Kierkegaard’s protagonist, staring into the space below, I have contemplated many times whether to throw myself off or to stay put.
However, what seemed risky and largely unknown two years ago rapidly has become part of a familiar landscape. It would be natural to relax and enjoy the view… Yet I have learned that it is at this very point that I need to become more vigilant than ever and exercise my freedom to choose in three key ways:
To rally against the safe but numbing comfort of the status quo. I need to keep reminding myself that the greatest learning is just outside of my comfort zone. I need to keep stretching myself to keep growing.
To resist the strong pull of the crowd. I have found perspective on the margins, not looking to the outside for approval or acceptance, not following a trend just because everyone else is following it.
To interrogate the world’s criteria for what is good or successful. I am suspicious when I am being offered a formula to quick success or many riches. It is powerful to be able to question mainstream expectations, and carve my own path with courage and purpose.
The responsibility that comes with the freedom to choose is terrifying. But the cost of not choosing is even more so.
We need to welcome this dizziness of freedom as a sign that we are, in fact, just where we need to be. A sign that we need to slow down and reflect on the risk, then step off the edge anyway.
Diana Renner – Leadership consultant, facilitator, author of ‘Not Knowing – the art of turning uncertainty into opportunity’, Chartered Management Institute Book of the Year 2015, UK.
I am unambiguously in the optimist camp here in Change Agents Worldwide and the company in the optimist camp inspires me. I have seen organizations change enough to not recognise their former selves. Change to more responsive ways of working is possible. The question is how.
What gets in the way
Chris Argyris’ classic article Teaching Smart People to Learn is a rich source of observations of what gets in the way of a Responsive Organization transformation. In particular, Argyris notes that:
… There seems to be a universal human tendency to design one’s actions consistently according to four basic values:
1. To remain in unilateral control;
2. To maximize “winning” and minimize “losing”;
3. To suppress negative feelings; and
4. To be as “rational” as possible—by which people mean defining clear objectives and evaluating their behavior in terms of whether or not they have achieved them.
The purpose of all these values is to avoid embarrassment or threat, feeling vulnerable or incompetent. In this respect, the master program that most people use is profoundly defensive. Defensive reasoning encourages individuals to keep private the premises, inferences, and conclusions that shape their behavior and to avoid testing them in a truly independent, objective fashion.
These hidden values in most organisation get in the way of the transparency-led transformation that many hope to see. The Responsive Organization poses a threat to control, a threat of losing and negative feelings. Importantly the delegation of authority in a Responsive Organization may cause people anxiety as to objectives and rationale for action.
The role of leadership is to act as a counterbalance these natural human values and shift the behaviours to that of a Responsive Organization. We need to create rationales for action more powerful than embarrassment. We need to create community to generate trust, support and connection. We need to enable learning through conflict and experimentation.
Leaders must create a strong rationale for the transformation. In cases of crisis, startup or near death of organizations, this rationale can often be imposed by a charismatic individual. The external circumstances enable a threat-based narrative to bind people together in a defensive rationale for change.
However, most organizations are successful to their own terms. As Argyris notes, we want to feel successful even if our results don’t pass external muster.
Leaders need to leverage two elements to create a strong rationale for change in this context:
The Purpose of the organization: a purpose is the ultimate rationale for why people come together in an endeavour. It defines the common impact the group of people wish to have on the world. As a higher agenda, it is the perfect rationale for change for even the most successful organizations. Purpose is a mastery quest. Very few organizations have the capability to completely fulfil their purpose. They can however strive to better realise it.
External orientation: No closed system will find a rationale for change. External orientation is where organizations find the challenges and opportunities that define the purpose into specific improvement opportunities. Leaders need to relentlessly focus the organization on its customers and community to see transparently the challenges and opportunities that exist for change. Well defined external impacts in this community will be what can drive the autonomy of teams in the organization. Using customer and community data in line with Purpose, also enables change agents to overcome embarrassment-based resistance in the organization.
Individuals will need support to take on the risks of a Responsive Organization. The role of leaders is to create the sense of community that will support an individual through that change. At the heart of that community will be engagement with others and a growing sense of mutual trust. Leaders set the tone for any community. They must also work hard to reinforce these key community behaviours
Engagement: Engagement begins with transparency and connection. I cannot truly care about the others in my community until I know who they are and understand their purposes, concerns and circumstances. Leaders need to create the conditions to enable people to be more social, to connect, to solve and to share their work challenges together.
Trust: Engagement will build trust as it builds understanding. Transparency will reinforce trust. However, leaders need to take on the role of fostering responsibility and accountability as engines of growing trust in the organization. When people see that individuals and teams are accountable for driving change then they will have greater trust in the change agenda.
This post is deliberately not titled like a listicle e.g. ’The 3 or 6 things to transform an organization’. Even a basic familiarity with change highlights that formulas will work only up to a point. Leadership needs to be adaptive to enable any system to change in a sustainable way.
To be true to their purpose and stakeholders, to leverage the potential of their community, each organization will take an unique path through change. The role of leaders is facilitate the individual and organizational learning required:
Experimentation: creating a culture of rapid iteration to address challenges and opportunities will accelerate the cycle of learning in the organization. Leaders must help this experimentation culture to overcome the resistance identified by Argyris and also to spread and have a wider influence in the organization. Lessons learned must become new truths which will take a sense-making role for leaders in the wider organization and mean leaders must champion new ways of working when they arise, whatever the personal costs.
Conflict: The biggest reason that organisational transformations fail is an unwillingness of the leadership of the organization to allow uncertainty and conflict. Conflict will happen. The uncertainty associated with conflict is inevitable. Efforts to suppress this will either undermine transparency, the rationale for change, engagement or learning. Failure to embrace conflict takes many names: politeness, bureaucracy, politics, corporate speak, history, culture, etc. Failure to embrace conflict is an unwillingness to learn and improve. There will always be resistance when change comes and it must be addressed. Leaders need to create and sustain the right kinds of constructive conflict – driven by purpose, based in facts from an external orientation & experimentation, mediated through an engaged community.
Change is Coming. Lead.
I have seen the potential of purpose, external orientation, engagement, trust experimentation and conflict to drive change. Supported by leadership these are the elements of each organisation’s transformation. These elements are critical to a Responsive Organization.
Throughout this post I have referred to leaders and leadership. This need not be hierarchical leadership. Change takes change agents. Clearly it helps if leadership and power are aligned in an organization in reinforcing the need for change. However, the changes described above are not capable of being implemented by top-down edicts. These changes must come as individuals and groups discover their power and are influenced as a result, This kind of leadership relies on influence and can begin bottom up or even from the middle management so often scorned in organizations.
Change is possible. Change is coming. Smart people can learn. Your people and your organisation can better realise their potential and their purpose. A Responsive Organization transformation will occur if you are prepared to lead the change.
Over the summer, our network went through some rocky reverberations. Conversations cropped up that forced us to think carefully about what we’re attempting to do here at Change Agents Worldwide. The process, although difficult, was healthy, sobering… cleansing.
We divided into three international regional teams and set about to examine who we are and what we’re interested in achieving. Key to that introspection was a focused exploration into our values. Individually, every professional executes against personal goals and ambitions, but collectively – within the network – we needed to capture the essence of what it means to be a change agent in our network. Scripting our values became the pedestal upon which we’d build a new business model that served our greater purpose. As a startup, we’d been experimenting with a new model for management consulting. The disruptive nature of what we were attempting to do, combined with competing ideas of how to go to market, resulted in difficulty convincing potential clients and network members to embrace the new model. It was obvious we were headed for that dreaded startup pivot, yet we resolutely agreed we would not pivot on our values or what we wanted to achieve. We, in the purist sense, meant everyone in the network. Not just the founders, everyone. At Change Agents Worldwide, every individual has an equal voice and the ability to course correct, question, or object to any aspect of our business.
From the very beginning, we’ve been focused on a single goal: to Change the World of Work. It occurred to us that although there are many thought leaders in and around the social web who believe the same things we do, and who teach, write, and speak brilliantly about these same concepts, they may not self-identify as a change agent. Going forward, we agreed we needed to create a manifesto, a credo that would define uniquely what we believe and who we are as participants in the network. We crowdsourced this credo over a period of weeks. From here, we’ve crafted a refreshed understanding of who we serve, how we will serve them, and who rightfully belongs as a member of our network. Every existing member of our network signed the credo. And going forward, signing the credo is part of our on-ramping process.
If you see yourself in the description above, consider joining us. We have an incredible team working on leading-edge projects and breakthrough ideas in some of the largest institutions in the world. We are, in fact, changing the world of work every day. In subsequent posts, I’ll be writing about some of those advancements and achievements. There’s never been a better time to be a Change Agent in our network.
Drowning in paperwork? Demoralized by endless meetings where you sit and sit and sit, and have no voice? Tired of performance management reviews that have little to do with your potential or passion? Frustrated by knowledge that buries itself in graveyards of email thread coffins?
Then, we have a workshop for you. Come get rejuvenated in November and learn how your work experience can be joyful, interesting, and rewarding. Changing behaviors at work is challenging, but results in greater productivity, innovation, job satisfaction, and loyalty.
For the first time, a crack team of our Change Agents will descend from the cloud and lead you through a discussion of how you too can “work in the future.”
The Future is already here and evenly distributed among the global members of the Change Agents Worldwide (CAWW) network. This half day workshop shares their secrets: how they work, their values, how they adopt/adapt/exapt new ways of working with their global team. A team of Change Agents discuss leading organizational concepts such as: new models for organizational design, the power of self-organization, social and organizational network analysis, and more. They’ll talk about the cornerstone of what makes their networked organization work: transparency, trust, authenticity, and a culture of sharing and cooperation. The CAWW network exemplifies how social and operational integration yields iterative improvements in responding to customers, working collaboratively with partners, and creating value in the marketplace. The workshop also talks about what supports their work: SWARMS, Pods, Cookie Jars, Green Rooms, and other new processes based on agile and self-organizing principles.
The workshop will review our philosophical principles, explain the practical application of these principles and demonstrate how they’re exercised in a network-based organization. We’ll also lead audience members through a series of hands-on exercises to experiment with putting these ideas into practice. It will be an interactive day of learning and sharing. We’re looking forward to cooperating and collaborating with new friends of the Change Agents Worldwide network.
We have a special conference registration discount for anyone wishing to attend KMWorld 2014 too. The discount will get you $100 off the early-bird rate and $200 off the regular rate. Please let us know if you’re headed to KMWorld in the comments. See you there!
The goal of the book is to shed light on insights that have been growing in our knowledge space – tacit knowledge sharing, conversations, collective intelligence, applied analytics – but which have never been wrapped together in a coherent way to address such as pressing problem. As our global economy steps out of its long slumber, it will be the innovators who expand opportunity and prosperity for their employees, customers and societies. – Kate Pugh
Our chapter in the book resides within the topic focusing on social and operational integration. We go into great detail about how we work, our values, our innovative business practices, and the strength of our network-based decision-making when it comes to modern organizational design and methods. Authored primarily by three of our Change Agents, but collaborated on by our whole team, the chapter defines how Change Agents Worldwide “works.” And, of course, the way we work is a reflection of how our network wants to work. Every change agent in our network believes in the principles we espouse, so it should come as no surprise that we actually work this way.
If you just want to read our chapter, Innovation by Design, you can download it today from our web site. For all of those who’ve pre-ordered the chapter on our web site, you will be receiving a notification shortly that it’s available for download.
Many moons ago, I was a stage actor in a theatre group. Grease paint. Dialogues. Arc lights. And all that! From the plays of Anton Chekov to ‘The Zoo Story’ (my toughest) by Edward Albee). The Zoo Story, I recall in particular, was miles and miles of dialogue. A never ending ascent of a tall ask, for it was a two character, one act play, for a duration of what could be called ‘eternity’.
As much as I remember the performances, memories from the Green Room stay fresh! A time of bonding, intense conversation, reassuring glances and a scintillating access to performers and performances.
The Green Room, Wikipedia says, “is the space in a theatre, studio or similar venue which accommodates performers not yet required on stage. The green room functions as a waiting room and lounge for performers before and after a performance, and during the show when they are not engaged onstage.”
My experiences in the Green Room guides me to think that the definition is perhaps an honest clinical descriptor. Like saying ‘Twitter is a social networking tool’. Or that cars have four wheels and help in getting from place A to place B. Technically right, but far less than what they do.
For the Green Room is a ‘hot and happening place’. In every sense of the word. My recollections lead me to memories of fervent pace and the anxious eyes of fellow performers before the performance. The director’s calm demeanour that magically soothed frayed nerves. Plus it was an incredibly awesome angle to relish some class acts from! A place where you are closest to the real act. Performers and performances in close quarters before their grand performance on stage. You see mistakes. You see spectacular transformations.
The Green Room is a stepping stone to a real performance. In a literal way too! All of those memories and experiences came rushing back. In just a bit.
For now, switching topics and talking about CAWW!
For a while now, Change Agents Worldwide has held my attention. In a very unique sort of a way. It started with random exchanges on twitter that stayed long after the exchanges themselves. Leading gradually to more sustained conversations that were not only ‘useful’ but served to whet the appetite for learning and exploration in the ‘change’ domain in a way that can be described as unique, contemporary and also at the bleeding edge of thought!
The people that I had these conversations with, lead me CAWW. Take a moment. Do go over the website. One particular line from their website that struck a deep chord enough to explore their work “We designed Change Agents Worldwide to function as a cooperative, where value is realized by every node in the network” Every word there, appealed.
So, when I did discover that CAWW had a ‘Green Room’ where I could go and dip my toes in what it is like to be part of the real conversations behind the curtain, I didn’t waste much time asking Susan Scrupski for an opportunity.
What looked like a relatively calm week in June (that later got swamped by a busy calendar) was when I got to get into the Green Room at CAWW! A authentic and thought provoking digital experience.
After sharing my contexts in the ‘stream’, we got down to outlining priorities, problems and challenges. A superlative change agent is one that asks a heap of questions. Some of them out of a seeking for answers. At other times, as part of a nudging thought train in a different direction.
The people at CAWW are masters at it. Deep searching questions. Calm quips. Simple yet profound ideas and a curiosity for more. The beauty of the interaction also got multiplied by the geographical spread of where the ideas and interactions came from. S
Simon Terry based out of Australia and me would exchange a few ideas before Europe woke up and the conversations would continue through the evening with friends from the West! If the maxim of ‘ideas rule the world’ were to be proven true again, in a very literal sense, I didn’t have to look any further.
A clutch of ideas, an array of links to resources and surveys and more importantly thoughts to pursue, stay with me. Long after the one week in the Green Room of CAWW has gone by! A wholesome refreshing time.
Notwithstanding the fact, that this Green Room triggered a flurry of memories of another Green Room from a different era. More of that story for another time.
For now, people, if you haven’t explored CAWW, you must!
That’s the estimated value of the free consulting I received during my seven days in the Green Room. But that doesn’t begin to capture the actual value of the experience. Because you can’t put a price on epiphanies. Or a mindset change. Or the increased excitement, confidence and enthusiasm I developed after working with Change Agents Worldwide (CAWW) for a week.
I submitted my question to CAWW in May 2014. Submitted with bated breath. What were the chances this international collective of brilliant thinkers and do’ers would want to discuss my small company’s challenge? But they did!
My question was: “How can we retain the close-knit culture of our small organization even as we experience dramatic growth?” I work for a small tech company based in London, Ontario, Canada. As recently as last year, it was possible to know everyone in the company by name. Now , with new hires joining us every week, that intimacy is no longer possible. Or at least, so I thought. The Change Agents helped me realize there are many things we can do to keep the StarTech culture alive and strong even as we grow like crazy.
The conversation in the Green Room was vibrant and crackling with energy. I asked a ton of questions of them, and they asked many of me. It was a dialogue in every sense of the word.
Whatever question I asked, there was always a seasoned expert available and eager to address it. Whether it was about our hiring process, corporate culture, change management or plain ol’ intranet solutions – there was always a helpful Change Agent ready to share relevant insights.
And the insights included a powerful mix of theory and practice. Change Agents use evidence from psychology, sociology, organizational behaviour and management research to establish the principles for 21st century workplaces. They also have a plethora of case studies from organizations large and small that have implemented communications strategies, engagement campaigns, and more around those principles.
So, what did I learn? I learned the future of employee communications is about enabling. Enabling employees to connect with each other. Enabling employees to find their own information. Enabling employees to work out loud so that others see what they’re doing and want to help. The future of employee communications is building platforms that enable employees to connect and self-organize. The future is decentralizing communications so message come from the people who own them.
The dozen or more Change Agents who participated in my session were helpful, friendly and sincerely interested in supporting my company’s success. These people are serious when they say they want to “change the world of work!”
They were a diverse group with a wide range of experience: in-house comms, IT and knowledge management types; consulting and management expert types. Many Change Agents currently work in-house – at the UN, Lexmark, Teach for America, etc. – or used to work in-house – e.g., as SVP of HR for an international bank, or an IT and comms professional at IBM. These people know the challenges of moving projects through organizations, getting buy-in… all that good stuff. The other Change Agents members are independent consultants, and they’ve worked with many companies across a range of industries (many of them household names).
The best part about my week in the Green Room was that it epitomized the “Work Out Loud” culture CAWW advocates to clients. Using their online platform, I interacted with subject matter experts all around the world at different times of day and in varying amounts. Some Change Agents were regular contributors throughout the week; others popped in when they saw questions that interested them. But all were helpful. Importantly, the timing always worked for me because I could drop in and out of the discussion as my schedule allowed.
If you have a burning question or planning opportunity related to your organization, my advice to you is this:
If CAWW is ever gracious enough to open their doors to another Green Room participant, leap at the chance!
This is a Guest Post by Anthea Rowe, Communications Manager at StarTech. Ms. Rowe applied to be one of Change Agents Worldwide’s Green Room clients. If you’re interested in applying to become a Green Room Candidate, apply at this link.
Business, organization and culture change are hot topics in the corporate world today. However, they often remain conceptual thinking: implementation is seen as difficult. We know companies have to connect with their internal and external stakeholders, we understand a collaborative culture is now key to success, we may even realize that social technologies are not sufficient to ignite collaboration. So, where to start?
Well, the trigger can be as simple as a meeting. A different type of meeting. Here’s an example.
Systemic issues require systemic change
Some corporate leaders understand it: traditional ways of working have to evolve, companies must reinvent themselves. Not for the beauty of transformation per se, but because old ways don’t work anymore. The need for change may come from a reduction of what makes a company strong: market share, profitability, attractiveness to talents, industry leadership – the accelerating pace of disruption shows in the shrinking lifespan of large corporations or in the topple rate evolution. It may also (and simultaneously) come from an increase of what makes companies weak: production issues, customer complaints, employee disengagement, operational rigidity, write offs, quality concerns.
When this happens, unfortunately too many leaders put the blame on external factors: market conditions, competitors’ move…; on anecdotal concerns: inadequate processes, sub-optimal governance…; or worse, on bad will of staff. They change people, update operating procedures, replace the equipment, shift market focus, or hire a strategy consultant. And the problems are still there. Why? Because this is a systemic issue, which requires a systemic transformation.
We’re living in an age of individual empowerment, combined with 3 technological disruptions at the same time (cloud, social, mobile) as David Terrar explained recently in an interview with Thierry de Baillon for The Future of [Collaborative] Enterprise (check it out – it’s an awesome project). In this context, what’s needed is an organizational and cultural transformation of companies. Not just another change management initiative: you don’t cure a seriously sick patient with a Band-Aid.
Mobilize internal stakeholders through collaboration, enable corporate transformation
I was lucky to meet recently someone who gets it. Inspired by the writings of John Kotter, Chip & Dan Health and others, Anders wants no less but to change mindsets in a large, global corporation. He was recruited just a couple of months ago to direct Quality in a leading pharmaceutical company, reporting to its CEO. This function has gone through deep issues in a recent past, which should never happen again: Quality is a vital stake in healthcare. Really. Regulation authorities can have a company close down its operations if quality doesn’t match the required standards. Anders and I met after a speech I made about collaboration for stakeholder engagement. He thought this was the right approach to support his transformation project.
This move was really the first evidence of a new thinking: Anders’ organization and mine are not related, have never worked together. I had never seen a function leader pick the brain of a less senior co-worker, of another functional silo, in an informal mode: no project team, no hierarchical validation, no entry into annual objectives or other corporate rituals. “Wirearchy in action”, as Jon Husband would say. What was sought after here was the diversity of thoughts. Plus, an expertise with engagement through social collaboration that no other function (Comms, HR…) can provide today.
A new style of meeting to spark engagement and collaboration
A 2-day meeting was planned by Anders with his new leadership team, three weeks later. I gladly accepted to help design and facilitate the meeting. This was the opportunity to bring people together around a crucial topic (Quality), to lay the foundations of a new thinking around culture change, and to showcase social collaboration tools and mindset.
Here are the main features of this meeting, which can easily be applied to any topic and any company. Combined with a modern leadership practice, this set of actionable items is a stepping stone towards an efficient, collaborative corporate culture.
Seek external inspiration. Asking Change Agents Worldwide fellows was my first reaction when I was consulted on this initiative. We are a community of practice, gathering enterprise and solo change agents. We collaborate and exchange ideas via a Socialcast platform. “Can social collaboration improve Quality?”: in just a few hours, I was able to collect insightful answers and suggestions that provided precious inspiration.
Crowd source the agenda. If you want participants to be engaged in a meeting, you have to engage them from the very beginning, i.e. from the meeting design phase. Ask them what they would like to address, and actively build upon it. This gives ownership of the meeting to the participants. For large meetings, if you can’t afford to ask everyone, you can at least “crowd test” the agenda.
Seek unbiased input. Avoiding complacency and political correctness is important to make a meeting really productive. Ideas must flow freely, which can be difficult in some corporate cultures when various hierarchical levels are gathered in a meeting. To that end, I have set up an anonymous survey addressing all the hard topics, to collect straightforward input from the meeting participants. This anonymous input has provided the main material to support discussions along the meeting.
Be social & digital. Face-to-face meetings are – still – often seen as the optimal layout for collaboration. It’s time to bring in social and digital, as collaboration enhancers. Ahead of their meeting, I have created for this executive team a closed group on Yammer. Almost none had used the enterprise social network before. I also showed them how to use the Lync instant messaging system. The idea is to have them move away as much as possible from emails, to work out loud (thanks John Stepper), as a collective, and to develop agility. Hopefully they will continue to use these tools after the meeting.
Be transparent. Both the agenda and the survey outcomes were put at the disposal of participants ahead of the meeting, on the Yammer platform. There was no surprise, because surprise supposes an imbalance in the level of information, which is a disengagement factor.
Connect as human beings. “It’s the human connection that will rewrite the Story of Work in the future” says Louise Altman of The Intentional Workplace. So true! That’s why we started the meeting with the “personal journey mapping”, a very simple exercise I’d seen in an inspiring brainstorming session organized by The Loop. Each person successively draws his/her personal journey on a world (or country) map, while commenting it for the other participants. Suddenly, this person becomes more than a professional with an assigned role. Connection can take place at a much more interesting level: as human beings, with our history and passions.
Share our purpose. Right after drawing their personal journey, participants were invited to answer the question “Why do you work where you work?” If answers were too broad (echoing the company’s mission for example – something that anyone in any other department could have said), they were asked to be specific to their work. By doing so, people were able to realize that all of them were driven by a deep emotional purpose, and that this purpose was shared.
Make it enjoyable. To engage people, to make them want to cooperate, you have to think about their “user experience” of your meeting. Make it nice, and they will be more likely to participate actively. It doesn’t have to be fancy to be nice. Too much fanciness is even bad for focus. But you can manage time wisely: start the meeting at 9 instead of 8:30, finish early so that people have time to catch up with their mail box. You can also ditch formality: chase corporate talk, have drinks rather than a formal dinner after the meeting, or… sit in the grass together. One lunch was actually a picnic in the nearby park.
The meeting has proved extremely successful, for a ridiculously low cost: food and beverage only. By the way, I can only recommend Ander’s wine (Flying Suitcase), that we enjoyed tasting!
Of course, this was “just” a meeting, and you can’t hope for sustainable, large-scale, global change from a mere gathering of a leadership team. Organizational transformation towards collaboration will require many additional activities over time. But you have to start somewhere, and this is a good start.
What are your ideas to kick off a new collaborative culture?