Forward thinking organisations are now achieving outstanding results and unlocking their ability to transform in areas which had previously confounded them. Frustrated with disappointing results, they realise that transforming the way people think and therefore act requires unconventional thinking to augment the conventional training, communication and engagement programmes most organisations already have in place.
Their starting point for success is reframing how they think about the nature of their transformation challenge, viewing it as a social challenge, as well as a technical and organisational one.
With this in mind, they apply approaches and tools which are able to shift the mindsets and behaviour of the organisational ‘society’ – leading edge practices which are specifically designed to shift the way people think and therefore act.
This article shares how successfully transforming organisations are thinking about how they can achieve the social change they require.
A safety critical infrastructure operator needed to transform the way performance is managed across 13,000 colleagues to enable accelerated delivery of their scope of work and a new operating model, in a complex and highly unionized environment.
Previous attempts to change practices had floundered, even though they applied recognized industry best practices, strong communications approaches and technological enablers. Employees strongly – and successfully – resisted the imposition of change, undermining the ability of the organisation to transform.
Viewing their challenge in a different way, leaders were encouraged to think: “What might we do to start to shift the behaviours of a close-knit society the size of Whitby?”.
This led to the adoption of a radically different system of ‘subjective’ approaches to augment the conventional ‘objective’ organisational systems they already had in place. Some of these approaches were:
Outcomes achieved in the first six months of adopting the approach were:
1 - Transformation is a complex process of social change – and it happens over time.
The process isn’t linear or predictable – it defies most GAANT charts! A key approach is to generate positive momentum, make sense of what is changing for the better and why, then do more of it. Core to this is the involvement of networked informal leaders from within the operation – those who really know where the bodies are buried.
Often the greatest change momentum is generated by those who are seemingly most vocal against change and outspoken against management initiatives. At ON-Brand Partners, we focus much of our efforts with clients on identifying, then equipping these networked leaders to drive transformation from within, through building a real community within a community. This produces a formidable internal force for sustainable change.
2 - Appreciate what’s already working and build upon those strong foundations.
Most people react badly to criticism, and it impairs their ability to focus on solving problems. This is a challenge to the conventional consulting approach of gap analysis, whereby the primary focus is on the problems which need to be fixed.
The complimentary ‘subjective’ approach augments this by using organisational narrative approaches to surface what’s already working well, to understand why, and to focus on the cultural attributes of the organisation which are in place when they are at their most successful. Then we help clients to find ways to apply what already makes them successful to the areas which need to change. The outcome is very high engagement, as people enjoy applying their strengths to solve new challenges.
As the CEO of one leading Financial services organisation put it:
“If we are serious about changing our culture, we need to change the conversations which are happening right across our business”.
4 - Leaders at all levels need to walk the talk.
Those who are seen as leaders need to send clear, consistent and enduring signals about who we are and how we need to behave. Transformation efforts commonly fail when leaders’ up- front sponsorship of the new direction isn’t matched by on-going and active involvement over time. Leaders need to live it.
Successful transformations include in-depth and on-going work with influential and senior leaders, educating them about how to steer and guide complex change, and equipping them with new tools with which to do this. This requires leaders to augment their strengths in ‘download, direction and deliverables’ with the new transformational leadership skills of ‘dialogue, guiding and creating momentum’ which are required to shift the social system.
Bottom line: transforming organisations need to build approaches into their programmes which are specifically designed to shift thinking and behaviours
These approaches augment, and powerfully accelerate the benefits of conventional best practice, through creating a self-sustaining ‘pull’ from within the social fabric of the organisation. The experience of deploying them feels different to traditional change management practices. This can challenge some in the organisation, but the benefits are both observable and measurable, providing reassurance and evidence for decision makers.
If the transformation your organisation is facing into feels challenging and the outcomes uncertain, perhaps it’s time to look at it anew from the ‘social’ perspective?