“I need to have a desk and a storage area where I can keep all my paper files. I continually update those files because managers and the inspectors need to see them – if I cannot have that then I cannot work any differently – I cannot be expected to carry them around with me everywhere”
“My boss needs me to come into the office once a month to sign my expense sheet before she puts it into the finance team”
“We can work remotely just fine, but every other week I have to come into the office and input the same information from my weekly update emails into a spreadsheet that my manager reads – it’s double work and a real pain!”
“I haven’t sent or received a fax for years if I’m honest, but I need the fax machine near me and available just in case”
These are genuine quotes from people within an organisation I was working with to help them move to a more agile way of working pre COVID. I wonder what those people would say now, having been forced to work from home for a considerable amount of time?
I think one of three things will have happened:
· A ‘just for now’ work around solution was put in place, because the reason they were unable to make things easier was due to regulations and governance from an external body that they had no control over. They would have accepted that nothing could change.
· It was decided that something didn’t need to be done the way it was done previously, and a new approach has been brought in that suits the new work environment
· People ‘let go’ of their ‘safety apparatus’ and stepped away from their comfort zone
When you are learning to swim, the hardest thing to do is to let go of the floatation device when the instructor asks you to. Letting go is one of those actions that humans link to survival. We convince ourselves that in the first instance, it’s not a good thing to do. In the workplace, why would anyone want to leave themselves open to the perceived risk of vulnerability or embarrassment. Doing something new or just different might expose them to weaknesses in their ability to use IT, they don’t want to be the one in charge when things might go wrong or, like in the swimming pool, they are simply just too scared to do it. But, what makes them personally scared in an office environment?
Properly moving to agile working and becoming an agile organisation (and not just attempting to quickly embed what unexpectedly had to be adopted due to COVID) requires workplace culture development and behavioural change to converge and become one. It requires individuals to let go of their safety blankets whilst feeling safe to do so because the organisational culture is one of trust and is accepting of mistakes with no blame. The organisation becomes a much wider blanket of personal security from all of their perceived fears.
I have unfortunately seen too many agile working initiatives fail, or at least not be the best they could have been, due to the lack of commitment, energy and detailed thinking around the areas of culture and behaviours. I have also witnessed tears from employees who find the whole experience just too challenging and stressful. As everyone considers their ‘new normal’ as we start the long journey to recovery from our recent challenges, it is important to recognise that changing desktops to laptops, supplying the best IT in the world, using collaboration tools and getting the fastest connectivity is undoubtably useful, but they are not the key enablers of an agile organisation or an agile workforce. Helping people to let go in a safe environment will go a long way in helping them and the organisation move forward.
Richie is a founding Director of Lynchpin and Associates Ltd (trading as Lynchpin Solutions), a UK based Transformation and Improvement Consultancy. Following a 22 year career in the British army, and an 11 year spell as Head of OD for a large local authority, Richie now seeks to raise awareness of the fact that the foundation to business success and transformation sustainability is recognising that an organisations culture is key - in particular, identifying and developing the specific cultural characteristics needed for success. Those characteristics must be positively influenced by all leaders, employees, processes and procedures alike. He is now a sought-after presenter on transforming workplace culture and the role of culture in transformation and change.. Richie holds a Masters’ degree and is a contributing author on the bestselling management book 'The Executive Diet' , His company are the only UK/Europe based licensed consultants for the globally acclaimed UGRs® (Unwritten Ground Rules) culture development concept, as he is a partner of the concepts’ creator, Australian Steve Simpson. The concept is globally acclaimed, being used by such companies as Walmart in Australia, Kmart in New Zealand, McLaren and NEXT in the UK and the mining industry in South Africa. Many public sector organisations across the UK have been supported by Lynchpin to develop collaborative workplace cultures. Richie's mantra is “ ensure culture is centre stage - don’t leave it to chance and become a victim of it’”.