Organisations are shaped by the needs and demands of the eras they have travelled through. Change has always been part of a business, but the seismic changes brought by technology today means organisations need to change faster than they ever have before.
It’s not that organisations haven’t done change before – it’s just now it’s a lot faster. And to cope with change that fast, some things need to be done differently.
Leaders used to be able to think in planning cycles. Today, however, the world is less predictable and it’s impossible to think in such long-term ways. Leaders are now thinking about the people behind the numbers – their customers, and their employees.
Employees have a lot more choice about how they work and who they work for – the digital age has opened up many new working patterns. Customers also have a lot more choice about who to buy from which makes winning their allegiance a lot harder. And with more choice, both customers and employees are choosing to align with organisations based on the values they share.
It’s like organisations have become people with personalities. And customers and employees are deciding which ‘people-like-organisations’ they want to be associated with.
Today a leader’s job is to be thinking about what makes employees and customers tick. Leaders need to be listening, learning and constantly looking for feedback. This more people-centric way of thinking has also led to a rise in storytelling as a skill. Stories are a shift away from the dry numbers driven communication style of previous eras. Stories narrate purpose in a way that people can relate to, easily telling customers and employees what an organisation stands for.
BTW do take a look and see Steve Denning’s truly excellent post on ‘The Science of Storytelling’ for a fabulous read on storytelling as an organisational tool.
Leaders used to be the captains of the ship, navigating to a set course. Now leaders need a different, more fluid set of skills and a different way of leading – one where they are cool with not having all the answers. No-one knows what the future holds and leaders have to learn, adapt and pivot as they go along. That’s quite a different identity for leaders used to being the captain with all the answers in their back pocket.
It’s impossible to have all the answers when digital is changing every day and leaders need to be great at coping with ambiguity and uncertainty.
Leadership in the digital age is about building strong teams. Good leaders surround themselves with people who can learn and make good decisions quickly – building teams that can solve problems fast is the leadership skill that has replaced having all the answers. It’s the environment leaders create rather than the answers they provide – that’s great leadership.
THE POWER OF PEOPLE
Without your people behind you, the tech won’t work.
Employees are going through a huge amount of change – behaviours, careers and the workplace itself are all changing. The workforce is a far more blended model of work practices than it used to be. And although it’s not clear yet how it will all fit together – employees are adapting. They are teaching themselves new skills, working virtually, adjusting to robots, experimenting with ‘gig working’, mixing roles across generations and building a different relationship with work.
If we look past the doom and gloom narrative that tends to go with digital – it can be quite exciting. If people are supported in the right way, then this new workplace opens up an interesting new equilibrium with opportunities for a better relationship with work and a better work-life balance. But for utopia to be realised, organisations have to provide the right environment for these different ways of being.
Organisations need to create organisational mindsets, behaviours and work practices that are suited to this new world of work. Organisations need to think about not just their needs but also the needs of their future workers. (See my previous blog post on Gigging for a discussion on the changing relationship between employer and employee.)
Here are a few things that are good for any change leader to keep in mind:
- People won’t change because you ask them to.
- Corporate values don’t change behaviour.
- A one-way megaphone isn’t communication.
- And calling something a culture doesn’t make people feel engaged.
WHERE TO START
This is where having the right authentic values becomes important. People change needs a people-centric approach that employees can get behind and believe in. This is particularly true today in a digital age that expects organisations to have a compelling purpose and values. It’s that organisational personality we were talking about.
Your authentic narrative to your employees is as important as the one to your customers. Both of these must come from the same values-based reason for being – one that works both outwards and inwards, the big story your organisation tells. But where do you start?
Step 1 – Run a discovery
Start by getting informed about the values you are conveying. A quick ‘discovery’ piece done by people outside the organisation will help you know what values employees and customers attach to your organisation. This discovery should talk to a cross-section of people and collect stories and identify shared patterns that highlight the values your organisation works too. This post on ‘culture is the behaviour you reward and punish‘ is great to get you thinking about how values show up in an organisation.
More often than not the values people attach to the organisation are different to the values reported on in the annual report. But that is OK – being informed about how people really see if the first step. That discovery should also feedback where your organisational practices are supporting the values you want, and where you are blocking them.
Step 2 – Get your values right
The findings of your discovery piece will inform the next step – which is having an informed discussion about your values. This needs to come from an empowered top team looking across the whole organisation as if it was a person – who do you want to be and what do you stand for? Do not see this as just a marketing activity – instead, you are taking a precious time-out to think about what you really stand for.
Be psychological with your transformation and think carefully about what difference your organisation makes to the lives of customers and employees. Discover what values you can genuinely deliver on and how you can display them fully to customers and employees. Organisational values like this have to be an authentic way of being, through and through.
Step 3 – Form a people-powered plan
Form a plan to embed your values into every key organisational practice. Know how to express your values in everything you do and get help across the organisation for this.
Supporting people change is key – invest in it as much as you do in new tech.
There will be some big levers here like leadership role modelling but also some little ones that can be enabled at all levels of the organisation. And if it feels overwhelming look to the findings from your discovery work which should give you a great place to start.
Taking people with you to co-create the change is a no-brainer. People-powered change gives people the space they need to get involved and grow. Don’t do this to people – get them to power the change.
Your secret weapon will be creating the purpose-driven narrative that your employees can buy into and get behind (see my white paper on ‘How to write a change narrative that works‘). Once you get that right then your employees will do the work for you – the right narrative will create a collective mission to bring your values to life.
The Business Transformation Network has posted this article in partnership with Making Change Happen blog.
Sandie Bakowski is Co-Founder of The Arc Group. Sandie is a business psychologist, a certified co-active coach as well as a visionary and strategic specialist in behaviour change and employee engagement, she brings a +20-year track record of working on complex, high impact, £multi-million roll-out programmes. A creative storyteller who makes change happen.
Previous clients include Unilever, British Airways, Department for Education, Pearson, HSBC, the Cabinet Office, Capita IT, LogicaCMG, Reuters and the Foreign Commonwealth Office. Sandie takes pride in appreciating the cultures and forces at play to design insightful approaches that really fit and provide unprecedented business benefits. She brings positivity, enthusiasm and influence, and is willing to challenge the status quo to achieve the very best results.