Engaging People Friendly Approaches to Reinventing OrganizationsBlog

When most companies were born things were simple. You tackled everything using a problem solving approach and process tools; it seemed to work – everyone was happy. Today, things only look simple. Under the surface or slightly beyond view there is a complex web of inter-connected relationships that call for a rethink of perspective including how employees are engaged. Change has changed and so must decision making to keep business up-to-date.

Successfully implementing change in an increasing complex and disruptive world begins with recognizing that there are two different ways to perceive how companies are organized. One is the organization chart depicting the orderly hierarchical version of working relationships; the other is by how work really gets done. To perceive the latter, you need to flip the organisation chart sideways. In 2005, Hewlett Packard manager Anne Murray Allen asked a social biologist to answer the question: “How do we conserve phenomenal performance in the inkjet division?”.

The answer? Phenomenal performance runs on networks fueled by a shared goal and vision focused on making a difference to the customer experience or by a larger cause. Former Ford executive Nick Zeniuk called it ‘Follow the Joy’. Following the joy describes what happens when the human spirit is ignited, provoking the creative underlying energy, rather than engineering pre-determined outcomes.

Networks of high performance run horizontally, not vertically like the organization chart depicts, and reach beyond the company’s boundaries of the company. While, hierarchy shows how authority based power is used, networks are how work gets done. Significantly, the findings were not unique to HP.


Why is this relevant to how change happens in companies?

Change implemented in hierarchically designed companies assumes that people need to be told what to do.

Implementing changes using the traditional view of how to run a company requires ‘buy-in’ because the decision to make the change wasn’t made cooperatively and is often not well communicated. The logic follows the familiar problem solving assumption: “If we do ________ then (this result) will happen. Outcomes are predictable. Because problem solving isn’t appropriate for working with complexity, incremental change is the result. To complicate matters, it’s not uncommon for companies to pile one change on top of another, creating change fatigue. The consequence is that the company can’t adapt fast enough to handle the speed of disruptive events including innovation or surprises arising from unexpected sources including the effects of climate change.

Implementing Change Using Networks and Relationships

To change a complex system, which is how an organization really functions, you ‘tickle’ the system. Translated, it means rather than using linear-logical thinking you employ creativity and allow outcomes to surface. It’s more natural, organic and emergent and relies on deeper and collective intelligence. Creativity is the simplest answer to greet uncertainty and complexity face to face. But creativity requires deeper trust, decision-making autonomy and freedom from constraints many companies put in place to direct employees. To truly adapt, constraints having the effect of controlling employees need to be replaced with the freedom to creatively overcome adversity.

Moving from engineering change to leveraging change starts by identifying how your company is getting in its own way:

  1. What barriers exist to making it easier for teams to work together? Remove them. That might mean physical barriers like taking the walls down between offices or in communication by forging better relationships. Making it easy to socialize in the team or across the company eases information transfer while supporting cooperation.
  2. Take a closer look at what’s being measured and ask: ‘What are we really rewarding here? What dynamics does this metric create?” For instance, if the company rewards managers for meeting personal or their unit’s performance goals, you’ll find some units overtasked while others are idle. Without a focus on achieving the company goal there is no incentive to help other parts of the company to succeed. By design, what’s being measured limits what the company can achieve. By changing the design, you can change what’s possible.
  3. Become very aware of how risk is handled in the company. If the company pattern is to avoid risk, engaging creativity will take longer and require much more courage (hence the leadership challenge). If the pattern is to use risk as a constraint, permission is inherently given to learn and grow.

Conventionally change initiatives limit implementation to the intellect. When you switch to people friendly change, you automatically access a wider range of intelligences living in each employee and in the company. Instead of looking solely at what’s visible on the surface, a creative approach, which is made for complex and unpredictable conditions, taps into what you can’t see but can detect. Separating incremental from breakthrough change is simply a flexible toggle switch in your mind. And that is in everyone’s control!

Dawna Jones spots insights – for innovation or risk- before action so business leaders and decision makers can adapt to unpredictable and fast changing conditions. She co-designs, with internal change agents, an upgrade to the business culture by tackling perplexing challenges so agility is a verb. All her work is customized to match the growth needed as leaders, decision-makers and change agents. She’s the author of Decision Making for Dummies a 21st century guide to decision making. Contact her through LinkedIN.

©Dawna Jones, 2015 From Insight to Action Publications