How do we adapt to change?
Change is happening in every organization, across every department and in every geography. Change is not limited to self-defined creative organizations or innovative companies. During the past seven years, I have traveling across the USA and have spoken to organizations far and wide. Change is a topic that organizations all over the world are thinking about.
Most firms will focus on one area, sometimes its people, other times its process or a more defined element. However, the best way for organizations to think about and prepare for the future of work is much less specific. Before we can think about which latest technology to use or focusing on hiring millennials, we need to have a broader mental shift in our minds.
The best way for us to envision this, is to look at our organizations less like factories and more like pockets of laboratories.
Many organizations remind us of factories — notorious for being linear and process centric. They focus on command and control management and can be good at maintaining the status quo. This is how organizations of the past have been structured. As the company matures, they grow into similar structures of hierarchy, middle management, layers of delegation and top-down leadership. The firm will often follow a strict process that often yields the same result.
Laboratories think different. They experiment, see failures as learning opportunities and incorporate teams of specialists that provide a wide range of views and perspectives. They use what they learn to make informed decisions, and they are continuously experimenting on what works and what doesn’t. They are also not bound by hierarchy, but instead focus on constantly improving outcomes.
In order to survive and thrive, organizations need to shift their mindset to this way of thinking. To prepare for the future of work, organizations must shift their mindsets, attitudes and behaviors to think like laboratories and less like factories.
The hardest part of my engagements with organizations is to help them with this shift in thinking. The reason is that change in the way the organization works requires a real strategic investment. It costs money to shift the way they work, it causes changes in resources, and it pushes them into an area where they perceive to have less control over the process.
The theory of how to build the right environment for innovation sounds like common sense, but it can be an unfamiliar practice. Those of us who have worked in environments where everyone is not only allowed to innovate, but are actively encouraged to speak up and bring new ideas to the table, get why it works.
Innovation & creativity happens only by invitation. We have to allow people to bring forth their ideas. Real innovation takes place when people feel empowered, where they are free to raise ideas, take ownership of them, and then implement them. If people are required to constantly ask for permission or approval for every step they take, they will stop contributing.
Creativity & innovation is not a solo sport, it requires a team of players with skills specific to the effort. Silos in an organization send the message that people can only effect their part of a job, and have no stake in the overall outcome of the project. Cross-functional creativity, trust, and collaboration is what brings an idea to life.
Just like in a laboratory, we need to test fast, fail fast and then reiterate. I’ve seen too many organizations focus on one half-assed idea for too long, only to abandon the idea and fail.
Organizations also do a poor job at sharing basic learning. We will talk about our successes, but are less open to sharing what we learned from our failures. Even worse, we often hide the failed attempts. If we want people to continue to try and experiment, then we need to provide a space that is safe for everyone to innovate. Improving requires us to learn from our mistakes, and quickly learn from them.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to building innovation in a firm is ensuring that we are modeling appropriate behavior. Change does not happen by mapping process, or posting new cultural values on the firm’s walls. Change in an organization comes from people adopting new behaviors. If we want these behaviors to stick, then everyone in the firm, from the CEO on down needs to model the new behavior — and call people out when they fall back on the old ways of working. Change in an organization can fail fast, if even one leader in the organization doesn’t model appropriately.
The heavily lifting to change and innovation in your company has to come from you. It’s hard work and it’s a strategic investment that requires support. Success in changing your organization does not come from trying one thing and giving up, it means being okay with failing often (even in your change process), revising what you learned and trying again. It means being supportive of change and modeling behavior, and correcting behavior that is not in support of the environment required.