Change is more or less inevitable, but I often hear stories of people being told “not to fight it”. Whilst in certain situations, the scale of change may not be considered as materially significant by some, as an emphatic third party, I often see the adverse effects that holding such a closed position will have on motivation and engagement.
Technological advancements have led us to what some are calling the “fourth industrial revolution”, an era defined by human-centricity and technology driven change. This demands innovation, rethinking what might be possible and challenging the status quo.
To do so, organisations have increasingly embraced Agile and design thinking practices as approaches to considering new futures and experimenting with low-fidelity prototypes. Design-led companies such as Pepsico and 3M, have been used to demonstrate the value of such thinking. Across a 10 year period, the 2015 Design Value Index showed these organisations outperforming the S&P 500 by 211%.
Despite this, the implementation of design thinking has been met with mixed success in large scale digital transformations. Anecdotally, this is commonly due to challenges in moving from ideation to implementation, inability to collaborate across functions or divisions and cultural barriers that prevent shifts in mindsets.
As design thinking is a human-centred philosophy, one of the keys to success is being able to harness diversity of thought. This means scaling innovation to encompass the entire organisation and cultivating a culture that supports constructive conflict. Activities such as building a multi-dimensional ideation framework, leveraging cross-functional workshops to co-create solutions, and embedding pro-active HR practices, like rotation programs and ‘the Spotify way’ in organisational design, all aid this goal.
Due to the complexity of environmental or organisational unknowns, transformational programs rarely have clarity in execution plans from the outset. Especially in these early stages, organisations should provide the means for challenging change, and openly encourage employees to do so. As a starting point:
1. Create opportunities for debate
This includes creating formal and informal ways of communicating about the change. Where possible, multi-disciplinary teams with a mix of seniority, should be used to input into decision making processes. For example, having transparent methods of setting priorities or addressing transformation issues within regular team meetings. With the right people in the discussion, constructive conflict enables more targeted and transformative solutions to be found, a particularly crucial part of the design thinking methodology as well – at the core, is the need to also set some supporting guidelines and establish a shared working knowledge base.
2. Upskill and coach middle management
Middle managers are critical in decentralising formal feedback channels and making innovation a part of everyday business. Past research has shown that direct managers are also the preferred source for employees to understand personal impact. Think back to the time where your organisation was undergoing transformational change. Whilst you wanted the executive team to articulate the vision, it was your direct manager that you entrusted with a discussion about your own role. For middle management to be effective, capability may need to be built in personal development areas (e.g critical thinking, servant leadership, managing conflict and building workplace resilience), as well as innovation practices (e.g. customer centricity and design thinking).
3. Engage organisation-wide
According to a survey done by Gallup towards 1.2 million employees around the world, 85% of employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged from their jobs. This staggering trend does not provide an ideal platform human-centred practices to succeed. Idea generation is no longer about simply having a dedicated email address, it requires active collaboration and sustained commitment. In order to effectively engage, focus is required on the removal of operational impediments and activities to create meaning in the work that people do.
From an individual perspective, the stage is now set for challenging change. Whilst it is generally expected of leaders to challenge the status quo, there isn’t a definitive guide for individuals on how to challenge organisational change appropriately.
This is familiar territory for a third party consultant, where the greatest value is often found by challenging blind spots and existing biases. Tried-and-tested practices include facilitation of cross-functional meetings, individual or team coaching and agreeing on the right rules of engagement for constructive debate.
However, the right approach is largely situational based, so an empathic and holistic view is needed. To achieve this, the following insights from innovation and change practices should be considered:
1. Seek alternative perspectives
Knowing yourself and others, helps to establish what the differences in perspectives might be and the reasons behind them. This includes being critical, not just cognizant, of your own biases and motivations.
2. Validate ‘knowns’, identify ‘unknowns’
Being clear about the facts, is an imperative. Proper thought should be given to whether the facts you have are evidence-based, or if they are derived. From there, understanding where the knowledge gaps are, can help to frame the problem.
3. Establish a stance
Effective delivery of a message stems from a well-established position. This comes from being able to clearly articulate the problem and convey holistic understanding of consequences with an entrepreneurial mindset. Simply having a different opinion, doesn’t allow for constructive debate.
If you had a minute to describe the problem, how would you do so? Your receiver is likely to be time poor. As such, consider your key messages and form simple, logical arguments to follow towards a desired outcome. Offer insights which are informative, inspiring and meaningful.
5. Be open to challenge
Just like expectations of the receiving party, you too should be entering the conversation with the same intent. Seek to understand, and be understood, in order to reach a resolution. Your posture and tone of voice are as equally important as the message itself.
Creating Constructive Conflict
From an organisational or individual standpoint, being able to challenge change and create the means for constructive conflict is simply a win-win scenario. Organisations can increase the likelihood of success when undergoing transformational change and individuals are more likely to feel engaged. But it does require the right environment to support it, including the right people, culture and systems. In today’s complex environments, a narrow view is no longer sufficient, instead we need to encourage practices that allow us to see the bigger picture.
Paul is a Senior Consultant at why innovation! with a background in change management, Design Thinking, Agile software development, learning and psychology. With over 20 years of corporate experience in several commercial leadership and product management positions, Paul has worked across a number of innovation projects in a variety of industries from the very start of his career. He continues to be passionate in helping organisations accelerate innovation and change, using technology as an enabler.