Disrupting change to improve how organizations grow

Disrupting Change: Improving How Organizations Grow and Thrive

Fact: Technology adoption (and obsolescence) will occur in increasingly faster cycles.

Fact: Young people in developed countries value experience, freedom, expansion over a steady paycheck.

Fact:  50% of the workforce is predicted to be freelance by 2020.

Fact:  Big corporate and small business are creating symbiotic relationships: Innovation + scale + distribution.  (Cultures must be fluid and dynamic.)

Fact:  Affluent customers and talented employees increasingly choose companies who take a stand for good.

Fact:  How companies lead and manage change, needs to change.

For over 20 years, Change Management has grown into a mature discipline to help people adapt to workplace and societal change.

Having spent 20 years’ studying and facilitating organizational culture change in companies large and small. I have conducted primary and secondary research on the forces of change from a variety of disciplines: Psychology, anthropology, neuro-science, environmental science, ancient spiritual teachings.

Disrupting change forces means better aligning two competing forces within your workforce:

#1 – Increasing productivity (often through technology) to lower the cost of creating and distributing the world’s infrastructure and lifestyle.

#2 – Improving human rights and quality of life for the workers who dream up, build, and distribute stuff.

There is a widely accepted perception among financially focused leaders, that these forces are opposing (versus interdependent). That you can either make a profit OR focus on people.  That change management initiatives are more about ROI than about fostering breakthroughs in  how people work together to create and expand the capacity for change

Especially within slow-to-change systems like healthcare, education, government.

There is a tremendous opportunity for progressive-minded leaders:

  1. How can we apply the basic principles of change, to fundamentally disrupt change?
  2. How can we attract better talent and customers and profit, by fostering greater ownership of change?
  3. How can we better conceive, lead, and guide the natural forces of change and progress?
  4. How can we reshape systems of economy, governance, security, distribution, in service of the well-being of people and the planet?

The power-center of our planet will belong to those who make bigger contributions, solve world problems, and foster innovations we have not yet imagined.

6 principles to disrupt how change is led and managed

Principle #1: Start Small

British anthropologist Robin Dunbar famously taught that to thrive, people must maintain stable social relationships. Through exhaustive research, he learned that 150 people is the ideal size to maintain such stability. Many could argue with the premise and number. I have observed in two decades of culture and change work, that the ideal size for meaningful change was about 50-100 people.

If you want to achieve meaningful impact and engagement, start small. (This is how the natural world does evolution.)  Large-scale rollouts of change efforts in big companies, take great commitment and sustained attention.  The reason they do not work well is the effort to generalize the change appeal to a broad audience is more forced than viral.  Better to cultivate a leadership team of 150 people who cascade small pilot changes that look and feel relevant to a sub-culture of each tribe.  Home Advisor, a Colorado-based company, is on a rapid growth trajectory.  When they grow to 150 people, they open a new office. “This is how we maintain the culture of the company while we grow” says Craig Smith, COO.

Principle #2: Focus on the Good

“A good why is worth 1000 speeches.”   A Good Why:

  1. Has clear benefit beyond a few executives;
  2. Taps emotional urgency by solving a pressing problem (one the people who must implement, will care about);
  3. Offers clear incentives to implement the change relatively quickly.

When Merck released Crixavan in the late 1980’s as a medicine to combat AIDS, the speed to market was a powerful driver – the Why was compelling, clear and motivating to everyone. Not all consumer products or technology changes have such a powerful Why.  But any leader can tap deeper for their own meaningful story.  A leaders’ job today is more about creating a movement, versus handing off change management efforts to a cadre of project leads. Keep people focused on the good story that is beyond the change, and the effort becomes much, much easier.

Principle #3: Reverse Hierarchy

Imagine the CEO and executive team are on the bottom of the organizational chart, while the front-line employees are at the top. This signifies a belief that leaders are there to serve and enable the people who are doing the work. Send Grid, a technology company with an innovative email delivery platform, has done exactly this (and communicates it liberally.)  Even if you don’t re-do your organizational chart, you must practice servant leadership to create true followers (not just paycheck-collectors.)

Servant leaders see their job as removing road blocks, enabling change, lifting people higher, maintaining focus on forward momentum toward the vision. This requires a mindset of progress and people over title, status, power. It requires leaders who understand that when people who are happy and passionate, working and growing together, they produce creativity and results far more easily and predictably.

Principle #4: Create Momentum Inside-Out

An essential mantra I teach in culture work is “You cannot be on the outside, what you cannot live on the inside.”  You cannot deliver a brand that truly appeals to customers, when employees who are treated as dispensable. You cannot expect employees to deliver an exceptional experience to customers, if they are treated as parts of a machine that can be swapped out or units of productivity without rights or feelings. You cannot foster a growth experience where the right people are in the right roles to grow the company, if you don’t have leaders who value the growth experience personally. Simple.

If you want to change the results your company is achieving, start by changing yourself. How can YOU be a better leader, a better manager, a better employee?  The impact may take some time to feel, or maybe not much time!  When enough people are igniting their “best selves within” it unleashes a powerful wave.

Principle #5: Elicit Motivation

People don’t need to “be motivated.”  People are naturally motivated.  First by self-interest. Second, by the needs of the tribe or family they feel the greatest loyalty to.  Motives change based on personal needs: If a person doesn’t have enough to eat or a secure roof over their head, this is a primary motive. When their basic needs are met, they are more motivated by  connection, belonging, personal growth, spiritual needs. Most traditional work  environments today still use “security” as a one-size-fits-all motivator.

If you have fair compensation, put more attention on promoting and developing first-level leaders who build trust and connection on a team.  Tapping these motives is how you build inspired tribes and THAT is what creates innovation. This simple change will yield far more productivity than you can imagine.

Principle #6: Balance Force with Empowerment

If you follow Principles 1-5, you accumulate a great deal Trust Capital.  Thus, when you declare an edict, you have a foundation of willingness to “make it so.”

Most workplaces today – even the ones that say they are about people and are working towards people-centered policies – are driven by force.  A small group of people make decisions that a larger group of people with less authority, carry out in return for a paycheck.  This dynamic has been in existence for thousands of years. It gained great momentum during the Industrial Era.

A leader who is  disrupting change, understands that people  are at the core, free beings. That people do their best work when they are empowered and free to choose. Yes, people need direction and boundaries to be fully empowered at work.  Empowerment is not abdication or “sink-or-swim.”  Empowerment is getting people to WANT to follow the path you’ve set.

After a merger, two lab testing facilities in California were struggling to integrate. There were many turf wars, finger pointing, and leadership posturing. The CEO took charge and made a few unilateral decisions that sent a clear message “This has to stop. You ALL need to get along. This is who is in charge. We know some of you won’t like it. We understand you may choose to leave.” This leader had built tremendous trust and empowerment capital.  Once the two groups moved in to one facility, they organized BBQ’s and creative ice-breakers so people could build connection and relationships.

Always, always, always follow an edict with an olive branch: Create an attitude of appreciation and empowerment after the dust settles.  People who trust their leaders know that good things come from supporting their vision.

These 6 principles are highly effective

We hope you will take courageous steps today in disrupting change that stem from outdated ways of thinking, working, and living.

These are only a sample of what can create stronger, more integrated workplaces that do good, make profit, and sustain people’s well-being.

What principles of disrupting change, have you seen work well?


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