In the previous module (The Fifth Element: workplace innovation is an integral part of an organisation’s culture, values and strategy), we discussed the alignment of workplace practices and culture with organisational vision and strategic imperatives. The Strategy Triangle, informed both by the Workplace Diagnostic as well as by external drivers, defines specific objectives which in turn identify the priorities for The Essential Fifth Element Action Plan.
We’ve identified the ‘what’, so the next question is ‘how’. Specifically, how do we engage employees and other stakeholders in shaping, implementing and owning each part of the Action Plan?
There is no common blueprint for successful change. Each company undertakes its own individual journey of exploration and discovery, trial and error, experimentation and learning, before eventually arriving at an approach which reflects its own specific context and aspirations. Yet we can identify a several strands that are interwoven through many successful change journeys:
Engaging stakeholders in the idea of change enables knowledge, ideas and energy to be harnessed. engagement needs to be based on trust, openness and the creation of spaces for reflection, dialogue and learning.
Empowering and motivating others to achieve the vision involves distributed leadership, engaging a wide cross section of employees in productive reflection and dialogue and productive reflection about how things might be done more effectively, and involving them in making change happen.
Visioning the future of the company involves stakeholders in understanding the drivers for change, evaluating different scenarios and strategic choices, and creating shared enthusiasm for the direction of change.
Monitoring and reviewing progress to ensure that the momentum and direction of change is maintained against well-defined objectives, but also that lessons from successes and failures alike are absorbed and that adjustments are made to the vision and strategy in ways which reflect the learning that takes place.
Embedding and sustaining change, ensuring that reflection and dialogue continue to support learning and improvement, and to prevent ‘innovation decay’.
Making People Centred Change Happen
The following sections explore each of the five strands in turn, including relevant actions and appropriate resources for change. It’s worth stating again that this is not a blueprint, and we’re not proposing that you work through these five arenas in sequence. Always think about the unique circumstances of your own company – where is it now and what would work best? Use the descriptions and methods which follow as a kind of resource cupboard from which you can plan your own journey, in your own way and in the order that makes sense to you.
The importance of engaging stakeholders at the earliest stages in the conception and planning of change is continually reiterated in research and case study evidence.
Engaging stakeholders initially involves dialogue leading to a common understanding of the need for change and perhaps a sense of urgency. This may involve an appraisal of the strategic threats and opportunities facing the business as a whole, or it may involve creating opportunities for critical reflection on current practices within a specific area of the organisation.
Analysing and understanding of the need for change can form the basis for a shared vision. This helps focus discussion and energy, though it is important to emphasise the role of individual initiative in the change process. Meaningful visions are those grounded in a systemic view of the organisation. One part of a company can’t be changed in isolation without considering the impact of that change on the rest of the organisation – or the impact of the rest of the organisation on the change itself. Strategies to support the vision can be created by a change coalition involving representatives of the relevant stakeholders with enough power to influence events and to encourage others to work together as a team. The coalition will also be responsible for communicating the vision to the different constituencies affected by the change. The vision needs to be made credible, with a visible plan of action supported by effective project management.
The vision and its supporting strategies can explicitly empower and motivate others to act by creating opportunities for productive reflection about how things might be done more effectively, engaging a wide cross section of employees in dialogue on the practical implementation of change, and encouraging distributed leadership in relation to different dimensions of change. Given the right climate of support and encouragement, change entrepreneurs can emerge from surprising places throughout the organisation, working in the spaces between formal roles and structures to find creative approaches to implementation. Empowering people at all levels is also effective in anticipating and overcoming obstacles to change, particularly in addressing potential sources of resistance. It is particularly important to position line managers as a positive resource for change, engaging them fully in the process and drawing on their knowledge of ‘what works’. People at all levels involved in the change process can be encouraged and resourced to learn from diverse sources, and to share that learning with others in the company. Maintaining communication and dialogue is essential throughout the process to ensure effective co-ordination between different actors and prevent any stakeholders from feeling ‘out of the loop’.
MONITORING AND REVIEWING
The ‘change coalition’ will agree milestones and targets that are meaningful and achievable for employees at all levels of the company.
Formal mechanisms and opportunities can ensure that learning from setbacks and successes is properly assimilated and shared.
EMBEDDING AND SUSTAINING CHANGE
Innovation decay is a common experience for those involved in organisational change, but can be anticipated by a number of pre-emptive methods such as succession planning to ensure that there are always leaders to sustain and develop the new structures and practices, induction of new employees in the rationale, behaviours and practices associated with the change, and productive reflection involving employees at all levels in further improvement and innovation.
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