Transforming the Workplace: Charting a Path to a Better Place

Originally posted by Chris Jones, a TalentCulture contributing writer. He is an IT Strategy & Change Management consultant, with a passion for driving new levels of engagement and learning in the modern organization. His research areas include the dynamics of organization culture, and more recently, the importance and implications of critical thinking. Check out his blog, Driving Innovation in a Complex World, for more.

In my last TC post, we did a deep dive on critical thinking in the workplace.  We discussed ways to drive innovation in our day to day exchanges by tracing the value of engagement in the modern organization and focusing on the mechanics of collaboration as a more rigorous way to solve problems.

These are all core elements of a desirable future state culture.  If achieved, they could serve to foster organization-wide learning.

But what about culture change itself?

So often executives will speak of the need to drive a full transformation of the business or its culture. It’s not too difficult to imagine an alternate future state.  But it can be difficult to know how to get there.

The research I’ve done in this space indicates that culture change can be guided by leadership, provided there is a focused, coordinated, and ongoing effort to achieve it. Too often culture is viewed as a quick fix, a “memo” to the team (remember those?), or a simple expectation of management for the troops to ‘figure it out’.

Organization change is too complex for simple solutions. Learned behaviors run deep into the fabric of the organization, and are not easily changed.

I see value in attacking the problem at two levels simultaneously, a simple, high-level framing like the one recently popularized by Chip and Dan Heath in Switch (2010), supplemented by a more detailed approach, such as the one famously outlined by John Kotter in Leading Change (1996).  A combination provides a reinforcing framework, a ‘scaffolding’ of sorts, that will be resilient due to its diverse structure.

Let’s take a look at a synthesis of these two models, and outline what the core transformational elements might be:

Viability of an Organization’s Vision

Stakeholders must be able to see themselves in the future state, and will gain value from participating in the visioning exercises.  The vision must be achievable and actionable, and defined in a language recognizable to those who must seek it.

Ability of Leaders to Motivate

A guiding coalition must form around the change effort to create a believable, unified front to shepherd the changes through.  This coalition, representing elements of the entire organization, must be able to articulate a clear “value” story for stakeholders to rally behind. A “burning platform” is ideal to create a sense of urgency.  There must be an emotional appeal for an organization to be truly motivated, and a sense of empowerment that gets people engaged.

Ability of Managers to Clear a Path

Hurdles and roadblocks will invariably get raised, because human nature is to avoid change and maintain a status quo.  Pockets of resistance and politics will resit new approaches, and the guiding coalition must be sure that the team receives full support.  Communication will be critical, as well as establishing momentum, and, eventually, being sure to embed changes into daily operations.

Neither a checklist nor a new framework will be sufficient for an organization’s transformation to be successful.  It takes commitment and focus, and an investment of energy over the long-term.  Working together, stakeholders can build a transformation road map, charting a path to a better place.

Do you think these steps could serve as a means for driving change in an organization? Which of these steps have worked for you?  What do you see as challenges?

Let’s discuss adoption.  It would be great to compare notes, and to drive this thinking forward.

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