During any kind of organizational change there will be a temptation to tackle the process with new procedures and technology. Which makes sense, since these are concrete and quantifiable elements. Attempts at sustainable change of this sort will however always fail. This is because people are the defining factor. And to win over people’s heads and hearts, these people will have to be your starting point.
We are community builders at our core. This is why we wholeheartedly believe in an approach wherein change involves the community of your organization. We like this community to be as diverse as possible. Sometimes all you need is forward-thinking employees, but it can be advisable (and sometimes even necessary) to allow customers, partners or members to observe and participate in the process as well. In our experience, any successful change process has succeeded because a wide-ranging community of ‘change agents’ inside and outside the organization was able to inspire the rest or to hold up a mirror to them. Whether it be the introduction of agile working, a digital workplace or digital transformation; the main approach is always through a community.
Space to experiment freely
Organizations serious about working toward digital transformation will do well to create spaces (physical or virtual) which allow keen employees a place to experiment. Every organization has a good number of forward thinkers who are eager to get started. Unfortunately, in practice these people are often discouraged by what they see as unnecessary procedures, complex deliberations in order to reach agreement, or office politics. If your aim is to create an organization in which individual employees can make decisions more autonomously, you’ll have to allow them to actually do so. Because this is sometimes not feasible within the existing structure, organizations will need to purposefully set up spaces for experimentation, governed by different rules and practices. You can literally do this in a separate physical space. PGGM & Co, an organization we have worked with, is in fact a start-up within an existing organization (PGGM). The smaller, more creative setting in a different office provides room for extensive experimentation with agile working, co-creation and online communities. Such a space for free experimentation can also be made available digitally. Moneyou Create is a digital platform where Moneyou customers give their input on new products and services. The output of the physical and virtual experimentation spaces does of course have to be fed back into the organization.
Core group of change agents
In addition to a space which is ‘detached’ from the rigid organizational structure, you also need a core group of people who represent the type of change you are trying to achieve. If digital transformation is the goal, you need to consciously look for people who are already active in this field. You’ll also want to involve the group of informal leaders – the people who are in contact with the largest part of the organization. The so-called ‘connectors’. It is usually known who these people are within an organization. If not, this can of course be researched using questionnaires or social network analysis. The small community of change agents (a maximum of 20-30 people) will then be actively involved in the process of change. They will be given the right tools (space to experiment) and the mandate to get their teeth into the change process. They will start to formulate a concrete definition, in both word and deed, of what digital transformation, self-direction or agile working means to them. Their experiences and stories are then shared with the rest of the organization to serve as inspiration. This is the only way to flesh out something like digital transformation. This approach will produce the following:
- A sustainable network of people who know each other well
- A shared identity and a shared sense of urgency around the change
- A new, freer way of working and decision-making
The power of social intranets
We always prefer to use a social platform to keep the above-described process on the right track. We do this because a social network’s greatest power lies in making the network and the new outlines of the change visible. A social network will ensure that like-minded people will be able to find each other around shared passions. A social network will also expose the informal structure of the organization. Who has become involved? Who is sharing knowledge publicly? Who is connected to whom? These are important questions to ask before launching a process of organizational change. Finally, a social network will break through the traditional obstacles of place, rank and time within organizations: everyone can communicate, collaborate and share information with everyone.
Holding up a mirror to the organization
A common problem with employees in an organization is that they have often already become too institutionalized. The organization has already forced them into a certain framework. Independent ideas are shut down before they get off the ground because ‘it’s probably not possible anyway’. In many cases, people censor themselves. If the organization is serious about exploring new ways of working, this is a challenge. Because, understandably, not all employees are comfortable stepping outside their comfort zone, it is a good idea to add members/customers or partners to the core group, since they can hold up a mirror to the organization from a candid, outside perspective. In many cases they will contribute the more radical ideas, since they are not attached to the organization.
This is precisely the reason why a space for free experimentation is so important. Even the more innovative employees need to feel free in order to act and think without inhibition. The organization of the future is an organization that experiments. In such an organization innovation is driven by conducting numerous experiments side by side. A lot of them will fail, but a few of them will be exactly the kind of pioneering innovation which can transform organizations. The only way to achieve this is to allow room for failure.
Lessons to learn from Bosch and Daimler
Both Bosch and Daimler are on a path of reinvention in the digital age. These two German organizations have come a long way, and progress has not happened overnight. There are many lessons about change to be learnt from their approach:
- Daimler supports an innovative and open cultuure through a digital platform, hackathons, open spaces and Digital Life days.
- Daimler involves the world in innovation with new concepts like Digital Life Campus.
- Bosch uses storytelling to inspire the organization.
- Bosch brings ‘change agents’ together in order to introduce the methodology of Working Out Loud into the organization.