Think for a moment of all the change programs you’ve seen or have been a part of. Maybe there was a new strategy or new management team. Maybe that led to a culture program, or perhaps a big push to create “one firm” that would be more agile, connected, and collaborative.
How did it go?
My own experience is that none of the change programs I’ve witnessed realized what they set out to accomplish. Zero. Not one even came close.
Something has been missing, and I think I know what it is.
The three elements
You’ve probably come across articles about the most important elements of a successful change program. Most will cite the critical need for a certain kind of leadership. Or a certain kind of culture. Or the need for certain talent or incentives or measurements or employee development or employee engagement. And so on.
These are all good and important things, but of course no one thing is enough for changing how people work.
At a high level, three sets of things that have to come together to enable an organization to realize the collective potential of its people:
Environment: This is the structural stuff. How people are organized and how they’re paid. The strategic objectives and Key Performance Indicators. The physical space as well as the policies and procedures.
Technology: Increasingly, this defines - in both good and bad ways - how people can access information and each other.
Behavior: This is the soft stuff. How do people act at work? How do they relate to each other? Not just the one percent of senior managers, but everybody.
The missing piece
Most of the programs I’ve seen have focused largely on the environment. There’s a lot of emphasis on the organization chart (particularly who’s in and who’s out), the strategy, and objectives and measurements. Some included major IT programs or were even technology-led.
None focused on behavior. They may have mentioned words like “collaboration” and “values,” but not a single change program helped people experience new ways of working in a way that led to new behaviors, habits, and mindsets.
It’s why so many change programs don’t stick. There’s a lot of sound and fury at the beginning, but the vast majority of people keep doing what they were doing, albeit in a new environment or with new technology.
A book that helps & one that ties it all together
As I work with more organizations, several have referred to Working Out Loud as “the missing piece.” They may have an excellent strategy and good tools. But they're usually missing a way to intrinsically motivate employees to work in a different way and a way to spread those new behaviors and scale those changes across the firm.
So I’m spreading and adapting Working Out Loud circles inside organizations as a means of addressing exactly these deficiencies. The peer-to-peer process helps with motivation, tapping into an employee’s needs for autonomy, mastery, and purpose. And because circles are largely self-organizing and self-directed, they can spread changes more readily.
A book that describes how highly evolved companies have changed their environment, technology, and behaviors is Reinventing Organizations. It includes examples of highly evolved CEOs and modern pay practices, and of “active internal social networks” that make possible a new level of transparency and access to people and knowledge.
And in every example there’s mention of changing individual employee behaviors and motivations. Of helping employees learn how to communicate effectively, make decisions as teams, and how to relate to other stakeholders in the firm. Working Out Loud circles are a way to help more organizations do that, to equip and empower individual employees and change how they relate to each other. It can be the missing piece.
Have you been part of a successful change program? If so, how and why did people change their day-to-day behavior at work?
If you're just embarking on a change program now, is something missing?