Transformational Change: Enlisting Others to Co-Create the Future
In my first blog, I introduced the idea that if organisations are seeking transformational change, they must address organisational culture in order to enable this transformation. Change, despite many of the horror stories we hear, can be more energising, humane, and fun. I introduced 7 key attributes that must be part of your transformational change agenda in order to thrive. My last blog expanded on idea # 3 – creating focus, because in this world of information overload, you cannot have it all. This blog expands on idea #4 – the power of enlisting others to co-create the future.
Whether you are an internal or external change facilitator, the program you drive should seek to design ways to solicit meaningful input from the impacted workforce. If you’ve been following this blog series, you may now realise that every step of the way, we have been enlisting others. The more we enlist others, the more momentum for change. Perhaps to some old school change management practitioners, this would be thought of as stakeholder engagement. However, this goes beyond stakeholder engagement.
The idea of enlisting others recognises three key differences to traditional stakeholder management:
- Oftentimes, if not always, transformational changes introduced will impact every single individual from the CEO down to the casual employees. Every layer should be considered a stakeholder. In traditional stakeholder engagement, we are often tempted to segment our stakeholders and provide different methods of engagement, favouring our more senior stakeholders by providing a higher touch. This is time, energy, and resource intensive and ignores the fact that to really make changes happen, our on the ground workforce need to understand and buy into the change just as much as our leaders. In transformational change, we must engage as many people as possible.
- If we take the leap to engage as many people as possible, the temptation is that we have to have a perfect message, clear answers, and a flawless process outlined so that people will get value from participating in our change initiatives. This includes hours spent creating presentations, talking points, and toolkits to support people through change conversations. All we have to do is deliver it now, right? The hard work is done!Not even close. Enlisting others and co-creating together requires change facilitators to let go of control. If you truly commit to co-creation, it means suspending your own judgment of what you believe the right answer or right approach is. It means asking more questions than telling answers. It means your stakeholders have to do some work (aka thinking) too. Because let’s face it, you will never have all the information you or your stakeholders want. And your role is to design structured & emergent ways to get their input, genuinely listen, and design a change approach that honours their input. This becomes a much more two-way conversation rather than more typical one-way stakeholder engagement activities. After all, we buy into ideas that we have a hand in creating.
- Give your stakeholders full agency. This is the true test of letting go of control. Traditional stakeholder management relies on the expert change facilitator defining and making clear asks, roles, and next steps. However, to truly enlist others and co-create a process with them, we must trust others by giving them full agency to decide on how to best proceed, what role they want to play, and how it should be done. Your role is to simply hold them accountable to this.
You also need to be prepared for people to say no.
Change cannot be imposed on people, rather it’s a conscious decision we all need to make. And these decisions can change over time. I know what you’re thinking. How can we give people the ability to opt out of organisation-wide change? Because if you’ve followed the process up until now, you will likely have enough people to create a movement. All you need is a majority, and the rest of the organisation will either follow in their own time when they’ve made up their own mind or will choose to leave. But forcing people to change, especially when they aren’t ready, is a major reason organisational changes fail.
Empower your people with the agency to decide, and you will see results.
Where organisations get stuck
We believe that enlisting others takes up a lot of time. Not true! What takes up time is writing communications and presentations that are wordsmithed to perfection. Then, realising that one key detail is still not final, and waiting to release these comms and presentations until all the messages are curated to perfection. Well, in the days of complexity, perfect and 100% accurate communications are unrealistic and will waste precious time.
Soliciting input from people can take 15 minutes. I’ve been using Liberating Structures to drastically cut down the time it takes to engage the whole. Many of these structures are simple, take less than 30 minutes, and easily scale. I have used them with groups of 4 – 200 to date, with other practitioners using them with thousands in a room. Let us use our time wisely and not waste anymore time drafting slides or memos.
We hold unconscious beliefs that we should be the experts, so letting go of control and letting go of the expert mindset become our biggest hurdles to enlisting others. This is a big one. In my own shift towards enlisting others, I sometimes find myself playing the role of glorified time keeper. That means I give people a challenge or topic, they come up with solutions, and I make sure they keep to time and collect their outcomes. In the field of change, this can lead to a feeling of becoming obsolete. I would argue that it challenges us to serve others rather than over-help.
“Helping, fixing, and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. when you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.” Rachel Naomi Remen
Most change practitioners are drawn to the field because they naturally like to help. Is overhelping a pattern in your life? Perhaps it’s time to investigate why and consciously work to let go of control and let go of being the expert. After all, if we give people full agency, we must trust that they have their own answers. Our role is to help them find those answers.
People often confuse consultation with co-creation. The main difference I experience between consultation and co-creation is that consultation has evolved into a process that has been designed to lead to a certain outcome. Co-creation relies on surprise, perhaps even delight and innovation. I don’t always know what the outcome will be when I set out to co-create.
Co-creation also doesn’t mean that everyone has to be involved in everything, just the conversations and decisions that really matter. In my experience, many organisations suffer from over – consultation. Putting it crassly, what often happens is a group of people engage others in workshops and ask them what they think about a bunch of topics related to their project. They then get a ton of information that they don’t know what to do with because they haven’t really defined what are the really important decisions that require meaningful input. Therefore, they don’t do much with the information, and their consultation comes off at disingenuine. They repeat this cycle in good faith so that they can demonstrate to the organisation that they have consulted broadly. But the process is superficial and over time, becomes void of value.
Ideas on where to start
Firstly, as a change practitioner, start by asking yourself if you’re an overhelper and what you need to do to shift your own mindset to truly enlist others. This might be some journaling around the topic of “what do I receive by helping others?” or “what would it mean to let go of control”. Stream of consciousness writing can often lead to great insights. If you find that you need support, coaching is also a great option to explore as sometimes we cannot see our own blind spots.
Secondly, play around with some simple Liberating Structures. These structures are designed to be fun, easy to use, and engage the collective intelligence of everyone in the room. A well crafted question to support a 1-2-4-ALL structure works powerfully to enable people to feel comfortable sharing their ideas.
Lastly, say goodbye to traditional change management. Gone are the days where change is predictable and linear. If we are to create true transformation, we need to be open to building the bridge as we walk on it. This means no more vision statements created in isolation, no more rigid stakeholder management, no more consultation, and no more cascading messages from the top. Call me a heretic, but your workforce will thank me for it.
Taking a more modern and relevant approach to transformational change is your best chance at making the changes stick and energising people around topics that should matter dearly to them – how they and others treat each other and behave at work.
Let us unleash our workforce’s creativity and ideas to truly engage in #transformation.