In order to succeed in this changing world, organisations that are more agile, innovative and productive need to be created. As you’ll know from my previous articles in this five-part series, my view is that providing more freedom, focus and feedback for employees are fundamental drivers of this organisational redesign.
I’ve written this article to help you plan the transformation of your organisation. To really transform the organisation, change should be implemented simultaneously in all three of these areas. The message that it will send out to employees will be very clear, positive and powerful.
What about ‘best’ practice?
There are of course ‘best practice’ models out there for flexible working, performance management and feedback. Change is most effective when the outcome feels like something that’s part of the original, not an ill-fitting add-on.
So whilst the standard models can be useful reference points (indeed I referenced ROWE when I set about designing my first intervention), create something that comes from the heart of your organisation.
It should reflect the language and values of your organisation and move everyone towards the organisation’s unique aims. In this way you will create something that everyone feels they own and which complements the best aspects of your existing culture.
Involve others from the start
If this is all starting to sound like an insurmountable challenge, don’t forget you won’t be the only person in your organisation with an interest in this. Not only is the easiest way to develop your solutions to involve other people, but it’s also the most effective way of implementing change.
Luckily, unlike much change of the change that we find ourselves implementing, the majority of employees will perceive this change as positive. So don’t develop a solution in isolation and impose it, but invite all interested parties to get involved. The most important thing that you can do as a leader is to communicate your vision of what the outcome will be.
Review the principles and assumptions your organisation operates by
As highlighted in my previous article, I’d recommend that you start by considering the principles that your organisation runs by. What assumptions are reflected in the systems, processes and policies that currently exist within the business? What beliefs do the leaders of your organisation hold about employees?
I’d recommend that you’re explicit about the principles your business operates by, particularly where value is created and how people will be treated. It’s likely that you’ll find that some of your current practices don’t reflect your principles, so plan to revise them once you’ve implemented the other changes.
Freedom for employees
How much freedom can your organisation give employees about when and where they work? How much choice can they have about how they contribute to the goals? How much freedom about how their role develops and how they grow?
My experience is that the more freedom you can give people and support them to use, the better the outcomes for organisation and individual.
But what will fit with your organisation’s principles? What practices will send out the right message and influence behaviour? Do you need line managers? If so, what should their role be? Do you want people to come together in one place every day? Do you want people to choose where to work based on where they’re most productive?
You may be surprised how people respond to this new freedom. It will feel to some like a lack of structure, but what it actually does is free people to create a structure around their work which suits them and their role. What it removes is overarching structure which will never suit everyone and can inhibit overall performance.
If you’re giving people lots of freedom, it’s really important that they understand what the organisation is trying to achieve.
Provide clear direction and people will be able to identify how they can help achieve those aims. Expect some people to need support with that as it’s very different to what most of us are used to!
Focussing on the long-term allows for real innovation and can inspire some amazing contributions from individuals and teams, but you may also decide to have shorter-term milestones along the way.
The value of identifying your organisation’s ‘Purpose’ cannot be understated. Making everyone feel that they are contributing to a purpose which gives contributes to society’s development can be extremely valuable when driving innovation and engagement and attracting new talent.
But the most important aspect is that the communication is clear and that every individual understands what they need to focus their energies on (and therefore what they shouldn’t be wasting energy on).
A culture of continuous feedback is a huge asset for any organisation, particularly one that’s looking to improve its ability to respond to change. To achieve that most organisations will need to revise their processes and upskill their managers. Managers with coaching skills that can support others to perform and are confident to give feedback will lead to the development of a culture where feedback is the norm, at all levels.
Strengths-based conversations are very positive and motivational, encouraging people to take control of their own development. Focusing employees on what their long-term aims are and then helping them to consider how working at your organisation can help them achieve those aims can really engage people. And of course issues around inappropriate behaviour or underperformance have to be dealt with quickly.
Talking about performance (good or not so good) really does become much simpler when that’s all everyone is focused on. But how you deal with issues arising will depend on your organisations’ principles. You may find it useful to adopt a particular method of conflict resolution (e.g. non-violent communication) and train everyone to use it as they do in many self-managing organisations.
Finally I’d reiterate the importance of alignment. HR policies and procedures aren’t always aligned with what the organisation is trying to achieve or with other policies and procedures, so they send mixed and unclear messages out.
Consider carefully what you want to communicate to job applicants and to new employees and ensure that all of your written and oral communication supports that. Moreover, providing freedom to employees around where and when they work is likely to mean that you have to revise your employment contract.
If you choose to redesign your organisation for the future you’ll find that you are managing people in a very different way to other organisations. This is a fantastic opportunity to attract and retain talented individuals. It will also require ongoing management and very regular reference back to your organisation’s agreed principles to ensure that everything remains aligned.
In my next article (the final one of the series) I’ll talk about what can you expect to happen during the implementation and what outcomes can you expect to see as a result.
If you’ve had experience of any similar changes or you want to discuss any of this further, do comment below or get in touch with me.