How to ensure Leaders are at the forefront of successful change
You have a great innovative project on the go, and you have to engage with your leaders so they can support, promote and implement what you are doing.
The team are busy and you are seeing real change in their behaviour, and in the ideas that they are working with. But the most common form of failure in innovative transformation is down to one thing - that it is not adopted in full once it leaves the safe environment of the innovation team. The reason is that innovation requires new ways to allow it to occur and to adopt it, and these ways must develop in parallel to that innovation - not as an after thought.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems with innovation is getting leaders to understand and engage.
Well, there plenty of ways that leaders can kill innovation, but very few approaches that gets leaders to embrace it.
And here is one great example I saw yesterday that I use, that is perhaps one of the few ways that I know to help leadership to alter. It puts the inevitable question of:
"How much will it save? "
Into the box that it belongs, and allows other far more important questions to arise!
Below is a typical sequence that is full of deliberate actions based on Design Thinking, Service Design, Argyris, John Seddon all psychologically proven techniques, that are designed to pull leaders away from their engrained behaviours, and help them to safely begin to understand and use a new set of behaviours. This, in turn, helps to create a new mindset that is the beginning of the move from traditional command & control to modern delegated and empowered management.
So, this example is based on an internal team of front line workers having been led on an innovative journey, and they have reached a point of completing their experiment, or their prototype.
1. Over the days and weeks of the work, allow the team to write up their progress and work on flipcharts on the wall as you proceed. Keep away from electronic means of recording. This helps to directly transfer the learning from the team to others. The walls keep it visual, paper keeps it real.
2. Keep away from any Powerpoint slides, reports, or otherwise summaries. They always simplify and dumb down the real message. Leaders need to be shown a new approach.
3. Invite the leaders to the event - a meeting to feedback the learning for the work. They think they are going to a presentation, and you are actually going to do a workshop. I call it feedback, rather than a presentation.
4. Invite other stakeholders that are impacted by the work to the same event, forcing them to learn together.
5. Allow the team themselves to take the lead in the workshop - and you help them get their points clear by having a practice run the day before. They should tell a story of the innovation journey, and the outcomes on customers. The front line telling the story is new and always very well received. It turns the traditional managers role on its head. The team focus their stories to learn
6. At the start of the event, everyone sits in a circle if possible, at least there should be no desks. This reduces any barriers, dissolves heirarchy, and signals something different is occuring.
7. Every person in the room introduces themselves, and lets everyone know what value they hope to get from the session. This is Check-in. It forces everyone in the room to participate at the same level.
8. The team do their thing, open and honest, no scripts, and tell it from the heart. Both the real practical customer journeys, summarising the cases they have taken, and how they felt doing it. The audience are taken around the flipcharts on the walls, in a sequental story - everyone may need to stand and walk around the room if necessary.
9. The change in culture and management behaviour, if there is any, must be talked about explicitely and honestly.
10. Talk about what went right, and what went wrong - demonstrating that this is a learning journey, and we learn more from mistakes than from what goes right.
11. The initial team feedback takes around 30% of the time, and is usually shorter than the questions session. The questions forces participation and then that drive further discussion in the direction that the audience wishes to hear about.
12. At the end, everyone is asked what value they have got from the session, and if they wish any follow up. This is Check-out, and again everyone has been involved. They should be relaxed, chatty, open, and talking with each other.
The session I just attended (2.5 hours), everyone was blown away by what the team said, and the power of the case studies. The audience hardly mentioned cost savings, as this was evident that figures are to follow from further work after the experiments and from new measures. They understood that this was primarily about creating value, and that leads to savings. The finance dept were just beginning their engagement with the team, and everyone was fine with that. From examples in the session, they understood why this had to be emergent, and that the old measures of efficiency and effectiveness have to be replaced. They even started to joke that their own measures were useless. There were a few people who were quiet in the room, but they were listening to their colleagues destroying their old mindset. It always takes a few to lead the change. You could see that many people had profound insights. The leaders said that they wanted to repeat this in three months, when the Prototype should have matured. With new measures and a new set of outcomes.
The most common feedback from the afternoon was, "how can we as leaders help you to make this a reality quicker?"
If you are have done innovative work, you will realise that the old ways of engaging leaders also needs to change. Collapsing the hierarchy and helping leaders to start a new set of behaviours is not a trivial matter. In my experience leaders always relish it if you design their journey in the right way.
And be wary of slipping back to old behaviours...
Rule 1 - no reports, even when they ask for them. Direct them to a workshop.
Rule 2 - everything visible on the wall, where team members can take anyone who visits through their journey.
Rule 3 - no presentation which reinforces the old hierarchy, just engagement which reinforces the new collaborative mindset.
From a psychological perspective, this demonstrates the type of shift needed to create a safe space for innovation to occur in Leaders. Shared learning where egos have no place. Then finally, the effect on front line staff that have fed back to senior people they have never even met before is profound. The safe space that is created starts with the team, and then follows through to the managers. I ensure that managers remain in control of their positions, and do not feel that the team is trying to wrest control away from them... and thats a subject in itself.
Innovation is not simply about products and services, thats the easy bit. It is firstly and most importantly about change in thinking and behaviour.
The attention of managers and decision-makers.
When in crisis more, how able are people to be open enough to listen and learn?
If we observe managers in their daily work, how many of them are prioritising their action lists, thinking about several different aspects; their thinking is in many cases 'firefighting'. In such situations, they seek to simplify and remove any extra concepts and work. Therefore the likelihood of them being able to absorb new concepts, to think in new ways, and to grapple with innovative ideas is low.
By temporarily removing them from this hectic environment, you can then help them to begin to engage in a new way, at least until they then need to get back into their hectic environment. But that space that you create for them will have moved them on a step.