"Are Your Colleagues Safe and Confident Enough to Drive Change? " is part of the series of ‘4 Winning Habits of Long-Lasting Achievers in Service’
A common mistake: Paralysis by Control
Recently I had an interesting conversation with a Service Leader from one of the leading printer and copier manufacturers about how to empower co-workers to drive change from the bottom up. They had already abandoned their outcome-oriented performance review system but nevertheless, their teams still find it difficult to drive change at a high pace.
An important reason is that dialogue between different management levels and operational specialists is rather infrequent and even then, most conversations are still about outcomes and targets. Even this informal pressure for results preserves feelings of insecurity and low confidence which blocks attempts to adopt and drive change.
Traditionally, many business leaders assumed that they needed strong control mechanisms to manage performance, a dated belief that is still common today. During the last few decades of relentlessly growing markets, the name of the game was rationalising processes and keeping the ability to scale up quick enough. One of the challenges was control and predictability.
In today’s world, these traditional planning and control mechanisms do not work anymore. They limit teams’ ability to think and act collectively, to innovate their business and drive change. Planning & control mechanisms punish poor performance and set-backs. Employees sense a default unsafe environment and are pushed into a defensive, survival mode. It is safer to keep aspirations low, externalise challenges, blame others and limit ownership. This results into a strong force to do more of the same and stick to the status-quo.
The solution: A forward-looking and constructive dialogue builds confidence for change
Our recent research clearly shows that winning and dynamic manufacturers have embedded practices and habits which empower employees to drive continuous, easy change from the inside. These modern mechanisms for dialogue across all levels and function are:
- Forward-looking objectives and priorities which drive change and collaboration
- Constructive reviews
- Forward looking interventions
1. Promote change and collaboration with the right objectives and priorities
Continuous alignment of objectives and priorities Winning companies focus on strategic objectives that build strong organisational capabilities for performance and continuous business innovation. Building and maintaining a fit and healthy organisation is the focus of (top) management. The most important objectives and targets are about the organisational capabilities, small changes and bigger innovations.
Aspirations, objectives, strategies, limitations, opportunities and pre-requisites are frequently discussed and adjusted when needed to ensure coherent and aligned actions and initiatives across all individuals, teams and departments.
Shared outcome targets Teams and individuals share the same common objectives for results in operational performance and innovation. Their bonus schemes are based on the same indicators. They are all in the same boat, trying to achieve the same objectives. Each team and individual will be open and looking for ways to contribute to the overall targets. Instead of resisting or getting complacent, they all collaborate where needed.
Individual contribution targets Each team and individual has full clarity on how they are expected to contribute to achieving the outcome. Think about maintaining and developing organisational capabilities, building personal competencies, collaborating with other teams and the level of effort required. For example, the financial department could contribute to customer experience by improving invoicing (speed, accuracy, transparency, responsiveness to inquiries).
2. Build confidence & safety with constructive and forward-looking reviews
Positive feedback Colleagues are open to candid feedback and provide constructive feedback to each other. Feedback is not about performance, but approach, activities, priorities, opportunities and threats and is intended to encourage them to adapt and improve. It is related to aspirations, the vision, the strategy.
Forward-looking The focus is not on the fact that something went wrong, but on how to get it right. What can be learned from set-backs or issues, how can the approach be adjusted? What are new ideas and approaches? It doesn’t make sense to argue about the past.
Multiple stakeholders Best practice is to include other stakeholders and experts in the reviews, by collecting their feedback, sharing feedback and asking for their view on the problem. This prevents unnecessary bias, reveals many more opportunities for improvement and will get more active support to easily and rapidly implement the interventions.
3. Solve from 1st principle
Root Cause Analysis Leading companies make it a critical organisational habit to perform a root analysis for pretty much every issue or set-back. As many issues or opportunities affect more than one team or department, it is a good habit to follow through with a diverse group of people and teams who can contribute to the analysis as well as the solution.
What we see is that the winning companies have developed a routine and structure to document, communicate and decide on root cause analyses and interventions. Root causes and the success of new interventions are standard topics of meetings and conversations. “No time” is not seen a valid reason to skip the root cause analysis.
Structural solutions Based on the root cause analysis, managers create long-term interventions that define the fundamental solutions and sustainable decision-criteria. They do not step into the trap of short term, cost-oriented decisions that would let them fall back from fundamental solutions to symptom fighting.
Phased implementation For complex and time consuming solutions they define a phased implementation, where first steps can be low-hanging fruit or quick work-arounds when the criticality is high. In such cases they ensure that the phased implementation continues after the first steps, to prevent falling back into symptom fighting.
The big benefit is that this ongoing and forward-looking dialogue builds confidence for change across the entire organisation. Everyone in all functions and at all levels feels confident and safe enough. They feel they can take the initiative to solve issues and pursue opportunities, to come up with interventions when things go differently than expected and ensure coherence between all initiatives.
Employees are open and transparent about their successes and struggles, raise risks and problems, ask for help, provide help and simply do what is needed to perform and move forward for future success. Not because there is pressure from a burning platform, but because they want to.
In psychology, it’s a well-known phenomenon that too much pressure on outcomes and performance kills learning and change.
We believe that this is not about better articulating the burning platform and creating a sense of urgency. It is about creating a constructive and forward-thinking environment where your colleagues want to, can and do take the right initiatives and bring them into practice.
Magic happens when you bring together business innovation on one hand and employee development and empowerment on the other.