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Fieldnotes

Change can start small

by Simon Myers – May 2020


We empathise with those looking to change their organisation for the better. It’s not easy. In larger organisations it can be especially daunting. No-one really tells you how to do it and lying in wait are all the corporate and personal traps that can add insult to injury. Having the best intentions is rarely enough.

Here, we share our experiences and reflections on change work with you in bite sized chunks of advice that you can take away and chew on. Hopefully they can help you build up your own particular approach to making change happen, without having to repeat the mistakes of others who have tried before you.

Settling for some real and visible change early on within a more reasonable timeframe is preferable to endless exhortations and meetings that deplete your energy, fatigue others and erase hard won political capital.

Most people are not the CEO. They cannot announce sweeping changes by diktat. There is no MBA stuffed strategy department to make shock and awe slides. No hotline to the CFO as ultimate enforcer.

Instead, to make changes that stick, you will inevitably need your colleagues' support. This is much more likely if your focus is on a tangible outcome that feels achievable by others. This will be more emotionally manageable for your colleagues, most of whom are not coming to work in order to drive change, but to do a pre-arranged job to the best of their abilities and have a life after 6pm.

Settling for some real and visible change early on within a more reasonable timeframe is preferable to endless exhortations and meetings that deplete your energy, fatigue others and erase hard won political capital. This step by step approach, pointing to tangible gains earlier on in the process is something software developers have known for years. Organisational and cultural change agents can learn from them.

So not, ‘ok guys lets re-invent this business yeah?!’ but ‘Let’s find 3 ways to make the working week more productive?’

A few years ago whilst we were working for Samsung Mobile, we were lucky to witness just such an approach. Everyone knew that the internal culture at Samsung was too engineering focused and hierarchical for its own good. This resulted in expensive mis-steps in the consumer space. There were many consultants who had tried to influence this client leadership around the need for wholesale change. They didn’t make a dent.

The then Samsung Mobile CMO took the decision to get support internally to make an advert about the extraordinary innovation heritage and culture at Samsung, rather than just the usual product hero features that Samsung had indulged in for years. When it appeared, it did more to embolden, empower and assist a younger generation of changemakers within this large organisation than any amount of grand plans.

This example is meant to highlight that dealing with the specific when you want things to change in an organisation will provide more energy, participation, engagement and goodwill than dealing in abstracts. And even something as ‘superficial’ as an ad can do that.

The quicker you can point to results that your colleagues can experience at first hand – or their friends – the greater organisational social currency you have created. This is then ready to deploy for your next challenge.