How to future proof your business

by External13 Nov 2013

With so many articles pointing out what’s wrong with business, few actually provide specific advice for how to create change. Therese S. Kinal shares an adaptive and participatory approach to organisational change called UnleashingTM so you too can start to increase employee engagement, collaboration and innovation… and ultimately future proof your business.

Successful organisational change is much like mastering a recipe or following a meticulous instruction manual: both require care and passion, and don’t work if you take shortcuts.

Change: The steps to success

Step 1: A real, pressing & complex problem

Change happens when a team goes through a transformational process that requires personal engagement, group interdependency, collaboration and intense learning. This can only be achieved in the context of solving a real, pressing and complex business problem that has no clear solution at the outset. No ‘mickey mouse’, nice-to-have projects. Rather, choose problems that are critical to achieving strategic success.

Furthermore, the team must be given the mandate to solve the problem. This does not necessarily mean that the team should be given free reign, but rather that they are given freedom to innovate and create within agreed boundaries (e.g. budget, resources, timelines, ROI etc.).

Step 2: A diverse team with the right mix of skills and influence

Diversity is no longer about simply sitting on cross-functional teams. Unleashing™ requires diversity of thought. A good starting point is selecting a subset of all the potential sub-groups that are involved in the creation and use of the solution. The objective of the team is two-fold:

  1. Come up with new insights and breakthrough solutions through the process of co-creation
  2. Develop into individual change agents that influence and carry the change over to their departments and the wider organisation

It is important to select a team with the ‘right’ mix of skills, expertise and influence. In my experience, change is most successful when you choose members who:

  • Have been part of any strategic work to date.
  • Represent different relevant technical expertise.
  • Have influence and respect amongst their colleagues.
  • Represent different political and strategic views.
  • Are dedicated to improving the organisation and creating value for its customers and partners – not just personal career progression.

Step 3: Learning through action

Many academic institutions and consulting organisations claim to be using Action Learning, but are actually not. To keep it simple, they have adapted the experiential learning process to be a test on an actual problem solving exercise, rather than giving the participants mandate to actually solve a problem or innovate in real time.

For learning to take place, an individual must go through an explorative journey, where they learn through real life action, making personal adjustments to the learned material, developing ownership and internalising new knowledge and behaviours. In this Act-Reflect-Adapt model planning is minimised and action through piloting, prototyping and other mechanisms of testing out new processes, products or services are given priority.

Step 4: Going through a battle

As the team tackles the complex and pressing problem through exploration and action, they will go through conflict and turbulence, or what I like to call The Battle. This is a crucial part of the change process and needs to be managed by an experienced coach. If not managed well, or dismissed entirely, this conflict will significantly affect productivity, morale and results. However when going through it successfully, the team will have a better understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, form a closer bond and produce significantly better outcomes.

Step 5: Synergistic co-creation

Research suggests that teams often perform less well than the sum of their members’ contributions, or 1+1< 2. This is due to flaws such as groupthink, social loafing, conformity, intragroup conflict, group polarization, the illusion of unanimity and prioritising consensus over innovation. To avoid these common traps, it’s important to understand the difference between Traditional Teamwork and 1+1=3: Synergistic Co-creation.

In Traditional Teamwork one’s ability to influence, communicate and sell one’s ideas are common success factors. In 1+1=3 however, team members are required to have an open mind, receive other’s thoughts and input and build on and challenge their ideas. This poses a tough challenge on the team as they have to break down old ways of working and create a culture of cohesion and collaboration.

Step 6: The coach

Just like in professional sports, managing The Battle and ensuring the team is practicing 1+1=3, requires a superb coach. The coach should be hand picked and trained to empower teams to work through issues and create solutions. They should work side-by-side with the team, managing the change journey, challenging thinking, providing external perspective and ensuring the team creates breakthrough solutions and innovations that they believe in.

This model can be scaled up depending on the size of your organisation. The key is to involve approximately 15-33% of your employees and developing them into change agents. That way, the desired change can more successfully ripple through the entire organisation.

Now that you have the steps to success, isn’t it time you unleashed the potential in your organisation?

 About the author

Therese S. Kinal is the CEO and co-founder of Unleash, a disruptive innovator in the management education and consulting industry. She is the co-author of Unleashing: The Future of Work and writes, runs workshops and works with clients on a range of management issues including: The Future of Organisations, Leadership Development, Organisational Change, Adaptive Strategy Execution, Living Brand, Complex Problem Solving, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Read her blog or follow her on Twitter.