“Managing an organisational change initiative is like trying to rebuild a large sea vessel while sailing it through unknown waters. With everything in flux, there’s no solid place to stand.” (Jeff Dooley, Adaptive Learning Design and Chris Thorsen, The Performance Edge).
The architecture of organisational learning needs to be articulated to compel new ideas and to help employees think and act in new ways. New practices, policies and resources are needed to channel activity in new directions.
These might include new governance structures, new vehicles for exchanging information across boundaries, new systems for measuring success, and new ways of integrating learning and working.
An example of the latter is a source of physical learning called aikido, the martial art of peace. Aikido fosters deliberate, slow, attentive movements. With time, and practice, people develop a relaxed, balanced attitude within their own bodies, neither rising up to clash with resistance, nor giving in to it. They cultivate a graceful quality of activity, one that helps them engage the trust and confidence of others during times of crises. Whether through aikido, or some other “mindfulness-oriented” discipline, employees can learn to use changes around them as a source of power, as sailors use ocean currents and the wind.
“My students think I don’t lose my centre. That is not so; I simply recognise it sooner, and get back faster” – Morihei Ueshiba, O’Sensei, Founder of Aikido. Aikido is based on the principle that employees should not resist force but harness it, a technique that can prove invaluable in dealing with change and maintaining a positive attitude.
“Aikido helps people refocus and regain their balance,” says Richard Strozzi Heckler, a fifth-degree black belt. Heckler, cofounder of Tamilpias Aikido and Rancho Strozzi Institute in Petaluma, California, has initiated managers at AT&T, Cargill, American Express and Bankers Trust in the way of Aikido.
In 1985, executives of the San Francisco-based communications start-up, Cellular One, employed aikido principles to build a complex cellular network in half the time ever attempted before, without sacrificing the health of their families or the spirit of their employees. The company accomplished this by designing their own expansion to piggyback onto that of a primary competitor, stepping off the line of direct attack and blending their effort with that of their adversary. Leadership team members at Cellular One developed this approach by practising the “art of peace” together. Often, after an aikido session, they would talk through the application of that principle to a business problem. “Applying aikido principles in business,” Cellular One president James Dixon said, “allows me to enjoy situations that in the past would have been painful or debilitating because the pressures were too great or the fears too strong.”
General Electric is also renowned for its pioneering approaches to organisational change and for recognising that significant change requires profound shifts in people’s attitudes and beliefs. In the 1970s, General Electric was known for its strategic planning but the most detailed of plans may need a quick rethink, following a single unanticipated event. Instead of being a company governed by planning, GE is working to become an organisation that values change and understand the power of people effort.
For employees to be pro-change they need to be equipped for the unknown, having their portfolio of skills and talents surfaced and ignited to reach full potential. This is where the term “Stewardship” comes into play. Stewardship differs from having employees motivated and committed. Stewardship takes motivation and commitment up a notch. It means that if employees grow into being “Stewards” they will persevere in achieving the organisation’s vision. In doing so they will work in the best interests of the organisation, placing it first before their own interests, associating the organisation as an extension of their own psychological structure, self-image and self-concept and attributing the organisation’s success to their own success.
However, in order to nurture in every employee a “Stewardship” frame of mind, organisations need to trigger employees in wanting to carry the organisation’s flag high and in doing so, giving them the same equal exhilaration as having succeeded within their own personal lives. By building on this stewardship drive, employees think as entrepreneurs and their point of orientation is always that they are in a position to enhance the organisation’s market value through their actions. By doing so, employees make it their own show. Once they believe in their product, they can master their product and became “Product Enhancers”.
They need to feel and own the brand but in order to do so they need to feel more empowered.
“Being the Brand” and “Empowerment” are like Siamese twins. “Being the Brand” is something vibrant, living and changing; it is something all employees need to care about. It requires passion. When employees own the brand identity, empowerment becomes part and parcel of the formula, as employees became even stronger brand leaders with an appetite to do things that matter to all stakeholders alike. To warrant this level of affiliation by each employee, the organisation needs to communicate change in its full force and build a stronger connection between the employee and the organisation, having employees feeling part of what is going on, knowing their roles and pursuing them with a purpose.
Some organisations are casting their employees as change champions, with little, if any, backstage support to achieve challenging objectives. Developing a change-oriented culture is certainly the way forward to sustainable growth. However, the process of asserting that employees’ output becomes strongly aligned with organisational goals requires a change formula that is strong enough to provide strategic direction, yet flexible enough to allow employees to be and act extraordinary.
Many managers are sent on courses about change management, learn valuable new skills then go back to 200 e-mails and forget all about it. Organisations need buy-in from the “entrenched” managers. They need to understand, live, breath a change philosophy that is tailor-made to each organisation. Organisations must constantly possess an ever-expanding basket of goods that keep the knowledge pool of people in close shores to “grow with change”. During the FHRD conference being held on 16 October, pragmatic approaches to set the stage for changes in organisational behaviour will be discussed.
Dr Borg is the executive director of Consultancy & Training Acumen Centre Ltd and is a management consultant with a track record in international and local consultancy. She will be one of the speakers at one of the interactive workshops during the Foundation for Human Resources annual conference on 16 October.