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Supporting organisations to bridge the gap between strategy and action at moments of change, making sense and shaping conversations with Big Pictures.

Blog

Why isn't our new strategy taking off?

julian burton

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We often hear leaders’ frustration that the frontline don’t get the new strategy. And we hear from those people that they are being asked to implement a new change strategy they don’t understand, don’t feel connected to, or don’t believe in. 

However brilliant a strategy looks in Powerpoint, it may not be worth much if it’s created at the top and cascaded down onto the people who will be delivering it. The one-way nature of traditional "comms" can create alienation, confusion and lack of meaning if it doesn't encourage the dialogue necessary for people to make sense of and fully understand the changes being asked of them.

This separation between strategy development and its implementation is often cited as a major cause of failed change programmes. The frontline should be involved in the strategy development process. Listening to what they have to say and taking their ideas, concerns and objections seriously can go a long way to creating a genuinely shared narrative that everyone can feel part of and committed to.

The Change 'Curve'

Delta7 Change

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The Change Curve is a well-known model that tracks the typical behavioural stages we can pass through when reacting to change. From initial shock, through gradual steps of understanding until the change can be fully comprehended and adapted to. It’s often visualised as a graph that charts the emotional ups and downs of change as a curving line - but it may be hard to appreciate this bigger picture viewpoint when you’re deep within it.

At Delta7 our process of evolving a visual narrative through conversations and creativity is well suited to the challenges of the Change Curve, particularly because of the way that people react to change differently. A group can be at a variety of stages along the curve, and this throws up contrasting perspectives of view that make for richer, more enlightening conversations. People in the early stages of the curve who are struggling most to make sense of change can find helpful meaning from the observations of those who may be further along. Insights that arise from these conversations have the potential to carry everyone forward to a better position, both for digesting the implications of the change and for considering what they can do to respond to it effectively.

How much do you trust your people?

Delta7 Change

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In organisations with a ‘command and control’ culture there is the expectation that orders should be followed to achieve a desired result – rather like following the instructions from a sat nav to reach a destination. This may usually work well, but learning is limited, and the dependency on the sat nav can leave the driver lost or stuck if anything goes wrong with it.

In organisations where individuals are trusted to take more responsibility for their work people have an incentive to take more care, and can become more invested in their outcomes. They are reading the map and charting the route, and having to be alert to their surroundings. Things will go wrong from time to time, but then lessons can be learnt and better solutions found. Sometimes taking a new turning will lead to discoveries and opportunities that would never have appeared on the sat nav.

How do you measure culture change?

julian burton

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Evaluation can be one of the most challenging aspects of doing OD, often because it can be invisible to clients who are not present when we do our work.

The purpose of evaluation can be anything from calculating ROI to learning and development.

Either way, it involves rigorous scoping with clients right at the start of an intervention. We have found that asking these questions at the beginning of an OD intervention helps us both get a better grip on why we are doing it.

• What do I need to know/understand? (Why Am I evaluating?)

• What will I do with what I learn? (What is my intent?)

• How will I make changes based on what I learn? (What will I do?)

What’s your story about evaluating OD?

Going to the moon and back

Delta7 Change

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The well-worn tale of the Apollo Program, the visiting president, and the helpful janitor serves as a memorable illustration of team engagement and an apocryphal narrative about storytelling. After all these years it still stands out as a great example of the motivating effect of an inspiring vision.

 “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills.” John F Kennedy, 1962

Stories invite us to go on a journey and are so effective at delivering a message because they give the audience a way of engaging with the details and caring about the outcome. We are drawn in by being able to relate to the characters, their motivations and needs. We also recognise the challenge in the current state and become curious about how it can be resolved. The challenge may demand a journey or quest, which we hope will have a fitting outcome.

Every organisation has it’s own narrative and while not all projects and stories can be as uplifting or as clear-cut as a mission to the moon, seeing our place in a bigger picture can invest work with more significance and be emotionally compelling. Having the opportunity to reflect upon a narrative and make sense of our role within it allows us to consider new possibilities, inspire us to take on new responsibilities and conduct our daily work mindful of a long-term strategic vision.

Most of all it helps us take ownership of the challenge and consider what we can do differently to help overcome it. The scale and status of one’s role does not necessarily define the value of each contribution.

Even though we may have little influence in the grander scheme of things, by taking personal responsibility to manage the quality of our work we can maximise the positive effect we have. And if everyone has this same personal investment in the outcome of the story there’s no limit to what can be achieved.

The Eve of Disruption

paul stroud

Transformation programmes can be challenging and disruptive, especially when staff are expected to get on with their business as usual efficiently throughout. Hunkering down to try to focus on what they need to get done, with a dull ache of change fatigue, they’re not at their most receptive.

To break out of this defensive position people must feel that they are actively involved in a programme, not merely on the receiving end of the latest salvo from the leadership. A chance to be listened to, to contribute, to influence. That the issues they have experienced personally can be recognised more widely, and addressed. In that way they can become active participants, playing a part in driving a change rather than just being observing passengers.

Without this meaningful involvement a transformation programme risks being hobbled from the start - regarded by employees as the latest attack on the order they’d carefully established, and something to be resisted or quietly subverted.

It should be an opportunity to embrace, as the route to changes that could make a positive difference for them and their organisation. One way or the other they will find a role to play: it all depends on whether the transformation is done with them, or to them.

How do we respond to change?

julian burton

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When change is poorly communicated it can often create discomfort, and people react to that discomfort in different ways. In that state important strategic messages are unlikely to land because people’s minds are focused on their own fears and concerns.

Panic, denial and avoidance are common reactions which are often interpreted as resistance to change. It’s easy to judge these reactions as resistance, though they are natural, largely unconscious responses to what can feel threatening, overwhelming or scary. I know that when I’ve been worried or concerned about my future, I’m not usually in the best state of mind to listen to other people’s helpful advice. Emotional responses to change often go unvoiced if there’s not enough safety or trust to share them with someone.

In this situation it’s really important to find an opportunity for catharsis - which is the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.

We believe that by acknowledging the emotional impact of change and allowing space for it’s expression, conversations can become more productive. Then there is more chance of creating a shared story that everyone cares about and feels part of - because they feel cared about too.

Are there some things that money can’t buy?

amy morton

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Today, almost everything is up for sale. So says Michael J Sandel in his book “What money can’t buy”. The question is, says Sandel, do we want to live like this? Are there some things where it just isn’t appropriate to pay money for them? How about buying a prison cell upgrade (apparently a nicer cell costs you $82 a night in Santa Ana, California)? Or buying the right to shoot an endangered black rhino (yours for $150,000 in South Africa)?

Sandel makes the case that whether or not something should be up for sale depends on how we value it. Would buying and selling it somehow corrupt or degrade its nature? If so, then maybe it shouldn’t be traded for money.

The book got me thinking about the things that money can’t buy. In our work we get a privileged look into the world of our clients and the relationship between employer and employee. When employees “go the extra mile” it’s not because of their pay cheque. You can’t pay your employees to give something that is, by its very nature, discretionary.

Self-disclosure, team cohesion and the importance of sharing stories

julian burton

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I’ve recently been thinking about how important self-disclosure is in building relationships, and how I can learn to make it more of a part of my personal development. What started me thinking about this was a recent inspiring story about how England’s football squad learnt self-disclosure to build the trust and cohesion in the team we saw this summer in Russia.

In a recent Guardian article about the England football team’s sports psychologist, Pippa Grange, has been credited with their relative success in the 2018 World Cup by, amongst other things, encouraging self-disclosure amongst team members. As part of their training before the tournament, they regularly sat together and shared some of their intimate experiences and feelings, particularly around their fears about failure. The point, Southgate has said, is to build trust, “making them closer, with a better understanding of each other”.

Yet it can often be confronting to take of the armour off and share feelings and experiences at work. A lack of trust can mean that it’s not safe enough to reveal personal truths such as fear of failure. When you create a safe space to share its possible to learn about each other’s experiences, and in the process change our stories about ourselves and each other. As with the England team’s example, self-disclosure fosters stronger bonds between team members, uniting them around a common task or purpose and so improving performance. 

In our experience we find that the most meaningful and motivating narratives are co-created through sharing stories. When people have opportunities to share how they feel, what they value and what motivates them, the shared narrative that emerges builds a stronger sense of belonging and common purpose. It’s common in organisations these days for leaders to want to create a new strategic narrative. Developing a shared narrative helps groups make sense of change, linking personal experience and identity to the organisation purpose and its wider context. 

In the 2014 World Cup, it was reported that some of the England players were actually questioning whether they wanted to play or not, such was their fear of failure. Compare that to 2018. When Fabian Delph’s wife was about to give birth, his team paid for a chartered jet to allow him to be there for it and get back in time to play Belgium. 

This is a wonderful story about Pippa Grange’s vision and commitment for creating a new team narrative of belonging and cohesion, nurtured through taking risks and encouraging the self-disclosure that led to a more effective team that we can all be proud of.

What makes a story compelling?

Delta7 Change

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John le Carré really nails what is at the heart of any great story; drama. By establishing conflict in a situation, the need to restore order and balance becomes the motivation for action. The unfolding story is the journey taken to make sense of the conflict, define the challenges, and undertake the transformation required to meet them.

The drama of organisational change can be scary, so people need to be clear what's at stake for them and their organisation. When change is complex and hard to grasp, a story can help people understand the connection between cause and affect, to make sense of what is going on around them, and think about what might happen to them. It can provide a lens through which they create shared meaning around what needs to change, and help clarify what actions they need to take ownership of.

When a story speaks to people's concerns and aspirations it can be compelling, affecting the way they think, feel, act and behave. It gives them the context they need to make sense of - and take responsibility for - their part in achieving it's outcomes.

We believe that a compelling story is one of the most important elements of a change programme – it helps employees make sense of what’s at stake and take ownership of the organisation’s journey by seeing themselves within it.