Often when we embark on a programme of change, we work hard to clarify and confirm the vision and purpose, setting out clearly what we want to see as a result. We might say we want to see a new service launched, a new team created or perhaps something less dramatic, such as the introduction of a new referral form.
Small, localised changes, such as the new referral form, can be relatively simple to develop and implement, so long as there’s been meaningful engagement of the people expected to use the new form and embed it into everyday practice.
Challenges start to emerge when the change we seek is more transformative, as in the new service or team. Here we’re asking the people involved to realise fundamental shifts in how they view themselves, their role and the way they consider and interact with those around them. Often, we’re asking people to think and behave differently.
But we don’t explicitly give them permission to do so.
At the start of the Covid-19 global pandemic, we saw people from a wide range of professions working together in ways only previously dreamt of. There was a real sense that the circumstances required us to see the professional and interpersonal boundaries that usually define us and our roles as less tangible, less certain.
We often hear Kotter’s, and others’, claim that 70% of change programmes fail, and this is often put down to, amongst other things, a lack of urgency and effective mobilisation of the people expected to understand, own and implement the changes required. Through this lens we can see the pandemic as providing the necessary urgency and carrying the necessary weight to mobilise people, on mass, to think and behave differently.
But it doesn’t have to take a global pandemic to create the conditions for sustained change.
In our work we support leadership teams to set a clear and communicable vision for change, but just as importantly, to explicitly communicate, to those affected, the permissions to work in new ways – because at its core, change often requires us to individually and collectively change what we do and how we do it. But we often don’t hear the permission to do so.
Operating in our established ways offers a sense of safety and certainty. To move outside of that presents challenges that may affect our sense of identity, role, purpose, value and legitimacy, amongst other things. Therefore, as leaders, we can’t just assume that by creating a new structure, people will simply move in and deliver the change required.
For this reason we support organisations to develop ‘collaborative knowledge networks’, which are semi-facilitated, self-defined groupings of people brought together to recognise the legitimacy of their own knowledge and experience, and through a focus on ‘human skills’ of interaction, understanding, respect, listening, etc, share their own knowledge, and through this interaction, create new knowledge. It’s this new knowledge that can provide the vehicle for change. And because it’s been created by people involved in their own network of collaborative knowledge exchange, they are invested in seeing these changes implemented sustainably.
Change is challenging, and engagement and mobilisation of people is complex. For these reasons, we’re finding that organisations can benefit from not just creating the vision for change, but creating the safety and permission, through collaborative knowledge networks, for people to know, own and implement the change themselves.