email: geoff@cultureofus.com

3 things I have learnt about change

A great question was posed on the internal Yammer social network not that long ago was; ‘what (are) the most useful things that you have learned working at NAB?’. As I come to the end of my time in nab I have thought about this question for some time. My response here is in the context of lessons I’ve learnt about implementing change in large organizations, particularly since my time at nab.

Lesson 1: Relationships are crucial.

I first joined nab I joined as an internal consultant within the central learning department (almost six years ago) as a part of that leadership group. Being a new team forming, I recall one of the first meetings we had and we went around the table answering a question on what our leadership perspective was. One of the team members in the team led with, “Relationship, relationship, relationship… it is what is most important to me…”

At the time I half laughed to myself, wondering what this guy was on about and how he could come up with something so simplistic. Not long after this meeting, the team member racked up over 20 years in the nab. On reflection, I realise I’m a slow learner, as I think it took me a few years to really understand how valuable his insight really was. In an organisation where peoples perceptions are the dominant currency and trust is a precious commodity, building long lasting and deep relationships is vital to being successful in implementing change in a large organisation.

Lesson 2: Implementing change requires a system wide perspective and bold moves.

Last year at nab, I learnt about systems thinking and applied it to an issue which has been one of my key focuses at nab – how to improve the capability of our people. It has been the contuniation of a journey to better understand the complexities we face in large organisations.

Being a part of the system has the added effect of making it more difficult to change it. Remember, those most successful in the current system rely on the constants of the current system. Resisting change when embedded in the system, becomes instinctual and an uncouncious competence, rather than a planned response.

In the management speak that sometimes permeates in organisations, it is common to hear strategies in relation to change, that describe ”pulling this lever’ or ‘industrialzing processes’. These references are deeply rooted in our industrialized past. Notions created to improve the speed of a manufacturing line that is producing Model T Fords. Yet the complexity of our work has evolved. Our understanding of human nature has improved, but we still cling to notions of ‘command and control’ and ‘carrots and sticks’ as the way of implementing change.

If we are to become more effective at implementing change in our organizations, we need to examine the system and understand what it is telling us. Our moves to change the system must be bold! They must be grounded in new ways of thinking about how we effect change and be effective in breaking down old hard wired routines. The routines that reinforce the very behaviours which hold us back and ultimately prevent us from achieving the sort of change we are trying to instill.

Lesson 3: The strength of our networks will determine our success.

I have lost count of the number of restructures I have witnessed or been personally impacted by at nab. It has taught me that there must be a better way than our current hierarchies to organise how we work. Change will be a constant, but re-organising for change by continually re-configuring hierarchies saps energy and diverts effort. As Steve Denning explains: (based on his book, The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century):

“Hierarchy is good for making decisions but it is inflexible and unresponsive. And in today’s rapidly changing marketplace, agility is critical. Secondly, in knowledge work, a hierarchical mode of making decisions leads to decisions made by people who often don’t understand the implications of what they are deciding, and is inherently demotivating. And in knowledge work, motivation is the key to productivity. Thirdly, hierarchies are not good at innovating because there is a preoccupation with preserving the hierarchy ahead of all else. Finally, hierarchy isn’t good at innovating in a world in which innovation is critical.”

To effect change in large organizations we need a better system of orgnization connection. One that will,

  • countinue to improve our relationships,
  • allow us to build and operate in a more efficient system and
  • improve our interconnectedness throughout our organizations.

These lesson have driven me explore some new ways, companies such as Google and Zappos are using, to change the way we work in organizations. Organizational systems such as “dynamic linking” or “wirearchy” – which is defined as:

“”Wirearchy is a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on, knowledge, trust, credibility, and a focus on results – enabled by interconnected people and technology.” (Jon Husband, 1999)

I look forward to exploring these concepts more fully in future via this blog and also look forward to any comments, reflections or lessons you have learnt about implementing change in large organizations by posting a comment below.

(NB: Insights for lesson three, inspired by ‘Leadership for networks‘, via Harold Jarche.)

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