Fresh thinking and organisational change – you are not alone! from Eduard Iacob's blog

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Fresh thinking and organisational change – you are not alone!

Change is inevitable: do you adapt to it or do you lead it?

Organisations of every type need to adapt to an increasingly uncertain future. Reshaping organisations, building new levels of organisational competence, finding new ways to work and future-proofing organisations have become critical factors in determining future competitiveness and performance.

For example we have already witnessed the rapid change in culture, lifestyle and aspirations between the now retiring baby boomers and Generation Y. Gen Y-ers are now the ones starting up businesses and research in the US reveals that as many as 9 out of 10 of them believe that business success should be measured by more than profit.  That’s a change many didn’t see coming, so who’s to say that the businesses that will be built by the following generation won’t be different again with different products, different hierarchies and structures and different ways of working?

Change is inevitable but do you adapt to it or do you lead it?  Are you constrained by a short term focus or energised by a long term vision?  If you have a vision of the future of your organisation and the determination to achieve it, how are you to go about it and overcome the many obstacle and challenges along the way?

There is an overwhelming body of evidence that successfully adapting to change requires the development and full use of the talents and skills of everyone within an organisation.  Sustainable success depends on being able to change attitudes and practices at all levels of a business, completely transforming workplace cultures.

This is no easy task and requires fundamentally fresh thinking to overcome obstacles such as lack of vision at senior management level, middle management intransigence, employee reluctance to accept more responsibility, resistance to real ‘teamworking’ and a lack of will to make innovation and creativity part of the organisational culture.

However, we do know that the mutually-reinforcing impact of workplace partnership, shared learning, high-involvement innovation, enabling organisational structures and systems, self-organised teams and empowering job design can create a tangible effect in workplaces which is hard to quantify. This is embodied within The Fifth Element approach to workplace innovation, creating an enabling culture and levels of workforce engagement which can help an organisation cope with both externally enforced and planned change.

As Tom Francis argues in his article, shared learning between companies is a hugely useful resource in finding ways to change entrenched attitudes and work practices. It highlights tried and tested approaches and avoids reinventing the wheel, while at the same time stimulating new thinking and innovation. Knowledge-sharing forums offer a platform to understand how other businesses do things and how they have resolved dilemmas and challenges in the process of change. For example Fresh Thinking Labs delivers both face-to-face and online access to a Europe-wide pool of experience and knowledge, and providing ideas and practical support for businesses interested in future-proofing their organisations.

Such learning networks engage small, closed groups of companies in exploring a specific issue. They offer a structured approach to identifying good practice and provide participants with a unique portfolio of tools and case study material. 

Meetings may be hosted by an employer with great experiences to share. Other members visit as ‘critical friends’, identifying positive achievements while bringing their own knowledge and experience to bear on current challenges.

Learning networks work because they are practical and dynamic and are built on trust, enabling people to share problems openly and generate new perspectives by viewing problems and opportunities from different bodies of experience.  They also provide a safe environment to test or peer review ideas and concepts before sharing them with colleagues. They can provide opportunities for shared experimentation through action learning where participants each undertake comparable change projects in parallel. And they often lead to long-term collaborative relationships.

Face-to-face networks are powerful because they support trust, openness and long-term relationships but their potential for knowledge sharing and access to wider communities of interest is enhanced massively when linked to an online “network of networks”.

Inter-organisational networking and knowledge exchange will play a vital role in helping businesses build the ability to adapt to major economic, social and cultural change and to create workplaces of the future where innovation and creativity are embedded with high performance and employee well-being.

They may also lead to a more fundamental change in the way we do business, moving away from the a confrontational model based on competition to a collaborative model based on shared goals and what Professor John Bessant describes as ‘collective efficiency’.

Effective knowledge sharing may well assist in coping with whatever change is generated by the aspirational demands by Generation X.  In any event, shared learning clearly demonstrates that confronting change need not be either lonely or haphazard.  It shows that businesses that want to embrace change don’t have to have every creative thought themselves.  They just have to network effectively and recognise a good idea when they see one.

This article by Neil Devons first appeared in the EUWIN bulletin.

For a full list of EUWIN bulletins please visit this page.