A Two-Step Question Towards Change

“The only constant in this world is change”

We know this quote all too well, but it still puts us on edge as we think of the uncertainty that lies before us. What the board will say, how much the stock will fall, when the Steve Jobs of our market will come round and sweep our customers off their feet.

Learning from Kodak and their insistence on film cameras, and Nokia and their inattention to software, many companies are investing in strategies for change and innovation.

But once you have your strategy in place, what really determines its success is your people.

The million-dollar question is, “how can we get that buy-in on our new way of doing things, the Obama-like “Yes we can!” from our employees?”

It starts with two basic questions: Why and How.

WHY we do what we do

Change always throws companies into a zone of chaos, hurting the most when employees have limited understanding of how important that change might be. Getting their advocacy is where the ‘Why’ needs to step in.

David Packard spoke on this ‘Why’ in 1960; a speech to his then Hewlett-Packard employees that digs at the deeper reasons why they exist. He said, “You can look around and see people who are interested in money and nothing else, but the underlying drive comes largely from a desire to do something else: to make a product, to give a service – generally to do something which is of value.”

Hewlett-Packard did not grow by making electronic measuring equipment, but by focusing on making technical contributions that improve lives.

Similarly, we must enable our employees to realise why we do what we do. This can be done by getting our team to ask themselves ‘Why’ five times from the surface of an issue, to get to the crux of the matter – our purpose.

A string of ‘Why’s for a delivery person at United Parcel Service who faces new instructions to change a delivery route would be along the lines of…

  1. Why must I follow the new delivery route? – To bypass a few streets that had traffic and more obstructions.
  2. Why must these streets with traffic be bypassed? – For a more efficient route in delivering valued packages.
  3. Why is a more efficient route needed? – So packages can be delivered to receivers on time.
  4. Why must each delivery be on time? – To ensure our customers have their packages right when they’re needed.
  5. Why must we get packages to customers right when they need them? – Because we’re in the business of meeting needs.

The aim is to help your team realise that each person and task is a crucial element to the bigger transformation, to achieving the ‘Why’.

If they can see their importance to this shift, you’re one foot in the door to having them make it happen on their level.

HOW much to hold on to

When it comes to making transformation plans, decisions are not always best made on the 54th floor, but the front lines. Cashiers at grocery stores often know more about what people buy than floor managers do, like how staff at call centres know more about how shoddy internet plans ticks everyone off more than the CMO knows.

This knowledge has to be valued and listened to on ground.

In 2013, the University of South Australia (UniSA) held a two-day online discussion to develop its next five-year action plan. While this involved all the university’s stakeholders, a majority of the participants were the university’s staff.

Real ideas were given from this majority on how UniSA can level up its contribution to all communities. The result? 18,000 posted comments in just 48 hours on an array of issues from how much students should be learning online, to how the campus might have more greenery.

From this, UniSA elevated the staff’s voices to the boardroom level, transforming their thoughts into an actionable plan. This raised the university’s profile while nurturing a sense of ownership in its employees.

Outline the decisions that are better left with higher authority. Then let go of ones that will be more impactful if the final call were given from bottom up. The goal is to keep it inclusive and collaborative, with everyone’s contribution meeting a real need, fulfilling a purpose.

These ‘Why’s and ‘How’s not only mean a higher chance of that change plan working, but also giving birth to a culture of people-driven change.

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