Why Change Hackers Are Needed In Today’s Business
“Why is it that every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?” asked Henry Ford (1863-1947) in the early nineteen hundreds. Fifty years later McGregor would call for a more Human enterprise (as opposed to a mechanical one). While the idea of the participative leader and the empowered employees have been around for some time, one can still wonder why is it that employees still come to work with “half of their brains tied behind their back”?
Clearly, with the pace of change showing no signs of slowdown, the case for fostering faster innovation within our organizations is indisputable. The benefits are not nice to have, they are a matter of survival. Innovation does not only mean product-innovation, it also refers to process-innovation.
In fact, Gary Hamel, internationally acclaimed management expert, goes further. He suggests that the winners of tomorrow will be those companies that “evolve their management models faster than their competitors”.
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Engaging today’s workforce means decentralizing decision-making. What this looks like is handing over important decisions to employees that were, up until now, the responsibilities of the executives. But that should not come as a surprise; after all, no one knows what needs to be done better than the people who are the closest to the action. This is rarely the case for the insulated top-leaders in their ivory towers.
While the idea is accepted and the benefits well researched, the practice of it is much less common. Here are the 2 most common pitfalls companies encounter in their search for sustained competitive advantage.
Pitfall #1: “We have met the enemy and it is us” – Walt Kelly (1913-1973)
One of our clients, a long-time global leader in its category had, over the years, lost its position to more agile, less cost-driven competitors. To regain its former glory, the company’s executives knew they would need to inculcate and cement a culture of innovation. Executives also knew that getting there would imply cutting the red tape. Ironically to get to a point where we could actually execute on the plan took the senior leaders months of wrestling with the idiosyncrasies of an out-dated regime.
Engaging today’s workforce means decentralizing decision-making. What this looks like is handing over important decisions to employees that were, up until now, the responsibilities of the executives.
Pitfall #2: Search for the silver bullet
At Challengera we’ve encountered many companies that are still stuck in the old mindset – the search for the silver bullet that will solve their problems. In one assignment, the top management wanted to improve processes throughout their global organization. Towards that end, we ran internal crowdsourcing campaigns for process simplifications. These worked very well – generating numerous, fresh (and applicable) ideas. More often than not these bottom-up ideas could actually be replicated across the board and be the source of important cost-savings. Yet, with top-management failing to instill within the organization the need for the continuous hacking of exciting processes, eventually employees stopped caring.
Consistent innovation requires a culture of ‘change hacking’
The large-scale engagement that is needed for organizations to accelerate innovation calls for one thing, a culture of change. And to support that culture, we need what I term ‘Change Hackers’.
What is a Change Hacker?
A Change Hacker is an employee who’s been given the unconditional permission to hack the system. When that permission is granted, that is when change becomes a shared mindset and not an orchestrated top-down event, wonderful things start ensue. Change hackers arise. As this happens, short term fixes and long-term growth plans surface from all pockets of the organization. Just like in a beehive, in a culture of ‘change hacking’ things happen fast as the energy is high, as everyone’s role is obvious and as the direction is unmistakable.
A Change Hacker is an employee who’s been given the unconditional permission to hack the system.
In other words, a Change Hacker is constantly on the lookout for improvement opportunities that have the potential to positively impact the future of his/her work, team, and ultimately organization. Change Hackers are change-initiators not change-dictators. They spot the need for change, bring it to the attention of others, engage in it when in line with their expertise. They often serve as nodes within the network spreading ideas across the organization, allowing change to happen.
As we have seen, creating a culture of Change Hacking is pivotal for any organization that wants to stay in the race. The good news is that creating such a culture within our organizations is not only within reach, it is also to some extent, easier than it may appear to be. It mostly has to do with corporate leaders actually ‘leading’. It has to do with leaders and managers alike having the courage to ‘let go’ so that employees may (finally) come to work with two hands and a whole brain.
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