Well, the verdict is in. We’re never going back to the office! A few weeks ago, responding to a friend’s post, I mused: “what’s going to happen when people just don’t go back”. Well here we are. So what does this all mean for change?
Implementing change in a virtual or hybrid setting is different, but no more difficult. Where in the past, we would rely on a lot of
1. Using digital tools instead of face-to-face meetings
One of my favorite exercises that will go 100% virtual in the future is process mapping. While I love a good whiteboard and sticky note, there are great digital tools out there that can bring a collective experience into the virtual realm easily. We currently use a whiteboard application that allows individual users to brainstorm, add, map and discuss while using a Realtime collaborative meeting tool with video or voice. What is wonderful about this approach is that the work can be accessed outside of the meeting and worked on independently. All of the work and iteration remains 100% transparent to the team.
Interactions in the digital space will need to be planned carefully until they become more routine. Like anything it is going to feel more difficult at first, but will get easier. Think about using polling and reaction tools, hybrid video/voice collaborative work spaces and messaging with some enhanced features like huddles, quick meetings, file share and other built-in tools.
2. Politics and informal power structure will become less visible and weaker
Few of us miss the water-cooler schmooze sessions and political dealings at lunches and behind closed doors. Working remotely eliminates the requirement to participate in these office social events. Going forward people will have the strongest relationships with those they work with closely and looser connections with others. Power structures will more closely follow the organizational structure as there are fewer opportunities to develop ancillary power structures. Influence and politics will be more local, within teams.
From the perspective of change, the team will become the central locus that you’re working with, so rather than stakeholders or persona-based systems, understanding how each team works is going to be most important.
3. Written communications and video will dominate
Change leaders, you’re going to have to brush up on your communication skills, and quickly! While all-staff or town hall meetings may still happen, they will be focused on a few things, and likely won’t have room for a lot of change messaging, even if the “change” is an enterprise one. This is where competition for people’s attention will become important. Getting your key messages clear, and getting comfortable with short video formats is going to be very important. Video and audio material will be the front-runners and written communications, like posts, content for microsites and newsletters will be the cornerstones of change communications going forward. Learning and retaining information in a digital environment works best when:
a. Its short
b. Its audio AND visual together
c. There is always new content or new information
Since we know it takes at least 7 times to hear a message before it sinks in, you’ll need to work this into your communications approach. Short and sweet, and then repeat.
How else do you think the changes in the world of work will affect change? Are there any I’ve missed?
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash
Why is it that change seems to increase organizational politics?
Politics are the invisible activities that drive the way things happen in an organization within the bounds of its culture and with reference to positions of power and influence. Every organization and group of people has politics. It’s related to Status roles, and how we as humans self-organize in every social situation that we’re in.
The introduction of organizational change upends the existing political game. Suddenly there are new opportunities for gains and losses of power and influence. And that is why this activity increases when change is introduced.
Connected Change ™ differentiates between Power and Influence and Politics as separate elements, and the reason is because, Power and Influence determines the ability to make decisions and drive change, politics is the activity by which people gain power and influence.
A textbook definition from the field of Organizational Behaviour: “Organizational politics are informal, unofficial, and sometimes behind-the-scenes efforts to sell ideas, influence an organization, increase power, or achieve other targeted objectives”. I’d argue that most of the time, politics are occurring behind-the-scenes and much of this activity is invisible. That is why it is critical for change managers to understand and be able to work within political structures in organizations to make change happen.
So what does political behavior look like:
There are some great examples here too, of what that actually looks like and breaking it down in a way that those coming into an organization can “see” and “feel” the political landscape. I’ve personally seen many of these behaviors and I’m sure you have as well.
You can already see how this can start to ramp up during times of change. Political activity drives the rumor mill, and the stories that get told. That is why the critical part of change leadership is developing a strong sponsorship role, but also building alliances with positions of power and influence in the organization who can help bring about the change. The key here is playing the political game. Understanding the interests of those in power and how the change can help them. Working through the “what’s in it for me” at a level of power is key to making this happen.
Using the political structures for the purposes of change is important. Understanding who are the groups of people with common interests, understanding and approaching existing alliances is key to making change happen and stick. This is key part of the change strategy that happens during the planning stages and is critical. Furthermore, engaging in relationship building and alliance building around the change is an important activity to gather momentum and attention for the change. This is just politics, but for the purposes of the change itself.
How have you seen politics support or undermine change in your organization? What are some solutions you’ve found helpful?
Understanding how power works within organizations is key to understanding our ability to influence and affect change.
But before we dive into the power structures inherent in organizations, we need to understand the broader power structures that exist in society that influence not only our day-to-day lives but also how organizations within society function. One of the tools I like to use is this one from the University of Guelph’s Office of Diversity and Human Rights, called Building Community: Introduction to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Chapter 1 has a fantastic breakdown of the concept of privilege including a confidential tool that a person can use to assess their own privilege relative to dominant Canadian societal norms, and the pictorial of the wheel of power and privilege.
This tool, based on extensive research is an easy way to think about how privilege affects power and our seat at the table and thus, our ability to make the decisions in an organization that affect change. To an extent, this also fuels how others view our status relative to others. These factors can also play a role in how much influence we have, and how others view what we have to say.
A simple way I like to use this is a physical exercise.
For the sake of this post, just imagine that all the leaders in an organization are sitting around a board room table. This is where the decisions are made. The center of power.
Now, imagine, that for every category on that wheel:
This is a very powerful exercise to use within leadership teams especially those that are homogeneous and aggregated around the traditional power locus. It is a striking visual reminder for those of us with privilege. We are the ones who are responsible for making sure that we are bringing our teams to the table equitably and ensuring that we are taking on the responsibility of leveling power within the organization.
When thinking about change, those remaining at the table have the most power to make change happen. So what can they do to lend their power to enable change for others?
This is one example of a tool that I use to evaluate power as part of Connected Change™ and challenge teams to face power dynamics within their own organizations. I find, however, that this exercise works best in person, both for the physical aspects of it, and also for the vulnerability of the team.
What are some of the ways you could adapt this exercise to be used virtually?
“Come gather round people, wherever you roam, and admit that the waters around you have grown…” A warning and a prophecy. A song that is both a sentimental funeral dirge and a battle cry.
This famous song written in 1964 by Bob Dylan feels like it could have been written for today. This may be one of the reasons why it continues to be covered by new artists all the time… it feels as new now as it did then. Change is eternal.
It’s true. The world has changed, we’ve changed, and we’re in the middle of the biggest shift and transition that any of us have experienced in work and in life.
It's hard to see change when you’re in the middle of it and in the messy middle is where we are. Its also extremely difficult to see where we are going from the middle of a change without a direction, a map, and light at the end of the tunnel. We will eventually get through to a new world of work, but what will things look like on the other end? I’m not going to try to predict what the future of work will look like, what kind of offices we’ll have, as it doesn’t seem to work out that well. We are not living in the 1960’s version of the future office!
Trends of the Future:
How to prepare:
Build adaptability and flexibility amongst your staff and organization. In the change lexicon, we call this change resilience. As change is going to be part of our everyday operations, we will constantly be adjusting to changes in our environment, volatility and disruption are things we must learn to expect. Some examples of this include – training for management and leaders in the new world of work, managing remote and distributed teams, and building problem solving and critical thinking skills personally, and within the organization.
Secondly, Working is becoming a transactional relationship between employees and companies, as the corporate promises of ladders, careers and corporate glory have not delivered. This is going to change culture in organizations whether leadership likes it or not. It will also mean that some of the systems of power, politics and how motivation works will change, as rewards and recognition will no longer be aligned with dominant cultural values. People leaders will need to be examining organizational culture and how the systems that they have relied on for incentives and productivity will have to change to adjust to this new world.
As the song goes… “As the present now will later be the past” We need to start looking to the future and finding ways to better adapt and respond to change, and there is no better time than the present.
To cap it off with some lightness and humor, I’ve been a fan of this song for a long time, and even will occasionally try to play it on guitar. For some amusement and fun, I’ve included a list of situationally appropriate versions of this song (aka my favorites) enjoy!
Taking you to Church The Brothers And Sisters
Narrowly avoiding a bar fight Flogging Molly
A quiet Sunday morning Herbie Hancock and the Imagine Project
Surfin’ The Beach Boys
A country ride Flatt & Scruggs
Over the winter months, my spouse started a new job. It was actually great for me, since I work in our shared home office and I was happy about having my space back to myself! As a change consultant, I work primarily from home, and there is something about having a nice quiet place to be. Over the years I’ve gotten used to having this quiet space just for me!
My spouse obviously felt the same, he couldn’t get out of here fast enough. His first week coincided with the first attempt at his company to entice people back to the office. On his first day, he walked in through the big revolving glass doors and was confronted with tables full of cupcakes and not a soul in sight. When he got home and told me about it I said: “It’s going to take a lot more than cupcakes”. (they haven’t hired me as a consultant, but I could have at least saved them that expense!)
Here we are. Sept 1st 2022, after 2 and a half long pandemic years, summer vacations and what finally felt like a break, we’re back to “school”. Well, for some folks, they never left, but I digress. Companies and their people are now facing the reality of new corporate policies around flex work and remote, and for many organizations that means, back to the office in many ways.
If you’re dreading back to the office this fall, you’re not alone. Part of why this is so hard is that we’ve developed great routines after 2 years, we don’t want to get kicked out of our comfort zones and we’ve adapted. Do you remember what it felt like in March 2020 when you had to stay home? We were feeling scared and uncomfortable! Staying home felt like a punishment. But now, (for work at least) there’s no place we’d rather be.
So how can we make this change easier for ourselves? Here are 5 things you can do from the perspective of a change expert:
I’m curious to know, what other tips would you add to this list? And how is the transition going for you?
Articles, posts, thought pieces, emerging research, podcasts and videos from the founder and principal at Charthouse Advisory Services