Whether you work somewhere with nine or 9,000 employees, we’ve all been frustrated by organizations experiencing the malaise of average. When people stay in the same role or team for too long, get too comfortable with “the way things are”, or resist what is possible because what exists is pretty good, things can get stale. If your community at work needs a shakeup in 2017, here are 12 ways to positively disrupt your workplace this year.
Think like an outsider
A barrier to positive change is that, after a certain amount of time, we become biased towards the way we do work because we’ve been doing things a certain way for so long. When I joined Vancity in 2013 I brought a fresh perspective on learning, leadership and organizational development, having never worked in a corporate environment or human resources. It was natural for me to ask “why do we do it this way?” or “tell me more about the thinking behind this” because I was learning as much about the way we work as I was poking at areas of concern.
If you aren’t in a position to hire externally, try pulling in someone from another area of the organization on a temporary secondment who, just by being themselves, will provide unique insights for your team. Another easy approach is a paid youth internship program, which will allow you to harvest feedback and insights from the young people who will be your organization’s stakeholders for decades to come.
RISK: honestly, there are few risks to thinking like a client or a new team member; some folks might think it weird when you ask to “borrow” a member of their team for six months, but that’s about it.
REWARD: all insights are positive – no matter what they are – because everything is a learning experience and, if done correctly, this particular kind of experience will introduce you to new ways of working and, most importantly, things that you can flat out stop doing.
Be outspokenly critical
A culture of innovation and dissent must exist for this strategy to be effective and for you to not get fired. Last year I worked on a team to deliver a big technical project and the vast majority of folks were passionate about improving how things got done. The best of us didn’t take it personally because we detached the work from our personal identity. Adam Grant argues that the most original and innovative companies embrace criticism and dissent: “to continue generating and selecting smart ideas over time, organizations need to strike a balance between cultural cohesion and creative dissent.”
RISK: you criticize the wrong thing (or person) and are asked to leave right away.
REWARD: you criticize the right (or wrong) thing and are held up as a role model of innovation, leadership and collaboration because you named the problem that everyone knew about and offered a couple of solutions.
Find things that are broken
No organization is perfect. Big or small, every company, non-profit or public institution contains inefficient processes. Perhaps the thing could be done better if it was automated or maybe the person doing the work isn’t doing it very well. Or maybe it just needs to stop because it’s irrelevant. Positive disrupters should seek our imperfect pieces of work to, first, understand how they’re broken and, second, to figure out how to fix them.
RISK: if you present the problem in the wrong way it could get people fired, which I learned about from a few former auto-workers over drinks at a bar in Windsor several years ago who were replaced with robots at the innovative recommendation of their colleague.
REWARD: you fixed a perennially broken thing and are the hero of your organization!
Measure what gets fixed
Evaluating processes, experiences and/or ideas isn’t a sexy piece of work and it’s tedious, which is why, according to Fast Company’s Soren Kaplan, many organizations shrink away from it: “If you don’t measure innovation, are you still getting it? Not in any systematic way you’re not.”
Our Vancity Learning team is in the midst of measuring the change and learning process for implementing our new core banking system. Blending the “art and science” of evaluation, we have collected feedback about the training process and are now gathering insights about peoples’ experience since the conversion as well as testing their knowledge about the new system. Knowing how your people, processes and technology interact with each other to deliver a great experience for members.
RISK: there won’t be buy-in for authentic evaluation (e.g. a test that measures individual and team competency or managers’ confidence in leading change) because trust is elusive in your organization.
REWARD: the data will tell the story of how an innovative (or just plain simple) solution to a long-lasting problem creates positive impact in your organization.
Embrace oppositional forces
Call it “politics” or “connecting enemies” or “a legacy of misunderstanding”, but every organization contains people who see the world differently. Even at Vancity, where we have invested significant resources in order to created a shared understanding of our vision of redefining wealth, there is still inconsistency in terms of how we achieve the vision together. According to Adam Grant, putting people on the offensive is a good way to generate new ideas.
RISK: these people are enemies for a reason and, after they destroy each other, they will destroy you.
REWARD: most of us are scared of difficult conversations and when/if we emerge from them positively then there is a lot of potential with what happens next; this strategy could reduce gossip and enhance productivity because the leaders of the Sales and Finance teams finally talk to each other.
Use networks, not hierarchies
Successful organizations operate more like communities and less like authoritative hierarchies, which typically involve senior leaders making decisions and cascading the information to everyone else. The Valve Handbook for New Employees is one of the best examples out there for understanding what organizing people through networks. Many organizations are choosing networks over hierarchies for driving innovation and shipping work faster.
RISK: without structure, a networked approach creates confusion and paralysis because there are too many ideas and not enough authority to make decisions.
REWARD: by listening to front-line employees and empowering line-managers to implement their ideas you can bring innovation closer to customers.
Take away phones
Watch this powerful video about Millennials from Simon Sinek and consider banning phones from meetings. One of the most awesome pieces of feedback that I shared with a colleague was that his constant phone-checking during meetings was disrespectful to me and his peers. The honest and difficult conversation changed our relationship for the better and improved our presence at meetings, too.
RISK: people like and are addicted to their phones and will probably resent you.
REWARD: wow did you ever just get peoples’ attention! Use it wisely and powerfully.
Encourage water consumption
Consisting of mostly water, human beings are at our best when we’re hydrated. In addition to the health benefits of encouraging water consumption, there are social ones, too. When people have to get up frequently to relieve themselves or refill their reusable container they interact with folks and build relationships (maybe even solve problems).
RISK: you are reading this article in a location outside of the Pacific Northwest Rainforest and there isn’t enough water for everyone to drink three liters per day; and there is a potential for accidents…
REWARD: water flushes our systems and gets everything moving and when we’re getting up to pee several times a day we reduce the physical and mental atrophy earned from hours at a desk while being thrust into semi-random interactions with colleagues who are also getting up and moving around.
According to Robin Sharma, “…delivering only what’s expected is the price of admission. To grow market share, gain more loyalty and to build your brand you need to go well beyond the extra mile. You need to wow your customers. You absolutely must deliver unexpected value.” One of my goals for 2017 is to over-deliver on something in ways that Sharma describes in a recent Mastery Session.
RISK: when the standard for how work gets done changes people become uneasy and, sometimes, resent the new A+ employee.
REWARD: when people are held to a high (or higher) standard we perform better, which will add incredible value for everything from workplace relationships to customer satisfaction and community impact.
Make meetings better
Meetings are mostly awful, but they can be better and maybe even great. Meetings are ripe for disruption, too, because we spend dozens of hours every week having them, so there are lots of opportunities to tinker with new ways of running them. Have non-managers crowdsource and deliver the agenda. Incorporate mindfulness, intentional reflection or improv games to achieve different kinds of thinking and energy. Strive to run meetings for no longer than 20 minutes and don’t have chairs in the room unless someone needs an accommodation. These are all simple examples of how you can discuss the most common way to build community: meet with people.
RISK: in a command and control work environment the people who like to hear themselves talk, who like to socialize (I’m guilty of the previous two) and who like to micro-manage love meetings, so they will resist canceling them, shortening them or drastically changing them.
REWARD: most people secretly dislike or loath meetings, so changing them up will make you a hero of your workplace community!
Stop using email
Email is ineffective and pretty much everyone uses it incorrectly. We have all experienced overwritten or combative messages (or maybe we just interpret them that way). We have all been left off of – or included in – threads that leave us feeling confused or neglected. Innovative organizations are abandoning email for instant-messaging platforms like Skype, Yammer or Slack.
RISK: people like email and we are comfortable with things that we like.
REWARD: speaking directly to folks via phone or Skype reduces the misinterpreted tone of email and allows for real-time discussion, debate and questioning; tools like Slack or Yammer offer authentic and fulsome inclusion on topics because everything is in one, organized place for everyone to see all the time (not just when you’re suddenly cc’d into the conversation).
Just, like, stop
Find something that you know isn’t working well and/or isn’t necessary. Stop it for a week, a month or a quarter and see what happens. All too often people align their personal identity with the work they do (like the report they generate for Finance), so they resist the report being automated or stopping altogether.
RISK: you might stop something that, as it turns out, is super important and your customers/members or industry regulators punish you for stopping it.
REWARD: what you stop is inefficient and/or doesn’t create high enough impact and the person behind the work can be redirected to more high profile work.