Part 1 of our mini-series on
Resistance to Smart Working outlined "10
Things I Hate About Change".
Our follow-up article looks at 10 ways to get proactive about
promoting and supporting the culture change needed for Smart
1. Be clear about what it is
I am always surprised at the number of
organisations that take steps towards Smart or
Flexible Working without being 100% clear about what
they are trying to achieve.
Sometimes there's a reason - Smart Working is
multi-faceted, and binding all the parts into a
coherent whole can fall by the wayside during the
drama of delivering a new workplace, or new
technologies. Or it may be that a smaller project
has grown to become a corporate programme, and no
one quite knows what it is any more. Sound
These are reasons, but not good ones, I'm afraid.
So the first way to help people get on board is
to be clear at the highest level about what Smart
Working is for your organisation. There should be a
clear statement of the vision, and the principles
underlying the new working practices. The Smart
Working Handbook and Smart Flexibility can help you
Hopefully these will inspire people to make change
work. But even the uninspired will get a clear
message that This Is Corporate Strategy and We Are
Going To Do This.
Having clarity of vision and intention will also
underpin your messaging in your communications
2. Focus on the benefits
Central to the messages are the benefits you are
aiming for - that everyone should be aiming for.
Those benefits need to be articulated in the
top-level vision, and acquire more detail when it
comes to service implementation plans.
When a change programme gets underway, it's
natural for people to focus on the details, such as
'where will I put my stuff?' or 'what kind of laptop
will I have?' or 'how will I know where all my team
are?'. By focusing on benefits - e.g. we will
be able to deal with x% of customers, or we aim to
cut commuting by x% (etc) - it helps people to keep
their eyes on the prize.
Cost-cutting is also a benefit worth celebrating,
rather than tip-toeing around it. I know there
will be some people who think Smart Working is all
just lipstick on a pig - just a cost-cut-cutting
exercise dressed up as something else. The challenge
to them is to explain the merit in doing (fewer)
things more expensively.
3. Involve everyone in shaping working
With the benefits agreed, everyone can be
challenged and motivated to come up with ways to
increase service efficiency using new Smart Working
Get people to identify inefficiencies in their
ways of working. Do they have to return to
base to write things up? Is there an excess of
paper? Do systems not talk to each other? Are the
tools for the job fit for purpose? Do people work in
silos? Is there a 'meetings culture? And most
importantly, how can this change?
The focus here is on overcoming existing issues,
rather than looking for potential problems in the
new ways of working. People do get enthused by this
kind of work. but a warning: the organisation has to
be prepared to deliver on the solution. Maybe not
all at once if it involves major technology change,
but the has to be progress, or scepticism will soon
undermine all your efforts.
And here we've started with business issues
before personal preferences, which is the right way
round for getting the whole team on board. It
creates a dynamic of purposeful fairness. So, we
have to get certain things done and achieve
improvements. With these in mind, what are the best
times and places for people to work? How, as a team,
can we support each other in creating the best
working practices for the business, and for
4. Make change fun
At the end of the day, you want to make some
seriously effective changes. But that's no
reason not to have fun on the way.
It's worth breaking away from the normal meeting
format and making workshops more of a social
occasion, with the aim of breaking down inhibitions
and engaging people to think deeply about how
they work and how ideally things could be done
Humour is very powerful in helping to challenge
traditional practices and assumptions, and also
preventing the language around the new ways becoming
too worthy or pompous.
It doesn't mean sending in the clowns or giving
everyone party hats and streamers. Once people
loosen up, there are always more than enough
comedians and tail-tweakers in any group to lighten
proceedings. Valuing cynicism through humour
is a good way of bringing onside some people who
might be otherwise resistant.
Banter in internal online forums/social media
during the change process is also valuable, and may
bring up issues and concerns in a more positive way.
The point about having fun is that people will
accept change more readily if they are emotionally
engaged and develop more of a group bond as agents
5. Challenge all assumptions about work
The worst way to introduce Smart Working is to get
a group of people down to think about flexible
working 'with their old heads on' - i.e. in the
context of how they work now.
There are some great exercises you can do to
challenge assumptions about how work is done, about
how 'this role can be done flexibly but this one
When these kinds of workshops are done well, you
can see the scales falling from some people's eyes,
and existing advocates of modernisation revel in the
opportunity to be influential.
The aim is to move together to a shared
understanding of 'flexibility as normal',
rather than having a traditional office-based 9-5
default, with flexible working seen as a tolerated
6. Motivate the Advocates
To get a real buzz about change, a change
programme needs to harness the energy of the peole
who really want to do it. I've seen too many
change programmes talk in detail with service heads
- some of whom get it, and some of whom don't.
Either way, they are rarely the people who will
champion the change, in the sense of putting
additional energy and emotional investment into
making it work.
The advocates may be at any level. Possibly
a team leader, who is itching to modernise the way
his or her team works. But it can equally be a
PA or an administrator in a pivotal role - such a
person can be amazingly influential in galvanising
other people to adopt new ways of working.
A network of advocates can help to keep the
dialogue going with the programme, cascade news,
feed back ideas and help people on an informal
basis. And this is better organised dynamically
rather than formally as a 'representative group'.
People will see what these advocates do, and they
can be positive role models for Smart Working. They
do need support, though - so the mechanisms for that
need to be in place.
7. Reward compliance, marginalise
If the organisation has decided to go down the
Smart Working route, mapped out its strategy and
identified the benefits it aims for, compliance
becomes a performance issue as much as if it were a
new sales strategy. So as well as the fun and the
energy, there has to be a demonstrable intensity of
So those who adopt the new ways, go for the
targeted benefits and can demonstrate success -
they should be rewarded. It should be an issue
in appraisals and promotion boards.
And likewise for people who undermine the new
It doesn't mean that the middle manager who wants
to work in the office 9-5 as before is in trouble.
He can still be a powerful influencer in
facilitating the flexibility of the team as a whole.
But if someone starts to insist his staff are always
in his line of sight rather than managing by output,
and colonises a quiet working pod and builds his own
nests of paper there - then appropriate action has
to be taken.
8. New stories, myths and rituals
Building a new working culture involves
developing new narratives and actions around the new
ways of working.
On the internal communications front, news and
case studies about how people in different roles are
working differently need to be got out through all
available channels, on a regular basis. Internal
social media will be helpful in crowdsourcing such
stories: it's often the informal dialogues that
follow that reinforce stories and identify new ones
that are most powerful.
As are the urban legends that can spring up.
There is a (true) story about a senior manager who
personally enforced a clear desk policy by sweeping
everything left on desks into a bin bag at the end
of the day. This has been internalised into other
organisations and dubiously applied to other
managers. It may not be exactly historical, but it
does the trick.
And new rituals need to emerge too - after
breaking the old ones, like rituals around meetings.
New kinds of rituals around briefing meetings for
distributed teams, or social activities around the
occasions when everyone does get together, should
emerge and reinforce both team identity and the new
ways of Smart Working.
9. Get the leaders doing it
The senior leaders in the organisation must
comply! They should have no doubt, when they sign up
to the vision and principles, that they have to be
exemplars of Smart Working.
We are talking here about supporting change by
creating a positive environment to change
behaviours. But that is crucially dependent on
delivering the other promised aspects of Smart
Working - the new technologies to enable working
anywhere, anytime, new processes, the alternative
working arrangements and new working environments.
So these have to be delivered, on time and
fit-for-purpose. if it can't all be done in one go,
there has to be a clear and dependable timescale to
enable an orderly evolution of new working
Get these in place as quickly as practicable, and
the momentum of the enthusiasm for change will do