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10 things to help people change to Smart Working

This is the follow-up article to 10 Things I Hate About Change, from January 2013. Most of the advice still applies, we feel.

[Archive article] 10 things to help people change to Smart Working

Resistance to Smart Working and how to deal with it – Part 2

The positive approach to nipping negativity in the bud

Here Andy Lake proposes 10 positive steps to take positive control of a Smart Working implementation programme.

This will help you to build a strong grounding for change and gaining the support of the majority, rather than being put on the defensive by heel-diggers and saboteurs.

There is further guidance on a positive approach to culture change for Smart Working in Andy’s book management book Smart Flexibility.

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 Working.

  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 familiar?

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 formulate these.

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 Definitely Going To Do This.

Having clarity of vision and intention will also underpin your messaging in your communications programme.

  1. 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% more 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 back to them is to ask them to explain the merit in doing (fewer) things more expensively.

  1. Involve everyone in shaping working practices

With the benefits agreed, everyone can be challenged and motivated to come up with ways to increase service efficiency using new Smart Working techniques.

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 there 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 ourselves?

  1. 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 better.

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 of change.

  1. Challenge all assumptions about work and roles

The worst way to introduce Smart Working is to get a group of people to think about smarter 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, e.g. preconception about ‘this role can be done flexibly but this one can’t’, etc.

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 exception.

  1. Motivate the Advocates

To get a real buzz about change, a change programme needs to harness the energy of the people 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.

  1. Reward compliance, marginalise recidivists

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 purpose.

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 ways.

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.

  1. 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 by 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.

  1. 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.

No exceptions!

  1. Deliver

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 practices.

Get these in place as quickly as practicable, and the momentum of the enthusiasm for change will do the rest.