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Frictionless Organisational Change

Lindsey Daniels

We all want to make changes that provide our Customers with best service and that enable our Communities to thrive. And of course, we’d love for that to be as easy as possible.

At Places for People, we are known for providing homes to those who need them the most, but some might not know that at any one point in time, we are teaching circa 80,000 people to swim, providing invaluable life skills, and creating future swimming stars. When some of those learners grow up to be competitive swimmers, something they will never do is try and have a frictionless swim. Good swimmers know before they get into that pool that to get to the other side quickly cannot happen without friction so instead, they focus their mind on reducing the friction they’ll encounter, wearing special caps and hydrophobic swimsuits, and even shaving their entire body.

It is easy to think because the pace of change is accelerating and when we are driving it from above that People have no option but to get on board and use whatever new process, system, document, tool we are introducing. And whilst it is true that in a corporate setting there is little choice to use new things being introduced if you want to stay in a job, there’s nothing to say that People will use the new thing in the way that you envisaged and in a way that will deliver the outcomes you were seeking when you invested all of that money and time into it.  

Human beings are amazing at finding shortcuts and working around things to make their lives easier. You only need to Google “Desire paths” to see examples of nicely designed pathways intended for people to walk down being ignored in favour of shortcutting across a lawn which is ultimately for them a much easier route.  

Just like our swimmers wouldn’t expect to swim without friction, we should be actively planning for friction and working out how to mitigate it as much as possible so that the changes we are looking to introduce are as effective as we planned. 

In a project context, that means not only doing the usual project management to ensure delivery is on time and on budget to the necessary standard of quality, but also integrating best practice change management to ensure that whilst we’re getting new solutions ready for the organisation to use, we’re also spending as much time getting our People ready to use them.

  • By analysing which people will be impacted by our change and segmenting them into impacted groups based on the level and type of impact, we can ensure our People receive the right communications, training, and support to be successful in utilising whatever new process, solution, or tool we’re implementing in order to achieve the benefits we intended to deliver by making the change in the first place.
  • By involving our people who are closest to our customers and who will be the users of whatever we create in the design of the change, we can ensure that it meets their needs. We need to build the desire path in the first place and not the nice-looking but never used route.
  • By having champion networks made up of colleagues who are respected and influential in their business area we can support our People Managers to drive change.

Undoubtedly that is a lot of effort each time a change happens. But it’s still less effort than trying to get People to adopt something that’s already failed to land once. And there is another way to look at this to make change a bit easier to deliver. Back to our swimming analogy, the swimmer’s preparation is only half of the story. Did you know that swimming pools must be a certain depth to enable the fastest swim – if too shallow the swimming motion causes waves of water to reverberate up to the swimmer, slowing them down. And the sides of pools have water inlets to collect the flow of water as swimmers race through the pool, again minimising forces of the water from slowing down the swimmer.

Just as we design our pools for success, we need to prepare our organisation in a similar way so that each time we try and deliver changes, it is easier. So, what does an environment open to change look like? It is one where the behaviours of its People show that:

  • Friction and disagreement is to be embraced and not ignored
  • People are happy and brave enough to share work in progress ideas with others even without having fully thought it all through as they know that is the best way to really drive collaboration
  • Diverse perspectives are always brought to bear in decision-making and design
  • We’re happy to admit we don’t have all the answers and we don’t know – where we listen to others who do know more than us and we’re open to continuous learning and testing stuff out before we invest too much in it.
  • People are happy to work with others in the sector and beyond to share ideas and challenges as they know if you want to go fast you go alone but if you want to go far you go together

Lindsey Daniels spoke at the Housing Association Partnership Network (HAPN) North in April on the topic of Frictionless Organisational Change.

If you want to connect with others in the sector to talk all things change and transformation or you have comments to share on the topic above, please join the Housing Transformation Network on LinkedIn and get involved in the conversation.