Weaknesses of today’s change management
Our companies are built on the premises of stability and efficiency implemented through hierarchies and routines. In a rapidly changing environment, organizations find it difficult to replicate these changes at the same speed.
Change as disruption
Most organizations consider change a disruption of the status quo. Such a disruption of operations must be approved, meticulously planned, controlled and centrally rolled out by management. Change programs therefore tend to be implemented too late and in a rather pushy manner.
There’s a prevalent paradigm: Only top management has the capacity and farsightedness to initiate change. In reality, the top management level is frequently isolated from the rest of the company by several hierarchical layers. Management is often the last to find out about the need for change. Especially if the lower management levels are hesitant about raising alarms. A ‘belated’ change program resembles a pursuit race. You’re always trying to catch up.
Risk-averse managers rarely approve change programs beyond best practice standards. They prefer to copy programs that seemed to work somewhere else. Such a deterministic approach cannot foster profound change within complex systems.
Tightly woven top-down change management programs do not tap employees’ creative potential. This often leads to resistance and cynicism within the organization. Management then falsely concludes: People simply don't want to change. The change program then turns into a propagandistic battle program whose sole purpose is to persuade people.
The platform approach
Our standard approaches to change have become ineffective. We therefore need to rethink change management. Platform solutions can serve as a useful model for that.
Platform business currently seems to be the most attractive business model on the digital market. Uber, Airbnb and Co have impressively turned entire industries upside down. Many people attribute their success to outstanding technologies. Clearly, that’s part of their success. However, what’s much more fascinating is the simplicity of the underlying idea.
A platform creates value by allowing and simplifying the exchange of two or more (independent) groups. It is based on voluntary membership. The more members there are, the more attractive the platform becomes. Once the platform reaches a critical size, people from that target group simply can’t afford not to join. There’s a ‘suction effect’. Just think of the virtually magical appeal of social media platforms..
Change management goes change platform
This taxonomy can be directly applied to change management. Here are some suggestions on how to design change as a ‘platform business’:
Stop assigning. Start sharing.
In a platform system, change can be initiated by anyone in the company. Change initiatives can be started and shared by a small number of employees. People can join in if they also perceive the necessity for change. This creates a common interest group. Existing platforms can be used or combined to facilitate an exchange between members (e.g. Intranet, social media channels, face-to-face events).
Once the group – and the need for change, respectively – reaches a critical mass, this sends a clear signal to management. However, this system only works if top management is willing to use the platform as well.
Working Out Loud is an example of a successful initiative across company boundaries. It started as a grassroots movement and spread throughout many renowned German corporations, gaining impressive recognition and leverage.
Stop selling. Start inviting.
Profound change requires genuine commitment. This can best be achieved by inviting all members of the company to co-create change. Hacks are one way of doing that. They allow everyone in the organization to disrupt current practices and processes.
The outcome is often incredible, especially when it comes to customer-related processes. Those who work closely with the market every day are able to produce totally different and much more effective solutions than a tightly formed task force of senior managers.
The platform approach can be expanded even further: Customers as well as non- customers can be involved through co-creative approaches such as Design Thinking. This doesn’t mean that every idea will be implemented. But an entire portfolio of solutions will be created. This provides a broad scope, particularly when dealing with complex issues.
Stop managing. Start facilitating.
Traditional change management strives to go from a stable current state A to a stable target state B. Kurt Lewin identified three phases in this process: Unfreeze – Move – Freeze. Our current environment, however, calls for constant movement and flexibility. We need different ‘operating systems’ to facilitate change. Wisely used, agile approaches based on continuous testing, learning and iterating can be highly
effective in this context.
This entails a shift from powerful, centrally controlled project management offices to self-organized communities. They are the ones that identify a need for change. They experiment with initiatives and scale them, if appropriate. In such a process, management needs to change its role. Instead of directly managing change, it creates a platform that allows for profound, proactive change anywhere and anytime.
A key question in this process is: What is the general direction of the organization? Organic growth can quickly mutate and go astray. An appealing vision is required to provide orientation. But even this vision can be created with a platform approach. I’ve been fascinated over and over again by what can be achieved with co-creation.
If this new platform approach to change makes you cringe because it threatens your existing leadership business model, rest assured: You’ll have plenty to do in your new role as a facilitator. If you are open to this new approach and willing to adapt your workstyle, you will achieve much more with significantly less effort. This also applies to Change Management departments that transition to platform operators.