Development strategy: how to implement creative change

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Why introducing new skills and behaviours to key individuals is the first step to creative cultural transformation.

Making creative thinking commercial has long been a challenge for team management and wider training activities. The first step to overcome this challenge is focusing on cultural change.

However, with an already difficult objective in place and teamed with the fact that according to a widely repeated statistic 70% of business change projects are unsuccessful, it’s little wonder training and leadership teams come unstuck.

But there is a way to equip your people to make the creative change you want to see. Before being creative for creativity’s sake, you must first seek clarity about what it is that your clients need and the processes which best equip your people to meet those customer demands. In short, create an effective and purposeful strategy for creative change.

Introducing creative change

So what is change? Not least in relation to creativity. Disruption is a much over-used word. However, like all clichés, its ubiquity is powered by truth - things have been disrupted.

Create an effective and purposeful strategy for creative change.

Industries which didn’t exist a decade ago have colonised whole areas of the economy – arguably through creative thinking. Barely imagined routes to market have evolved from pie in the sky to passé within five years.

Understanding barriers

Culture, like disruption, is commonly used. It’s important to empower and inform through a clear strategy and highly effective communication. In short, you want your team to believe in the change. They need to feel that it will benefit them.

Despite this, culturally there may be some barriers preventing creative change, even if there has been an investment in training. These are fears about the unknown and commonly include:

  • Fear of failure: while learning something new, individuals inevitably go through some discomfort or temporary incompetence – they feel less able than they were when working in the ‘old’ way.
     
  • Fear of punishment for failure: in high pressure environments in which teams earn commission or bonuses for productivity/profitability, then there may be a real, personal cost to the individual for any dip in performance. Bonuses and commissions are quickly perceived to be part of normal remuneration and therefore any reduction is perceived as punishment.
     
  • Fear of loss of group membership: if an individual identifies closely with their team – organisations often build group loyalty purposefully – then doing something different from one’s colleagues may feel especially uncomfortable. Maintaining one’s status as a group member can be incompatible with accepting change or implementing new ways of working

Overcoming barriers

A clear plan which defines the end point and the steps required to achieve the goal has to be core to the creative change strategy. It will also require a clear communication process and a senior champion who is not only driving the approach through the organisation but is accountable for the strategy’s implementation.

It is important to position any learning required as fixing a specific problem or potential problem or readying the organisation to take advantage of a specific opportunity.

A clear plan which defines the end point and the steps required to achieve the goal has to be core to the creative change strategy.

Edgar Schein in his seminal book Organisational Culture and Leadership, explains that the learning process for those impacted by change requires Psychological Safety – in part to tackle the three fears outlined.

He identifies eight steps that make it OK to learn in an environment which is safe and provides the best opportunity for the learning to have sustainable impact (i.e. enable people to do things different and do different things):

  1. A compelling positive vision: recognising that there will be resistance to new ideas and change identifying what organisations and teams need to do to overcome this resistance.
     
  2. Formal training: having defined the required skills it is vital to undertake formal training for those affected as early as possible in the change project. This formal process involves:
    a. Why: why are we doing this and why now?
    b. What: what does good look like, how will I know I have been successful?
    c. How: what I need to do differently broken down into stages so I can achieve mastery by practicing the key steps.
     
  3. Learner involvement: this requires opportunities for individuals to manage their own approach to practice and embedding the required skills. Informal learning requires a feedback loop, recognising individual progress and identifying options for future continuous development.
     
  4. Learning in groups: because we know that individuals are embedded in groups and are (to a greater or lesser extent) subject to group norms and assumptions, it is vital to learn as a group and spread the learning to those on the periphery of the group. In a sales environment, this may include:
    a. Sales support
    b. Sales management
    c. Marketing
    d. Specialists (engineers, technicians, solution architects etc)
     
  5. Practice opportunities, feedback and enablers: as well as implementing new skills in the workplace, individual sales meetings may be perceived to have too much riding on them for individuals to ‘practice’ skills they have yet to master. To give confidence to try new things, enablers (mentors, coaches, facilitators, managers, assessors) need to provide time for practice and may also manage practice activities including role play meetings, call reviews and team planning sessions.
     
  6. Positive role models: Human beings have always learned through imitation. Where new skills are radically different, it may be necessary to see ‘what good looks like’ before they can imagine themselves adopting new behaviours. Ideally these individuals are people who, to a large extent, are ‘just like them’.
     
  7. Support groups: as we have seen new skills and the learning required to master them, is not a predictable, linear process. What can be predicted is that some challenges will emerge and participants will need some kind of forum in which they can share challenges, seek solutions and also provide mutual encouragement.
     
  8. A reward system: what gets measured gets done. We know this and so the behaviours we want to encourage need to be recognised, acknowledged and rewarded, where appropriate. This extends to the desired and admirable learning behaviours – building learner confidence that they are on the right track even when there are few visible beneficial outcomes from the change process.

Building a strategy

Implementing cultural change is challenging. Asking for more creativity for a specific purpose of for competitive advantage can feel impossible.

The key is to first understand the requirement for creativity and to describe precisely what that entails. Is it embracing cultural change to maximise new technologies, or is it to encourage more innovative thinking and if so, in relation to what?

It is important to build a clear strategy that encompasses the vision and objective of the company and in turn the training.

Clear, concise and deliberate communication is required to ensure that teams feel included, informed and respected; their fears are acknowledged and managed and the process is perceived as being a positive for both them as individuals and the wider company.

Implement a clear strategy that is inclusive of the team and creativity will flourish and deliver – profitably - what the customer needs.

About Robin Hoyle

Robin Hoyle is a writer and consultant working with organisations large and small to implement change through people development. He has a long track record of strategic L&D leadership and materials development and design - working for a wide range of organisations in private, public and voluntary sectors in the UK and throughout the world.

He is currently working as Head of Learning Innovation for global sales training company, Huthwaite International.

He chairs the World of Learning Conference and speaks at many events. He is regularly published as a writer and commentator on training related issues. His book, Complete Training - from recruitment to retirement, is published by Kogan Page and can be ordered here. His most recent book: Informal Learning in Organizations: how to create a continuous learning culture was published by Kogan Page in September 2015 and is available from all good retailers.

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