I felt extremely humbled and privileged to be invited as a judge to the 2017 Employee Experience Awards. I’ve been lucky enough to have done this kind of thing in the past and have always found the experience very rewarding and eye opening. Therefore the decision wasn’t a tough one, especially as this is a topic very close to my heart.
I was the Head of Employee Experience for Direct Line Group some 5 years ago, and I remember people looking at me like I had two heads when I told them what I did. Now we have the likes of AirBnb & Harrods with entire Employee Experience departments, and multiple Forbes articles being written on the subject! Needless to say, given the recent shift to an experience economy, this is a timely wave for organisations to ride.
My judging category was Business Transformation – Employees First, which consisted of three finalists.
Whilst reviewing the written submissions, and then experiencing the live presentations, I was struck by the level of passion, rigour and commitment displayed by these organisations in tackling their particular business challenge.
As you’d expect, they each had a goal they needed to achieve, or an event that took place, forcing them to question the status quo and try something different. And that they did, each in their own unique, fabulous way.
I did, however, notice some common themes permeating across all of the entries. I’ll touch on three of these below.
1. Crowdsource to Co-Create
There was a real sense of open forum, across all levels within each of the change efforts. It would have been quite easy for the leaders to come up with the solutions and plans themselves, however this wasn’t the case for our finalists. Each of them engaged their people in co-creating at least some of the way forward. Whether it was in the form of asking for improvement ideas to be included in a business wide contract renewal process, forming a People Forum that represented the voice of the employee in key business decisions, or collating and sharing stories from across the business that reinforced the mission and was used by others to do the same.
2. Inform, Enable and Step Back
Traditionally, many organisations tend to adopt a ‘tell’ approach when it comes to change. A solution or plan is rolled out to employees, with detailed instructions, not just on the Why, but also the What and the How of the change. Effectively taking away any thinking needed by employees!
It was so refreshing to see a different approach applied by our finalists. One in particular nailed this! They used what I call the ‘Inform, Enable and Step Back’ approach. This involves providing people with all the relevant information about the change, along with some development if required (the Why & the What), and then stepping back, allowing them to interpret what they’ve learnt and create their own ‘How’. This is super powerful, with people naturally displaying the all elusive ‘ownership & accountability’ behaviours. The same ones I hear so many leaders complain about the lack of within their organisations.
3. The Fish Rots from the Head Down
Growing up in a Greek family, my father used to say this often. If you haven’t come across it before, I apologise for the less than desirable imagery it conjures up. I hope you’re not eating fish! It’s relatively self-explanatory but essentially it’s used often in business or politics to express the idea that all problems in a company or country can be traced back to its leadership.
In the case of our finalists, the same sentiment was true but from the opposite perspective. In each case, without exception, the change was strongly lead and sponsored by the head of the organisation or senior leadership. They explained how this unequivocal leadership made a substantial difference to the positive outcomes achieved.
I’ve been involved in a lot of transformation in my time, and have seen some great successes and some even more spectacular fails. And for someone like me, the most compelling part of the entire process was having a front row seat to real people, describing their amazing initiatives with passion, which resulted in demonstrable commercial and people benefits, using some very simple and well known change leadership principles…
…so it seems… this stuff really does work!