Everyone is a Change Agent but there is only one Change Agents WorldWide network

Change Agents WorldWideI recently became a member of Change Agents WorldWide. It’s a global network of experts from very different fields, but we all have a common vision and passion: We help organisations thrive in the 21st century!

If you only have 2 minutes, I recommend flipping through the slides below to learn more about CAWW.

In the 20th century people were busy creating the most efficient companies the world had seen to that date. Every company introduced processes, procedures and structures to manage every little single aspect of the organisation.  Companies adopted a mindset of control, distrust, opacity and shareholder value. By doing so they alienated employees, partners and customers. Paradoxically, these are the very same people who keep a company running!

Whilst these people felt powerless against the de-humanising companies of the 20th century, the tide has started to turn. As we move into the 21st century („The Networked Century“), traditional companies need to evolve into networked companies. Companies are not at the center of networks anymore, they merely form part of it. This changes pretty much everything we know about companies:

  1. Why companies exist: Shareholder Value vs. Stakeholder Value
  2. What companies do: Consumption vs. Sharing Economy
  3. How companies create value for themselves and the ecosystem that breeds them: Short-term Profit vs. Sustainable Outcomes

These fundamental changes do not affect just  one industry, one company, one department, a single employee or manager. It affects everything and everybody. It affects people, processes, structures, culture and technology. Since this change is so complex, there is no single company in this world that can provide the expertise and credibility to facilitate the necessary change.

Imagine a company with a rigid structure trying to tie hundreds of experts to it, that are then controlled by overpriced and frustrated managers and supported by a thick administration layer and located in expensive offices. We are everything but that!

What is Change Agents WorldWide?

  1. A group of psychologists, anthropologists, linguists, technologists, management consultants, marketeers and other professions.
  2. Expertise in organisational design, (organisational) psychology, organisational learning, social business, collaboration & communication, knowledge management, innovation management, gamification, enterprise technology, change management and other disciplines.
  3. Solo change agents that work independently with a large variety of organisations and enterprise change agents that work as intrapreneurs within organisations like Deutsche Bank, Disney, UNICEF, BASF, Evonik, Walmart and many others.
  4. A lean network that thrives on distributed leadership but has no managers.
  5. A learning and evolving ecosystem fueled by passionate and engaged people connected globally and virtually together.

 How can Change Agents WorldWide help you?

  1. You have a business problem and believe it could be (better) solved with new business thinking and technology? Contact us! Seeing is believing, which is why we have created Project Green Room. It’s free of risk and charge! It allows you to pose your business problem and questions to the change agents that best know your industry and have the most expertise in the required field. If you like what you see and feel that change agents could provide sufficient value in helping you with your business problem, you are free to engage with selected change agents without having to give up access to the wider network. Please feel free to contact us to discuss Project Green Room or contact me directly.
  2. It takes knowledgable, curious and courageous leaders to make the shift from a traditional to networked business. But the managers and employees of your company are stuck in their daily business and ignorant to the changes around them? Engage us to help educate and coach decision-makers to prepare your organisation for the change necessary. We are not only good in creating the right content, but also in knowing how to influence people and facilitate change.
  3. You are looking for sponsorship opportunities? We are currently working with leading universities, but also social technology vendors to spread the messages near and dear to our hearts, i.e. the changing face of business in the 21st century. You can download our first free e-book or tune in to the webinars we have done to date.

How to engage with Change Agents WorldWide?

Additional information

Have a look at what some fellow change agents (link to the entire team) have written about their involvement in the network.

There are currently 3 change agents in Germany. If you would like to chat further, please do let me know.

Crumbling infrastructure - change or be changed

Change or be changed!

There is a lot of talk about how 20th century organisations need to change to be successful in the 21st century. And when we say organisations need to change, we actually mean people, as they make up and shape organisations.

Change is a process, not an event

Change is a process, not an event. It is underpinned by a learning process, as depicted below:

The learning process visualised

The learning process visualised. (Source: Author)

The end of the process may be fuzzy and thus be without concrete end date. However, the learning process is coming to an end once a person has learned a new skill, behaviour or technology and is first consciously and later unconsciously applying and using it. Traditional IT change management has always been about the changing technology itself. Change requests are raised for new features. Communication is tailored towards explaining new functionality. The traditional change management process is often part of an IT initiative with a defined start and end date. Becoming a 21st century company is not purely about introducing new technology. It is about new work models, new (social) contracts between employer and employees, new behaviours, a different corporate culture and organisational structures. Unlike technology, this is all rather fuzzy.

In the past ten years many organisations have experimented with new (social) technology to address existing business problems. Many of them focused on the technology aspect, some paid lip-service to the importance of behaviour and culture, though few really lived it. Changing technology is something tangible and can often be implemented by a project team. A business case is construed based on the most disputable facts. And of course, a start and end-date is set, ideally within a short timeframe to deliver results and be predictable. Organisations did themselves a disfavour though, as these projects did not yield the promised results. Many of them are now going through the Trough of Disillusionment, rethinking and redesigning the early initiatives. Other companies have been more realistic and strategic (holistic) about their initiative to evolve from a traditional to a social (connected) business. It’s not about implementing a set of technologies but about becoming a 21st century business. A great example is the Robert Bosch GmbH in Germany. Joachim Heinz of Robert Bosch GmbH presented the journey of his company at the recent Enterprise 2.0 Summit in Paris. What is noticeably different to other companies is the realistic and holistic design of the change process. Joachim said that it will take between 7 – 10 years. It may sound like a long time, but again probably realistic for what the company is set out to do and based on what kind of actual change we have seen in the past 10 years.

Change or be changed!

Change or be changed!  When you listen to the conversations between E20 practitioners in general or at the Enterprise 2.0 Summit in particular it is often like preaching to the converted. But then they return to Planet Earth and reality kicks in. People immersed in their day-to-day work life don’t see the need for change, are afraid to change, have other priorities. Change or be changed. While it is a true statement, it immediately creates resistance because it is seen as a threat.  Change is a learning process as depicted above. The question is whether we could and should accelerate the process. So I asked this question on Twitter during Joachim’s presentation at the E20 Summit and it evoked pushback from people, whose opinion I value and trust.

Could and should we accelerate change?

Could and should we accelerate change?

With its strategic and long-term programme Bosch is actively facilitating the learning / change process. In a sense, it is also accelerating the process. Maybe it does take 7 – 10 years instead of 10 – 15 years. What we should not be aspiring to is to let change happen, especially when meeting resistance.

A Change Acceleration Programme

We can’t expect people to simply change. At the same time we often can’t afford to wait until people are willing to change. In a recent client engagement I created a Change Acceleration Programme (partly inspired by General Electric’s Change Acceleration Programme) to plant the seeds for change. Based on an overall strategy it comprised a large number of concrete tactics, nudges and messages to help people change. Some of these tactics and nudges were derived by applying the Influencer Framework (Amazon) for specific people (CEO, COO etc.) and roles within the 40,000 employee strong organisation, others based on my own experience from other engagements or inspired by other practitioners.  The initial tactics and nudges were targeted primarily at changing employees‘ behaviour from ‚working in silos‘ to ‚working out loud‘. The better you understand the motivation and ability of single individuals the better (and quicker) you can help them change and learn new behaviours, skills and technologies. (Shameless plug: 21 of my fellow change agents of the Change Agents WorldWide network just published our first e-book ‚Changing the world of work. One human at a time‚). Below is just a very short list of change tactics that were part of the programme:

  • Supporting key company events
  • Reverse Mentoring (Video; Reverse Mentoring at Bosch)
  • Email-Free-Friday / Meeting-Free-Friday
  • Flow of Work integration (Desktop, Mobile, IM, Office, Email, ERP)
  • Ask Me Anything
  • When To Use What Matrix
  • Before/After Scenarios
  • Card decks for specific roles
  • A day in the life of…

Sometimes, your posters, brown-bag lunches, user manuals and other communication and education material is simply not enough. You will need to find more creative ways of nudging people into the right direction and facilitate the change process. The tactics above and their exact content and approach depend on the organisation and should therefore not be simply copied.

To sum it all up, I believe we could and should accelerate change by facilitating the underlying learning process and influencing behaviours. For that we will need to zoom into the individual and group layer, rather than talking about big-splash change that is orchestrated only on the organisational level.

© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz

social business

Manage, and you may survive! Facilitate, and you may thrive!

I originally published this post on the Headshift blog in 2009. ]

Recently I went to see an organization, and a good while into a very pleasant conversation I was asked: ‚Will we (organization) become obsolete in ten years‘? What a daunting question! What had happened?

The organization has about 1000 member companies. It offers a variety of services and stages events frequently. After I had met one of the employees I was invited to one of their events at the rather exclusive University Club here in NYC. The person introduced me to a number of members at the event (after all networking is a key part of such events). Yet, I had the strong feeling that I missed opportunities, simply because I relied on the knowledge of one person and random conversations limiting the ‚ROI‘ of my time investment. So I wrote a long email to my contact at the organization with some ideas on how do address this particular issue (among others).

In the email and subsequent conversation I made the case that the value of the offline networking events could be increased considerably by developing an online platform with a business networking component for members at its heart. At the moment the organization publishes an attendee roster prior to every event, which lists only the names and companies of attendees. While key employees of the organization have built up an impressive wealth of knowledge about members, members themselves don’t know the faces, roles, interests, or connections of other members making it very hard for them to effectively network on their own. It’s not too difficult to imagine why the organization considers that knowledge as one of their key assets and where they believe can add even more value to the membership. And yet, I suggested the unthinkable: ‚Open up! Make the knowledge about the network and all its members visible to members (companies). Let them explore the network, connect and interact with each other! Don’t be the guardian or bottle-neck as a matter of fact. Members know best what is good for and relevant to them. You may assume that you know, but let’s face it, you don’t!‘

And that’s when the question came up: ‚Will we (organization) become obsolete in ten years‘? Apart from being daunting to answer, I also thought that this was a rather courageous question. I believe few businesses (industries) ask(ed) themselves this question, and even fewer face a sometimes cruel reality. Most of them live in total denial. (CLAY SHIRKY).

For a long time people and organizations that had a quasi-monopoly on knowledge or products crippled progress and innovation and still capitalized on it. You can look at enterprise systems, which locked organizations into to the dungeon of one vendor. Media outlets had a monopoly on producing content and charging for it. Key people in organizations had a monopoly on knowledge, making them indispensable. All of them were at the center of their respective environment. Their exposed position allowed them to control the terms and conditions on how their knowledge or products were used.

But with the advent of social tools these monopolies are coming to an end. We are now witnessing an ever increasing connected world where we don’t have one huge nucleus but rather dispersed nodes. Gone are the days of locked-down systems and walled gardens. ‚Control‘ might have been a valid notion in the past, but the only way to stay relevant now is to open up and interact with your environment. To a large extent ‚control‘ is replaced by ‚facilitation‘. That’s the quintessence! You provide a platform and let other people built on top of your applications (e.g. Facebook (partially), Twitter, Confluence), interact with your content (e.g. NYT, Guardian) or connect with each other (e.g. …. ). Other examples of facilitation can be found in the Obama campaign, Twestival and knowledge management. The Obama campaign and Twestival are great examples, where people were given a vision and tools to achieve a goal. How they did it was up to them. The same holds true for knowledge management. The days of central knowledge repositories, gate-keepers and knowledge managers in its true sense are over. Get out of the way! Open up the silos! Give people a platform on which they can connect with each other based on what is relevant and important to them. Facilitate, don’t manage! If you simply continue managing, your organization may loose on business opportunities.

So, wrapping up all these thoughts, my answer was something along these lines. ‚It depends. Fortunately, your core business is not necessarily based on networking. However, it is an important part. If you keep the status quo, chances are that sooner or later members will realize that the current practice is ineffective and they are missing out on business opportunities. They may use LinkedIn at home or know of other organizations in town that offer an online platform to its members as an added value. They may demand something similar or cancel their membership in worst case. Another drawback to keep in mind is that if you left the organization, there would be no one to replace you easily, as you hold all the knowledge about the members and connections. If you don’t move at all, you most certainly will become obsolete in ten years, simply because other organizations will size the opportunity.

If you set up a platform to provide online networking among your members, you will still play a role, not as a manager but as a facilitator. It is an additional value that you give your members. If they realize the value they will spread the word across their network, which could result in new members. Your key asset may not be the knowledge about the members anymore, because it is accessible to all members; it will actually be the members themselves. In that sense you will play an even more important role in ten years than you may do now.‘

Obviously, it does not have to be one or the other. A healthy option would be somewhere around the center but tending towards opening the organization’s knowledge. As mentioned before, I would see the networking component at the heart of the system. Around it you could imagine the organization providing more relevant news and content to its members based on the information available and their activities on the platform. Other ideas could be the live-broadcast of member-only events, invitation of a guests (from member companies), better membership management.