Published December 28, 2022 | Updated December 28, 2022 | 6 minute read
Changing an organization’s established ways of working can feel profound, even thrilling, at the pilot stage.
But after the pilot’s over, when we’ve validated a new, custom toolkit of practices through small experiments with pilot teams, the inevitable question arises:
How do we scale this transformation through the rest of the organization?
In our experience, most client organizations have two initial instincts:
- Make a PLAN
- Immediately train EVERYONE
This waterfall, big bang approach to making change inside a complex, unpredictable system is doomed to fail. Those familiar with the Cynefin framework will quickly see why: This simple/ordered approach is a fundamental mismatch for the complex/complicated challenge at hand.
We’ve developed a smarter approach to scaling behavior change across large populations, based upon years of successful programs at Fortune 500 organizations across multiple industries. Here’s how we do it.
1. Scale across multiple dimensions.
Many organizations make the mistake of equating scale with spread. They focus on designing robust plans to quickly “reach” all users in one fell swoop.
In our experience, spread-based plans look good on paper and promise to quickly touch the entire organization – but they don’t create lasting systemic change. In fact, blanket solutions are one of the least effective methods for instilling broad behavior change.
Scaling is a multidimensional project that requires strategic progress on multiple fronts. At August, we scale transformation not only in terms of reach, but also in terms of evolution, shift and depth. Together, these dimensions move the organization towards its “tipping point” from micro to macro adoption.
We abandon predetermined roadmaps in favor of a responsive, iterative approach. We don’t try to predict every outcome from the start; rather we focus on identifying risky assumptions, and then testing, learning, and gathering data to inform our next step.
Over time, we aim to shift the ownership of the work to leaders, coaches, and front-end users. We coach leaders through the personal transformation required for scaled change, earning their commitment to model new behaviors every day.
We embed as coaches in real teams & real work that will generate success stories, and identify leaders who will tell those stories to the rest of the organization.
We disseminate universal communications through your org’s already-established channels, focusing on the highest-leverage mechanisms within your org culture.
2. Activate leadership in waves.
We don’t splash the transformation across the full population at once; instead, we take a product management approach, borrowing from the “diffusion of innovation model.” We target core influencers, and scale our reach in waves from there.
We begin by focusing our efforts on the Innovators: those leaders already fired up about making change. With their input we sculpt a toolkit calibrated perfectly to your culture.
With a tested and validated product in hand, we work directly with Evangelists: well-networked influencers who are able to tell stories and model behaviors that will inspire others to adopt new ways of working.
The Ambassador population is inspired by these stories to learn about and try practices with their teams, independently of August. They may seek out learning content and raise their hand to be a part of the movement via coaching programs.
This builds organic momentum towards the tipping-point of enterprise-wide change. With enough committed opinion holders, combined with the “stickiness” of the toolkit and the language, the idea organically spreads through the General Population like a flame.
The Skeptics have no choice but to follow suit!
3. Start with simple learning; grow towards complex scaling.
Don’t mistake the above for an A to Z plan. Every new, large-scale organizational change is a trek through unmapped territory, requiring learning and adjustment along the way.
Our transformations begin with small, experimental iterations that allow us to safely and deliberately test new strategies.
As our working understanding of your organization grows, we start making bigger, more confident bets that impact more of your employee population.
Our tools and practices are not one-size-fits-all, and no one strategy will succeed on its own. We curate our methodology from a diverse menu of options we’ve developed over years, with which we design a custom toolkit to best serve the task at hand.
We organize these activities on two axes: simple/complex, and learn/scale:
We start with activities that fall in the simple/learning quadrant, like webinars and training. These help us test our hunches and develop a toolkit customized to your culture and business.
From there, we progress towards greater complexity and scale. Step by step, we collaborate with you to find the robust, high-leverage activities that will best mobilize that toolkit within your organization.
Along the way, we actively build your company’s internal coaching capacity, helping leaders and managers understand the nuances and details of the practices so they can flex to unexpected situations without explicit guidance.
In the final stage of the scaling, we’ll fully merge your new practice toolkit into existing processes and business practices, and redesign those systems in a way that infuses the new ways of working into the DNA of the organization design.
We implement new systems iteratively and strategically, allowing the resulting improvements in efficiency, outcomes and morale speak for themselves.
4. Develop a razor-sharp communications strategy. 🐬
Storytelling is at the heart of scaling behavior change. There’s little benefit in trying to shift behavior unless each person can connect with their own version of the “why” behind it.
We anchor our communications strategy in a master story that resonates with your company culture. We then tailor and disseminate this story to individual audience segments, based on where they sit and what challenges are important to them.
Our ultimate goal is to help people throughout the organization tell the story as their own, through the lens of “Why this is important to me.” This contextualizes the master story within their segment of the organization.
We communicate little and often. As Torben Rick famously analogized, change management is a dolphin, not a whale. Dolphins take short breaths and surface frequently to communicate detailed messages to each other. Whales dive deep, surface infrequently, and communicate broad messages across whole oceans. We want a dolphin-like comms strategy: Light, habitual, and self-perpetuating.
5. Measure and celebrate your progress!
Measuring a qualitative shift is no easy feat – and for good reason. An August-led transformation seeds positive change along many intersecting metrics, with interconnected outcomes that don’t conform to discrete data points.
This is why it’s important to measure and celebrate progress on multiple fronts. This will likely include a combination of:
- Greater coaching activity
- Systems improvements
- More streamlined budgets
- Faster decisions and processes
- Improved revenue and profitability
- Better engagement, retention and morale
- Measurable progress towards strategic goals and KPIs
- And more!
Change starts with senior leaders.
The most successful change programs work because their leaders fully adopt the values and behaviors that they are trying to instill in the organization. If leaders rely on old ways of operating to implement the new way, employees will smell a rat and put up their guard.
As Einstein said, “No worthy problem is ever solved within the plane of its original conception.” Let go of the old mindset and model, and enthusiastically adopt the new.
As a senior leader, this is the best contribution you can make to the transformation’s long-term success.