Why do you do the things you do?

Responsive organizations have the ability to change from within. You could call that organic. Change is not managed, but inspired. There are four starting points to realize this. They are about people, their motivations and mutual relationships.

First of all, the people make the difference – not the plans, structures, KPIs or work processes. It is the task of leadership to allow people to come to their own in a safe environment. This is not about directive leadership that tells people what to do, but ‘facilitating leadership’ which is based on autonomy, responsibility and motivation. A third premise is that there is no uniform formula, method or approach for success: every organization finds out for itself what its unique potential is and how it can be realized. And finally, they rely on the belief that people have a tremendous capacity to contribute to change, provided you address their intrinsic motivation.

Golden Circles
In many discussions with clients about their mission and positioning, Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circles” come up. These circles are about the “Why”, “How” and “What” of an organization.

The stronger the “Why” of a company, organization, or person, the stronger its energy and appeal. In his famous Ted Talk, Sinek explains that companies, organizations and people with a strong and clear “Why” achieve more and have a stronger attraction to other people than those who focus primarily on the “What” or “How”. He uses appealing examples from, among others, the Wright Brothers, Martin Luther King and computer company Apple.

Simon Sinek’s Golden Circles

The art of connection
Simon Sinek’s “Why” goes deeper than the mere raison d’être of an organization. For leadership, the art is to connect this with the “Why” of their employees. In other words: their motives for their actions and decisions.

Facilitating leaders act from a strong awareness of their employees and their motivation. They intend to inspire and stimulate them, and get them moving together. In doing so, they create the conditions for positive change. Which works better, and is more fun, than telling people what needs to be achieved and how they must do it.

Good decisions with the wrong motive do not lead to the desired results
Often strategic decisions are taken that seem very good at first sight but are based on the wrong motive.

Example: companies such as Semco or Favi have made a name for themselves with self-managing teams. This led, among other things, to the disappearance of a lot of management at these organizations. Their approach was praised and copied by many other companies. Their argument often was: “We can save costs with this.”

Cost-effectiveness is important, but that was not the motive of the aforementioned organizations. It was the conviction that people in the workplace are perfectly capable of planning, organizing and executing their work. For themselves and together. No manager had to decide on that. That motive was the foundation for successful change in these examples. But when the motive is all about costs, that becomes the focus of change. It will not improve the way the organization performs. On the contrary: changes made with the wrong motive rarely lead to good results.

The litmus test
So the “why” is about the intrinsic motives of organizations just as much as it is about people’s behavior. Try it out when you speak to an applicant again. Or suppliers who pitch for your business: ask people why they do the work they do or why they have made certain decisions. TheIr answer immediately gives a good idea of ​the kind of people you are dealing with. I once had to choose between three research agencies for a global market study. I asked all three contacts why they were doing this work. Two thought for a moment and repeated their sales pitch. It was about “added value”, “insights through research”. All true, but it was not an answer to the question. Besides that, what they told me I already knew from their websites. Their answers made them look similar. And above all: they did not inspire me. On the contrary! The third person replied immediately and from the bottom of her heart, “Theo, that’s very simple. I just love to do research and understand data. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.” In this simple answer, the motivation and energy were palpable. I did not have to think long about choosing this party. This resulted in an inspiring collaboration that lasted a long time and provided our company with a lot of “data-driven” insights.

2,600 years ago Buddha already spoke about this. One of the pillars of his teaching is “the right intention” or “the right motive”. People like Simon Sinek make us understand better that this is a universal principle that helps to realize coherence in organizations and achieve great results. Why do you do the things you do?

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Monkey See. Monkey Do.

Psychological safety is something people must experience.
Anyone who has children will agree: children copy what you do. Because your behavior as a parent is exemplary. This is a natural principle. It is stronger than words: you can explain to a child that it has to tidy up his room. But if you always make a mess of it yourself, that becomes reference. Not the words, but the deeds. It is no different in organizations.

Psychological safety
There is growing attention for psychological safety in organizations. An organization is psychologically safe, when people feel accepted and included by it. This is reflected in, among other things, employees who are open about their opinions and ideas. And colleagues who are inclined to admit mistakes – because the organization stands behind them and helps them solve problems.

This attention arose specifically after a study by Google into the effectiveness of teams. A few years ago they researched 180 teams, with the question: how can you develop the perfect team? Psychological safety emerged as the basic condition for well-functioning teams: people must experience their team and organization as “safe”. Only then will they take “risks.” Such as expressing their opinion. Or experiment. And – inevitably – make mistakes to learn how to improve things. That’s how teams and organizations learn and grow.

Are you serious?
Psychological safety is therefore a precondition for developing responsive organizations. Here lies an important task for management. But how do you do that?

For this, employees first look at their management: to what extent are they serious when it comes to psychological safety? Is it just words or also actions? Example behavior is of the utmost importance here to confirm that the organization is really safe. Or not.

In addition, managers should refrain from using their position of power to “enforce” certain behavior. Because that is the ultimate signal for employees that the organization is not safe – and people will hide back into their shell, in one way or the other.

The book “Insight1” gives a good example of this dynamic: in 2006 Ford Motor Company was in a deep crisis. Ford had lost 25% market share in the previous 15 years, and that year the company lost $ 17 billion. The new CEO, Alan Mulally found a deep-rooted culture of fear in which people put their careers above the interests of the company. Needless to say there was much resistance to change. Mulally wanted to transform the corporate culture, starting with his executive team. He encouraged members to be open about anything that went wrong. To his surprise, managers continued to report stubbornly positive about their activities. Week after week. Despite the huge losses, nothing seemed to go wrong ….

1 Insight: The Surprising Truth About How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves And Why The Answers Matter More Than We Think, Tasha Eurich, 2018

The reason for this was the deep-rooted culture of fear, in which mistakes were not tolerated. No one ever felt safe reporting problems under the former CEO. Until a manager could not escape reporting a major problem with one of the new models, which meant that production had to be halted temporarily. The person in question had actually already prepared mentally for his dismissal after the meeting. But Mulally complimented the manager on his openness and asked the other team members how they could help.

This made it clear to the team that it was truly safe to face facts, discuss problems and resolve them together. This exemplary behavior turned out to be the “turning point” in the culture that Mulally had been pursuing for months. And that contributed to Ford’s recovery, which returned to profitability in 2009 in the midst of the economic crisis. Incidentally, at that time the only one of the big three car manufacturers in the United States.

Seize the moment with exemplary behavior
You can of course include psychological safety in the values ​​of your company. You can communicate about it and tell people how important it is. However, it will only exist if and when it is experienced by the organization. And especially at times when that safety matters. For example, when something goes seriously wrong, when someone comes up with a seemingly absurd idea or in a conflict situation. At that moment you as a manager have the opportunity to seize the moment, with the behavior that you propagate. As with raising children, psychological safety must be demonstrated.

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A common cause of resistance

Organizations want to adapt to changing circumstances. They think about how they want to do things differently and what need to adjust. For example in behavior and/or in the way in which the work is organized.

On to the future
Most organizations therefore change very consciously. TheIr plans are well thought out. Decision-making is thorough and all stakeholders are consulted. “Clearly, if we keep doing our job the same way, we won’t get better results. So on to the future!”

Careful work is also done during implementation. Everything is done to take people along: why is this initiative important? What do we want to achieve with it? What happens if we do nothing? And what does this mean for you and your department? An internal communication campaign often follows. Which explains what needs to be changed and why. This mainly aims to involve and motivate people.

Lack of support
In the blog “Why Change Management Often Fails” we saw that there is often less support than people think: in no less than 70% of the cases, teams do not agree with the goals of their management.

So often there is too much resistance. It turns out to be difficult to resolve such resistance and to take those involved along for the good cause of the change. Even people who agree with the goals turn out to be resistant to get moving. For example, because there is insufficient support for the way in which the change will be implemented. Is that sheer unwillingness or is there something else going on?

Too much future…
Recently I had a conversation with two board members of a medium-sized company. The organization is in the midst of a change process. During the conversation, the persistent resistance in the organization came up, especially among middle managers. The situation turned out to be very similar to what is described above.

We considered the possible causes of this resistance for a while. A lot of time and effort had been invested in creating understanding and involving employees. At one point the CEO sighed: “Maybe the problem is that we talk way too much about that bright future.”

… and too little past
Then the insight fell like a quarter in a jukebox: in another blog we discussed that “recognition of the past” – such as: good and bad events, successes and failures – is a systemic need in all teams and organizations.

The need for recognition
After all, “wanting to be seen”, or “recognition”, is an important social need. People and teams want to “belong”. When they do not experience that, resistance emerges as a symptom of imbalance.

The shoulders of the past
Most changes usually start with a good vision and solid arguments. What often does not receive enough recognition is that the current position of the organization has been built on the (successful) past so far. Without “the shoulders of the past,” there is little to stand on. Recognition and appreciation of the contribution of committed employees are essential for taking the step towards the future.

Motivation and energy
It pays to make sure employees are seen and recognized for their contributions. Once they feel understood and appreciated, an important cause of resistance is removed: they feel that they belong and are relevant for the future. That motivates and gives energy.

There can be other causes of resistance of course. For example, fear of losing a job. Or the concern that people cannot “come along”. It is essential to ensure that people experience that leadership understands and acknowledges their feelings. Until that happens, resistance cannot be resolved. No matter how good the other actions of management are. Then the change is force-fed. Such change is slow, laborious and fatiguing for everyone involved.

Understand the root cause
Resolving resistance is only possible if management understands its root cause. And that is never actually in something rational (the reason for change). It is usually the result of employees who do not feel understood, seen or heard. Whether it is in their value to the organization, their concerns or fears for the future. This can even be traced back to previous changes or reorganizations – and may have little or nothing to do with the situation now.

Understanding the root cause of resistance and tackling it takes time. But that does result in change that people feel motivated to contribute to. Such time therefore is a valuable investment. The return consists of people who are better connected with each other and engaged with their organization. Change is therefore faster and better than a change which is force-fed. Moreover, it is also much more fun.

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Balance your team with five principles

The blog ‘In the flow’ discusses the first step to developing responsive teams: creating the circumstances which help every employee to come into their own. Here it is also discussed how you can practically map out to what extent people are in the right place in their team:

Example of mapping of team members

Once this is done, you want the team to start moving together. What is needed for that? Numerous books have been written on team performance and leadership. In that regard, there are many roads that lead to Rome.

But at the basis of all teams are five systemic principles. When these are met, a team can perform in balance. Systemic principles directly contain the root causes of the behavior, the results and symptoms of (im)balance in any team. And these you can observe like the tip of an iceberg: the systemic principles lie beneath the surface of the water.

  1. Clear goals
    Just as a vision & mission give direction and energy to an organization, clear goals give direction and inspiration to a team. This seems to speak for itself. Yet there appear to be many teams for which it is not clear what exactly they want to achieve with each other. What they do every day may be clear, but a lack of inspiring goals leads to a lack of energy and inspiration.
  2. Complete team
    Every team in an organization needs to fulfill a certain number of roles. Just like any sports team has a certain number of players, each with their own position and role. In the blog ‘In the flow’, we discuss how important focus is for employees to come into their own. When the necessary roles in teams are not properly filled, employees rarely succeed in achieving their full potential, simply because there is insufficient time and space to focus properly. This also applies in the event of overcrowding the different roles in a team.
  3. Division of roles
    When the roles are not clearly divided and there is no proper order of responsibilities, an imbalance arises. For example, people “sit in each other’s seats” and take on tasks that actually do not belong to them. Think of the manager who is too actively involved in the execution. Or vice versa: an employee who makes decisions for which she is actually not authorized. The demarcation of roles, tasks and responsibilities provides clarity and overview. An important task for facilitating leaders is to help people make them clear and help team members adhere to them.
  4. Recognition of history
    Everything that happens in an organization has a cause and an effect. This applies to successes and setbacks. Organizations generally have little difficulty in acknowledging their successes. This is different with setbacks. And when these are “shoved under the carpet”, it drains good energy from the employees involved. Example: a manager of a team is suddenly fired. No clarity is given to the team about the reason. Chances are then that no successive manager will have a good chance of being successful. Simply because, systemically, there is still something in the way. Only when clarity is given to the team about the causes of the dismissal, and both the team and the dismissed manager receive the recognition they deserve, can the team move on.
  5. Balance of give and take
    In every team people come to get and bring something. In energetic, well-functioning teams this ‘ give and take’ is in balance. Ideally, people go home with just as much energy at the end of the day as at the beginning. When people give too much (energy) and do not get enough in return, symptoms such as fatigue or stress kick in. People who have trouble staying in their role (see principle #3) and hardly dare to say “no” often suffer from this. But there can also be an imbalance in people who can say ‘no’ very well – for example because they are structurally dissatisfied with their role. When one of the other systemic principles is not properly adhered to, it often shows first in the balance of give and take.

Systems seek balance – if necessary with unpleasant symptoms
Building responsive organizations is a bottom up process. It starts with seeing to it that employees take the right place in their teams. Subsequently, justice to the (universal) systemic principles of team effectiveness must be done. When a team is not in balance, all kinds of symptoms arise. For example, a high turnover rate of people. Often, management tends to address these symptoms. For example with an employee satisfaction survey. Or an “employer branding” campaign. However, as long as the systemic cause of the symptom in question is not resolved, the imbalance will remain. Such symptoms are what fever is in the flu: a reaction of the system to find its balance. Because systems seek their own “balance”. If necessary with unpleasant symptoms.

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In the flow

Your organization wants to become more responsive. To this end, the vision & mission have been thoroughly revised, a strategic plan has been developed. In short: the “why”, “how” and “what” have been established. Everything has been shared with the employees, their feedback has been processed and there is wide support. How do you know whether your organization is able to make the plans come true? Where do you start then?

The basis
An organization or team can only perform well if a number of conditions are met. The basis is that every individual can come into his or her own. Compare it to a football team: one or two players who do not play in the right position or have an off-day, can destroy the performance of the entire team.

How can you create the conditions that allow employees to come into their own?

If you achieve your full potential, often you are in a state of “flow”. You become so absorbed in your activities that you forget the time. In such a state you feel great and perform best. We have all experienced that at one time or another. The concept of “flow” was invented by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly.

He described the characteristics of flow in his book: “Flow: the psychology of optimal experience”. We will not consider all of these characteristics here, because several are the result of a state of flow. For example, the lack of a sense of time or a strong sense of well-being. We focus on the four characteristics that can be influenced: willingness, ability, focus and feedback:

  1. Are people doing what you want to do? This is about people’s motivation. If the organization’s vision, mission and objectives are aligned with this, people have found a place where they can spend their ambitions and energy well.
  2. Are people doing what you can do? Does the job fit well with the talents and skills? If people are not challenged enough, they will get bored. When too much is asked of them, they get stressed.
  3. Can people focus well on their tasks and responsibilities? For some organizations, “death by meeting” or “death by email” applies. Or there is so much uncertainty about the demarcation of responsibilities that people are too busy with each other’s tasks. Constant distraction does not improve the quality of the work or the well-being of employees.
  4. Continuous feedback is important to keep people engaged and motivated. They need to know how they are doing and how they can improve. This is not about the (semi)annual appraisal: if feedback is continuous and properly applied, it is also a mechanism that improves the quality and spirit in the team.

Get it going
The aforementioned factors help people to get into their flow. The starting point is mapping the position of each employee on them. So there is a clear picture for each team which employees are in the right place or not. The following diagram is a summary example of what such a mapping might look like. Other HR factors could also be included, like in this example the fit with the team or the professional maturity of team members:

Example of mapping of individuals in a certain team

A number of things become clear immediately. For the entire team, the feedback must be improved: there is too much orange or red here. The employees do not know enough about how they are doing. On an individual level, a number of other things become clear: Melissa does what she wants to do, but still has a lot to learn (“Can” and “Professional Maturity” are both not good yet). For Brian and Julie the question is whether they fit into the team. Brian has the capabilities (“Can” is green), but does he really want this role? And for Julie, she is doing what she wants, but, at least for now, is lacking skills or capabilities.

From this overview, the team can develop and grow. For example, based on the personal development plans of each employee and a plan for the team, possibly supplemented with a change in team composition. Now, each individual can come into his or her own and alignment is obtained with the whole of the organization.

The next step is to make sure every team is functioning properly. In other words: flow at team level. That’s what next week’s blog will be about.

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Slow is fast

The holy grail of (tech) trends
Big data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have been the big promises in the business world for some time, with tech giants such as Google and Amazon as great examples. Yet recent research among 85 “Fortune 1000” companies shows that, despite significant investments, the use of Big Data and AI is not yet leading to the expected improvements (Harvard Business Review, February 5, 2021, Why is it so hard to become a data-driven company?, Randy Bean): only 24% of the companies surveyed indicated that they were “data-driven”. In the same study a year earlier this was 38%. The importance of “big data” and AI in decision making is not yet as great as expected.

What is striking is that – for the fifth year in a row! – “Cultural barriers” was cited by 92% of the companies surveyed as the most important obstacle in the development towards a “data-driven” organization.

The promise of innovation …
The realization of promising trends or new management methods is usually more difficult than expected. Well-known examples are the rise of office automation in the eighties, the internet, and “agile” working. There is a systematic underestimation of the time and effort required to implement new ways of working and then use it effectively. In the examples mentioned, the promise was largely correct: office automation has resulted in an enormous efficiency improvement. Thanks to the internet, many business processes can continue as usual in Corona time. And agile working is commonplace within many ICT companies. But for all these developments, the realization of the promise usually took longer than initially expected. And the organizational culture was often cited as an important bottleneck. Apparently people become so enthusiastic about the promise of innovation that the same mistake is made over and over again: an implicit assumption arises that the benefits are so great that success will almost come naturally…

… and the prospect of great results
I have experienced this firsthand. During a “global meeting” of division managers of a multinational I presented a strategic change plan. The presentation had been preceded by months of preparation and coordination. Much time had gone into the way the message was conveyed. And apparently it had worked: the reactions were enthusiastic without exception. “This is a homerun,” I thought. The support for the plan was so great, it only seemed a matter of rolling it out.

This assumption turned out to be completely false. We, too, were blinded by the promise of the plan, inspired by the beautiful prospect of the results we would achieve. Consequently, there was no insight into what was really needed to achieve success while using the existing culture. I later learned that there was insufficient understanding in the organization for the initiative: it had to be explained better. It was only after I had visited branches all over the world to engage people that support grew for the plans and the roll-out gained traction.

Culture is a breeding ground…
Every organizational culture has a unique potential. And that is the breeding ground for success. The question is therefore not how you bring about change despite the culture. The trick is to use the culture – the people with their beliefs, ambitions and behavior – for the intended change. Therefore it is important to understand the causes of resistance and friction.

…not a barrier
“Action is reaction” is what I learned during the Physics lessons in high-school: the force you exert on something leads to the same, opposite force. This law of nature also applies to organizational cultures: the harder you blame them, the greater the resistance, because somehow people feel not understood, and affected in their authenticity and free will.

In this light, the conclusion of the aforementioned study should read: “Apparently, companies have insufficiently organized for success while they were planning the transformation to a data- or AI-driven organization.” So that support and energy could be generated to use data and AI for what they are intended: improving business operations. and realizing competitive advantages.

If there is a ‘Holy Grail’ it ought to be culture
It is not the promise of new technology or new management methods that is the holy grail. If there is one, it ought to be culture: the unique potential of people: they determine the degree of success of any initiative.

The promise of big data and AI is true, at least to a large extent. Moving As One also makes good use of it, to help clients with their change projects. But that promise can only be fulfilled by the organization.

“Slow is fast”
Entrepreneurs and managers who see this make good use of it. And yes, it takes time and a lot of patience to understand how you can take everyone along and set the flywheel of change in motion. But once it is moving well, improvements can emerge suddenly and rather quickly. Or, as the world-famous coach Stephen Covey once put it: “With things, fast is fast. But with people, slow is fast.”

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Tapping into the ability to change

Everyone generally agrees that agreement (‘buy-in’), focus and available capacity are most relevant factors to make any change endeavor successful. In one of our previous blogs we concluded, based on recent scientific research, that it is precisely these factors that lead to frictions and often stand in the way of change and success.

In conversations with managers, it is noticeable that they often find their employees difficult to change. “People are creatures of habit”, “Change is apparently scary for people”, are examples of beliefs I hear regularly. The fact that so few change initiatives are successful seems to endorse this … but is this a correct assumption?

Allow growth and change to emerge
Several years ago I interviewed the founder of Art of Living, one of the largest voluntary organizations in the world: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The mission of this organization is to promote world peace, among others by teaching people how to reduce stress. In addition to the interview, I was allowed to spend a day with the organization. What was immediately noticeable was that everything went in great harmony and almost flawlessly. When I – a business economist with an interest in organization and management – asked my host how it was “managed”, his answer was: “Nothing is managed here, it all emerges.” Further inquiries into the matter showed that there were no job descriptions: everyone found his or her role in the organization, based on a shared vision and mission and personal motivation. “How can I help?” was the simple question with which everyone found his or her place. The result is a strong responsive organization with millions of followers worldwide and countless successful initiatives.

There are many similar examples in business. Take Buurtzorg. This Dutch organization has brought a lot of innovation to home care in the Netherlands, partly by abolishing management. Teams of nurses organize the work themselves, determine the goals and divide the tasks. This way of working has led to innovation in services, higher customer satisfaction, low employee turnover and a strong growth of the organization. Buurtzorg sets the tone in home care and their way of working is now being taught to other (home care) organizations, even outside the Netherlands.

Such cases show that employees are perfectly capable of helping to shape change and growth.

Organize for success
Could it be that most change initiatives fail or fall short of their goals because of the way people organize and manage them? The conventional view is that it is the job of management to make decisions, direct people and control the results. A top-down activity. That went well for a long time, right? But perhaps that would explain (part of) the aforementioned lack of agreement, focus and capacity?

What do we learn from these examples? When teams decide for themselves how they achieve their goals, people are motivated to take responsibility together. People become more creative in solving problems. Agreement is found and their focus becomes sharp.

Creativity and problem solving power
And there is more that argues for a reassessment of the distribution of autonomy in an organization. Especially in these (Corona) times: agility and resilience cannot arise in a boardroom. Central management is at odds with creativity and problem-solving skills. Not because management could not be creative, but because there is simply too much distance from the problems in the workplace. When a sales team encounters a problem, it needs a certain amount of autonomy to solve it on the spot. In many cases it does not work to go higher up the organization, to catch up with management and to go back with adapted instructions. If only because no one knows the situation on the ground as well as that team. Of course, clear agreements are needed about decision-making and objectives. But here too there are more and more cases showing that autonomy and self-management lead to better results more often.

The human perspective
People like autonomy. They want to decide for themselves on matters that concern their responsibility. And they can do that perfectly in a group, taking into account the goals of the organization and the team in question. When they feel that (too much) decisions are being made for them, such as when change is being managed, this creates a feeling of inability and resistance.

Inspiration is more fun than instruction
Employees are not against change and growth. The trick is to address people’s motivation so that they are part of it. And there is still plenty to do for managers. After all, isn’t it much more fun to inspire a team than to instruct it?

A new perspective on management

A long time ago I attended a seminar on management. A partner of a well-known consultancy argued that managing is simple. He compared it to balancing a broomstick on the tip of your finger: the broomstick is constantly falling over. By paying attention to how the broomstick will fall and always making adjustments, it stays in balance. How hard can management be?

Managing for control
This story illustrates the (unconscious) beliefs behind traditional management: “if you do not (pro) actively control and adjust, there will be chaos.” Management gives instructions – what is to be done and how – and controls the output. Another important assumption is that the desired results will then “automatically” emerge from the process. And there is implicit distrust that teams can achieve the desired results autonomously: the broomstick will fall if it is not scrutinized all of the time.

For a long time this view worked fine: with apparently predictable and longterm growth, it was relatively easy to make a strategic plan, divide it into periodic schedules and use it to manage the organization.

Pulling the grass
But following such a process no longer automatically leads to the desired results. As discussed earlier, change processes often fail because employees are not taken along well enough in the movement that management aspires to: lack of support, insufficient focus and change capacity cause the most frictions. The result: insufficient agility and resilience and little pro-activity to external events and developments. The feeling that this creates among many managers is that they are busy “pulling the grass and hoping this will make it grow faster”. An exhausting and unsatisfying activity.

But grass cannot be forced. That applies to everything in nature, including humans. This in contrast to “things”, such as…well: a broomstick. Too much direction and control, driven by underlying mistrust, leads to stress. Burnouts as a result of work stress are now the most important occupational disease, possibly around the world. The way in which it an organization is managed plays an important role here.

Organize for success
Every gardener knows that you can influence the soil, creating a fertile situation. Responsive organizations manage to create such a situation and let teams thrive. How do they do that?

First of all, autonomy is invested as much as possible with the employees in teams. People are more motivated when they can work together autonomously. That means a high degree of independence, decision-making authority and responsibility. The degree of autonomy or self-management can differ, depending on the culture and beliefs that live within the organization.

But isn’t it going to be chaos, as the broomstick metaphor predicts? On the contrary. Research into self-managing teams shows time and again that employees who determine how they do their work are more motivated, collaborate better and achieve better results. Provided there is clarity about the direction and goals. Creating that clarity, together with the team, is where the manager adds value.

The key here is trust. Trust is mutual, so you get what you give: people try their best not to shame it and are motivated by it.

Don’t control, create!
There is then still plenty to do for managers. But their role now is about creating the breeding ground for success – not about directing and controlling.

What are the ingredients? Clarity about the goals has already been mentioned – of course with sufficient support (70% of the teams do not agree with the goals of their management!). In addition: ensure that people come into their own! That means that they do what they want to do, what they can do and that they can focus on their work. Encourage good team dynamics (feedback). This means that every team is complete, and that it is clear to everyone what their role is and how it contributes to the goals of the team. Psychological safety is the most important ingredient here. This ensures that people share ideas, give their opinion, dare to make mistakes and celebrate successes together. This is the fertile ground for creativity and growth!

Give your team freedom in confidence.
Just like the gardener trusts nature to do its job. Will it always go well then? Of course not: usually something happens that is not foreseen. Which is exactly why you have a responsive team and where you can make the difference as a manager. By overseeing the situation and helping people to find an answer to (new) dilemmas together.

The world is far from predictable. And that’s one reason responsive teams are needed. Another reason is that people thrive when you tap into their intrinsic motivation and creativity. This requires managers who inspire employees with clear goals and then let them come into their own in a safe environment.

Purposeful change (part two)

A lot of research is done by organizations. For example, employee engagement or customer satisfaction. Employees often experience that too little is done with the results of such research. This is partly because the way of researching (asking questions) often makes it insufficiently clear:

  • what the status or progress is of a (change) plan or strategy
  • what should be done now.

Moreover, you want to know what possible frictions could hinder success! That’s why you want to know in particular:

  • what the status is of the priorities (maturity levels);
  • whether the number of priorities is too much, too little, or just right;
  • what the improvement levels are on each priority;
  • what the agreement is for them is among the people involved;
  • whether there is sufficient capacity to deal with the priorities.

Good research questions are therefore verifiable, factual and they contain maturity levels. Also, respondents can indicate what they want to achieve with each of the priorities (see part 1 of this blog). For example:

To what extent are your role, tasks and repsonsibilities clear?NowIn 3 months
Not or hardlyO
Discussed with my manager, not documentedO
Discussed with my manager, and documentedOO

A simplified example: management wants one or more teams to be more responsive. For that purpose, six priorities have been identified: three for each individual and three for each team. These priorities are presented in six different questions, with 3-5 options per question that differ in maturity:

To what extent are your objectives taken into account in your work?
To what extent is known which skills and talents you want to develop?
How do you deal with deadlines?

To what extent does the team have objectives?
Is there a clear division of roles, responsibilities and tasks?
Does the team celebrate successes?

Now suppose you want to realize the change plan in six months. Planning six priorities, like in this example, is of course relatively easy. But normally there are many more priorities, sometimes 20-30, which can also differ per team, department or country. But since not all priorities can be achieved at once, a choice has to be made. That is why we question everyone involved. Everybody? Certainly! Everyone is included in responsive organizations, and that yields a lot. A typical question in that context would then be, for example:

To what extent does your team work with objectives?NowIn 3 months
Not or they are not clearOO
Team objectives have been shared with the teamO
There are team objectives, and it has been assessed how my role contributes O

According to the respondent in this example, there are team goals and they are shared. He wants it to be clear in three months how his role contributes to the team goals – the highest maturity level in this example. This clearly has priority for this respondent.

Now everyone can indicate what they consider priorities and how much they should be improved. This leads to insights, such as:

  • how do individual employees prioritize?
  • to what extent is there support (among teams, teams with their managers)?
  • do teams take on too many priorities, or just enough?
  • where do we find “waste” – employees wanting to improve priorities more than necessary – or “shortage” – employees wanting to improve on certain priorities less than desirable?

And these insights arise at all levels: individual, teams, departments, organization. This also allows you to include everyone in the changes you want to initiate with your organization!

Sharing knowledge and working more focused
You now also know who has already reached a desired maturity level on a priority – because we ask for verifiable and factual behavior. Now you can stimulate people to share knowledge. Helping each other means not reinventing the wheel. This saves costs. But not only that: it has turned out that the approximately fifteen minutes that an employee spends on such a questionnaire frees up one to two weeks, because the work will be more focused!

How to lead and on what
By obtaining this information, management knows how and on what to lead. For example, in the event that a team agrees among themselves on the priorities but does not have sufficient support for the priorities of management, a different action is needed than if the team does agree with management. In the first case, there is a need for alignment. Maybe there is a conflict management doesn’t know about yet? In the latter case, everybody is clearly on the same songsheet, so let’s get going!

Of course you want real-time insight in the results, and you don’t want to wait months for these results to come in. Moreover, you don’t want (to wait for) extensive calculations to find out all these insights. Your organization will not be responsive! Here the algorithms of Artificial Intelligence platforms help, at all levels:

  • employees get a better grip on their priorities;
  • managers will have a better understanding which people come into their own or not. And what can be done about it;
  • the divisional director gains more accurate insight into why certain teams are on schedule or not and what intervention would be helpful.

In the example, the priorities for the next three months could be as follows:

  1. Everyone’s personal goals are discussed and documented (highest maturity level 3).
  2. Development of skills and talents of everyone are discussed with management (maturity level 2).
  3. Team objectives: clear and documented and for everyone it’s clear how their role contributes to the team objectives (maturity level 3).

Three of the six priorities have now been chosen. The dashboard confirms that there is support and that the amount of priorities is feasible with sufficient capacity within the team:

If more time is freed up through better focus, cooperation and knowledge sharing, then nothing stands in the way of accelerating the change program. It’s not surprising that responsive organizations often set the pace of change and innovations in their sector!

On Thursday, February 11, Moving As One is organizing the free webinar “Know How To Change Purposefully”. Participants learn how they can engage their teams or organization in change processes more effectively through better and faster surveys, with the help of Artificial Intelligence. Includes a live demo. More information can be found here.

Purposeful change (part one)

A global scientific study of more than 3,500 teams investigated the causes of frictions that hinder successful change (see also one of our earlier blogs on frictions that cause most change management initiatives to fail):

  • lack of support or agreement: 70% of teams disagree with management’s priorities. And 40% of the teams surveyed disagree among themselves.
  • lack of focus: more than 60% of the teams set too many priorities with either a high level of ambition for improvement (not realistic) or a low level of ambition (no focus). Only 3% of the set a manageable number of goals with a high level of ambition.
  • overexertion: in 80% of cases, the effort to be made is either too high for the people involved and/or not evenly distributed within the team.
  • insufficient capacity: in 50% of cases there is insufficient capacity to implement the change.

With this knowledge it is not surprising that most change projects fail or do not achieve their goals …

How would you know where you are, and what to do?
Let’s assume that you have taken all the steps to make your organization more responsive. And you have a strategic plan that is now being followed. How do you know how if your organization is progressing according to plan, or better? How do the teams score on the relevant factors of Agreement, Focus, Effort and Capacity? And is everybody aligned on what should be done next?

Ask everyone involved
All of them? Certainly! Moving As One means involving everyone in the motion you want to create! This is necessary for a committed and responsive organization. And it is easier and simpler than you think if the monitoring tool meets two conditions:

Use a real-time AI platform
Technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) enable us to use valuable data and insights from research in real time. In clear dashboards, for all levels: individual, team, department, business unit, organization. Now everbody can really be “on the same songsheet”!

Unfortunately, too few companies are still aware of its possibilities.

“Amazon has brought the world same-day delivery, but we still have to wait three months for the results of the employee engagement survey.”

Amazon executive in ‘Big-4 or Big Tech:Who Drills First?
The Search for A.I. that drives automated consultancy.’

Quality of the questions
The quality of the questions determines the quality of the answers. Many organizational studies use the “Likert” scale, a so-called “psychometric” that charts people’s opinions or feelings. We all know them well, for example in a question or statement like this one:

My role, tasks and responsibilities are clear.


Opinions and feelings are not verifiable
The disadvantage of this kind of surveys is that opinions and feelings – although important – are not verifiable. Such questions are not about facts or actual behavior. While the causes of friction always concern specific priorities with which an organization wants to move forward. Moreover, you want to get people moving with concrete actions – and the right actions.

Verifiable questions
What if we twist the above question and base the answers on verifiable and factual behavior. For example:

To what extent are your role, tasks and responsibilities clear?
Not at allO
Discussed with my manager, not documentedO
Discussed with my manager, and documentedO

As you can see, a number of verifiable maturity levels are linked to the question. These will help to set priorities, create focus and involve all people in the team or organization. To this end, we add one more dimension: what is the situation now and what does the respondent want to realize with regard to this question in, for example, three months? Then the possible answers will look like this:

To what extent are your role, tasks and responsibilities clear?Today In 3 months
Not at allO
Discussed with my manager, not documentedO
Discussed with my manager, and documentedOO

Now suppose you have 20-25 questions (which takes appr. 15 minutes per respondent). They are about what you and your management team consider important in the organization. For example: psychological safety, individuals come into their own, there is enthusiasm for our organizational goals. Or whatever strategic area: agile working methods, following safety procedures, reducing working capital. Now you can have an overview of how your organization actually scores on these relevant aspects. You also see what people themselves would see as priorities, which gives you insight in what is needed to move forward with any team.

And that in turn will help you map out the support, focus and available capacity for change. Now your change program becomes concrete and possible frictions are known. E.g. because people think differently about priorities than management. Or because it becomes clear that there is insufficient capacity when certain changes are “pushed through”.

This immediately – remember to use online AI in realtime – makes it clear what the feasibility of the change plan is and what you need to do to increase it. Now you know what aspects in the priorities are covered well and which ones need more attention from management. The organization will be involved better in what needs to be done.

The next blog in this series – Purposeful change part two – explains how you can bring it all together.