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By Jarom Reid

I love to switch things up. I'm a huge fan of trying new things and not being in confined to one way of doing things. I don't like to use the same toothpaste two times in a row. I hardly ever eat the same thing for breakfast. I drive a different way to work just for fun.  

When I started Carpool I would wait until everyone went home at night then I would spend hours rearranging the office. At first I thought everyone loved it... spicing things up... developers next to the account team, designers roommates with project management.... then all new a few months later. After doing this for a while I learned this wasn't as fun for others as it was for me. Not everyone is a fan of change. In fact most people don't like it at all.  

This experience, and a few other life lessons, have allowed me to develop a business guiding principle: NO SURPRISES. Clients don't like surprises, employees don't like surprises, customers often don't understand surprises. Surprises, for the most part, are not a good thing because they often require too much immediate change. 

The topic of today's pontification is Evolve, Don't Change. 

Change infers, by default, that you're doing it wrong and you now have to do it a different way. The practice of change management is proverbial salt in the wound – "you are doing it wrong and you don't know how to fix it so we're going to tell you how to fix you because you're doing it wrong."  

On the flip side, evolution is about adapting to the environment and building new muscles designed to do something faster, easier, or with more accuracy. I won't get to technical here, but the study of epigenetics is a fascinating look at evolution based on the environment in which one lives. Looking at business evolution through the augmented lens of epigenetics helps us think about process and principles as genes that can manifest themselves differently based on the ecosystems in which they are practiced.  

For more about epigenetics for those who are interested, Here is a good video by Hank Green that walks through the basics. Epigenetics 

When we think about evolving the way we work we shouldn't try to boil the ocean. Meaning, don't try and get everyone in your whole organization to make the switch right away simply because the CEO gave a motivational pitch in an all hands. There are too many variables to manage for this strategy to work, especially as it relates to employee engagement.   

Everett Rodgers gave us the Diffusion of Innovation curve and that model fits into this idea of evolve, don’t change really well. Not every organization is going to neatly fall into these percentages, but this adoption curve can be used to manage our expectations. Why focus on Innovators and laggards at the same time? Doesn't it make more sense to work with Innovators to prove it's possible while incouraging early adopters to watch and learn. 

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Let's use an example of adopting a new internal "social networking" tool:  

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To help with tool adoption the focus should not be getting everyone on board at the same time. I would suggest starting with a small group of people you know are ready and willing and work with them to start your wave. At Carpool, we refer to this as the influence wave approach. 

By starting with a small group we can learn quicker and easier. We know our people and can learn from them. We can determine where we can have the most impact before committing in any one direction. We can build structure and process based on evidence. Here are three steps that can help evolve the way you adopt a new tool like Teams, Yammer, Workplace, or Slack.


Step 1: Know Your People  

Experts. The most important people in your community are your experts. They are responsible for content, starting conversations, and enriching dialog with analysis and experience. They drive the value found in the group.  

Community/Business Managers. A community manager is a metaphorical contradiction... they are the glue that keeps everything together and the grease that keeps everything moving. Their main job is to make sure there is flow inside the group – people need to be talking, questions need to be answered, the value output needs to be obvious. If these things aren't happening the community manager is responsible for engaging an expert, notifying a stakeholder, or following up with team members. The community manager needs to also ensure the purpose of the group stays on track. 

The community manager also prepares the report for the stakeholders with the help and support of the experts.  

Rockstar/Evangelist. These are your people who just get it... they want to participate and they want to help get other on board. Typically these people are early adopters. 

Stakeholders. Stakeholders don't need to be active participants, but they are invested in the outcome. They require progress reports that include a status on how things are stacking up against the original strategy, any insights gained, or opportunities that should be perused. The stakeholder is someone who built the original strategy and has the ability and authority to tweak the plan if needs be.  

Team. Everyone else. Most likely to be in the late majority or laggards groups.  

Watchers. They may not be people who have a vest interest in the business success of the group, but they are interested in how things happen. They watch to see how experts interact with the team, or how a community manager builds a flow of value-based communication.

 

STEP 2: What's Your Baseline?

What part of the business are you trying to impact? Are you a profit center or a cost center? Are you trying to cut costs or increase sales? There are other ways to measure success, but cost and profit can show meaningful impact  

How do you measure success? Define what your business value is to the people who are part of your team/community. Understanding the channels in which your communications flow gives you an opportunity to measure engagement week over week and month over month.

Communication. Working out loud and sharing gives you a digital foundation on which to measure and build. Social platforms allow us to open up the communication flow and share what's going on with those who actively and passively participate.  

Principles and Process. Establishing principles and process for the engagement provides purpose and direction. Structure based on proven governing principles provides consistency. We need to make sure we keep it simple and then add complexity as it makes sense. Life isn't getting simpler, we're just getting much better at doing more complex things... you could say we have evolved.  

 

STEP 3: Share the Love

It's all about evidence. An actor will get a job because of an audition and/or past work. An professional athlete starts because of their proven talent and ability. A new hire is made based on experience, proof, and the recommendations of others. Evidence gives us confidence and lowers risk. 

What is your soapbox?  How are you going to share your agenda, your vision and your implementation plan? When sharing your vision it is important to establish a consistent flow/channel of information that people can depend on.  

A few things to note: 

  • Don't hijack someone else's channel 
  • Either create a new space or revive one that's not being used 
  • Establish an expectation based on the purpose and value of the experience 
  • Make sure you have people to help you and they are aware of their roles (see above) 

Qualitative and quantitative. Stories and data help show people there is a better way to work. Evidence in the form of a story makes the path and the destination relatable. The data and related analytics justifies the effort require to make the journey. 

Top down then bottom up. The effort has to start at the top. Senior leaders must set the vision, relate it to business goals and provide implementation guidance. Once the foundation has been set and the plan put into action, leadership needs to build a case and share the success. This is done by finding a few teams willing and able to execute the plan.  

 

Conclusion

To sum this up quickly. It's important to respect the past. We must realize and take into consideration all the hard work that has gone into the current way of working and let that effort/investment influence a new way of doing work. That being the case, we need to look forward and note there may be a better way.  

An evolved work environment requires structure and organization and people need to be at the center, not the tools. Know who will be doing what and make sure they understand and have clear expectations on their role. Establish a baseline on which success can be measured... numbers/data is better than subjective assessments. Lastly, talk about it. Make sure people know what's going on and can participate in qualitative and quantitative evidence.