We all know that creating real positive change in organisations is tricky. So tricky, in fact, that 70% of change projects fail outright to achieve their objective. That means 70% of all that time, effort and money you’ve spent were futile.

And your reputation?

Seven out of ten times you put it on the line only to get it back tarnished by poor outcomes. So it’s no surprise that McKinsey talks about senior executives’ “recoiling” at the mere mention of the word change management.*

Some organisations, however, are doing something clever. Instead of announcing big culture change programs or business transformations, they quietly and persistently experiment with ideas and changes. And they are getting are remarkable – both regarding learning and generating real sustained positive change.

Experiment, Play, Prototype.

Whatever you call it, the essence of this approach is to take a series of small, inexpensive steps that carry low risk to the business and your reputation. It allows you to learn and develop the changes needed in your organisation. It lets you explore ideas and the consequences of new processes, structures and decisions before realising them across the business.

In fact, the concept is nothing new:  we’re all familiar with the idea of prototypes in say, the car industry, or in product design terms. Manufacturing has benefited from using prototyping concepts for decades, and it has become the standard practice in all things software development.

Using it in a business change context: Whole businesses** are being built using the approach.
It is fundamental to the Lean Start Up movement, and Stanford design school has dedicated study courses to the subject.

Deceivingly simple, immensely effective

Just like in product design, change prototyping involves an in-depth understanding of those who are going to be impacted by or asked to make a change.

But instead of spending weeks and months on gathering data and getting stuck in analysis paralysis, prototyping moves to practical testing quickly, using basic mock-ups, walk-throughs, illustrations or even storytelling to test and evaluate ideas. Learnings from tests are incorporated into the next round of prototyping.

Pebbles in a Pond

The most useful prototype keep expanding in scope, sophistication and reach with each iteration. They include more and more people, thus promote buy-in and overcome the “not-invented-here-syndrome”. They come closer to the finished product (e.g. a new process) while retaining the flexibility to incorporate real-life challenges to assumptions even at a late stage***. And while initial prototypes will be limited in their testing reach, over time that scope is expanded until, hey presto, at some point the prototype is THE way thing are getting done around here.

It’s not a walk in the park

Though prototyping is a simple approach that can lead to uncommonly good results, that is not the same as saying change is easy or it will all be plain sailing. There will be objections, resistance, gaps that open even though you thought you were well past a particular issue. Sometimes the solutions will seem too simple for people to accept them as useful and sometimes issues will come out of nowhere, undermining the change efforts.

A practical alternative

While change prototyping won’t make change easy, it gives you a good chance to create change that is sustainable, fully tailored to your particular business’s situation, culture and circumstances and avoid the risks and costs of externally created, template “solutions”.

*Calling it business transformation doesn’t help, either.

** Think how Facebook or Zappos started, revolutionary healthcare firm Buurtzorg still has the approach at its heart which ensures it can maintain its amazing culture and vision, despite growing from 10 to 9,500 employees in 7years.

***This avoids the classic issue of traditional change management where reality does not conform with plans but because it is late in the day of the project, workarounds are invented to squeeze reality into the plan.


The one simple thing to engage your employees

Here they come: your company’s annual Employee Survey results. 

Do you wonder how you did?

You open the report with trepidation. This is your people’s chance to tell you what they think – about their job, about the company, about you.

It all gets packaged into a neat little report entitled “Employee Engagement Score” or some similar title. And of course you know that the score is important: companies with a high score are more productive, have higher profits and attract more talent.

“Well”, you tell yourself, “last time wasn’t too bad.” Then you see the score…

You’ve probably heard the phrase “what gets measured gets managed.” But when you look at the numbers, you start to wonder: what else can you do to raise the score? Can it be improved?

You might think it would be impossible, but it’s not. You just have to start to from a different point.

Introducing a radical approach: stop measuring employee engagement.

For years, organisations have been collecting data from Employee surveys, 360º feedbacks, pulse checks and culture assessments.

Yet, after years of measuring, we still haven’t managed to improve engagement scores in any meaningful way.
The annual numbers move up and down a notch, yet the trends show that 65-85% of employees remain disengaged, and more than half say they are likely to leave their current job.

Seems that not everything that’s measured is managed (well).

So what is happening? 

Organisations insist that they want more employee engagement. It’s high on the list of priorities, they say. Maybe your boss says this too. And maybe you say it. And I am sure you honestly mean it.

I also bet you already cover the basics:

  • you have a clear Reward and Recognition policy
  • you pay within industry standards
  • you provide perks and have annual socials and the company Christmas party.

Maybe you are doing a lot more than this.  And these things are important.

But while you review your engagement strategies and look at the plans for the company barbeque in 6 months’ time, I want you to ask yourself one question.

How will these initiatives and activities grab the heart and soul of your people? Are any of them going to appeal on a deeply human level? Are they speaking to your people as individuals? As unique beings? As humans?

Step away from the jargon.

So here is the simple thing to improve your engagement scores:
Instead of talking about employee engagement and your company scores, get clear on what you are trying to do. Start asking yourself what do you actually mean by engagement. If your people were fully engaged, what would you see them do? Or not do? How would they behave? What would they say? What would someone visiting your office notice?

Pro-tip: start having a conversation with your people. Ask what being engaged means to them. This does not need to be a comprehensive scientific study, but an open conversation so you can test your assumptions around engagement.

To create genuine employee engagement you have to get down to specifics.

Getting down to specifics of what engagement means to you and your team clarifies what changes that are needed.

It allows you zoom in with laser precision on the areas where changes are needed, where you should focus your efforts.

It provides a platform to dive into two-way a conversation with your people – to start appealing to their hearts and souls. To truly engage them.

So when are you going to start having these conversations? Get your diary out and book a no-strings-attached strategy session – contact us on wecare@coincidencity.co.uk


As a coach, says Deborah Henry-Pollard, Associate Consultant at Coincidencity and creative coach at Catching Fireworks,  I work primarily with professionally creative people, that is, people who make their careers as artists, writers, designers, photographers, musicians, dancers, etc.  Of late, I have noticed an increasing trend in another type of people who are applying to work with me.  These are people who have good, successful careers of anything between 10 – 30 years in corporate life.  They tell stories of good salaries, impressive job titles, steady promotions, good perks, healthy pensions and all the other trappings of an outwardly desirable career.

They approach me because they want to throw in the towel on their corporate careers and explore their creativity.  They feel their careers are straight jackets, places where even if/when reaching the higher levels of their organisations, they have no permission or opportunity to be adventurous in their thinking.  Further frustration is added by the fact that left to their own devices and not fettered by “the way we do things in business”, they are certain they could contribute far more to their organisations and get more personal satisfaction for themselves and those around them.

Obviously, I am happy to work with these people if we discover a burning need to follow a new, creative career path.  However, I often ponder about the wealth of experience, skills, knowledge, insights and relationships which are being taken out of the corporate world.  There is also all the time and money which has been invested in these people over many years.  And all because the corporate world is not being astute enough to find new ways of working which will energise their people.

When writing this blog, I decided at this point to Google “how to motivate your staff”.  I came up with pages of “top tips”, ranging from bonuses, promotions, and advice on not micromanaging and letting them work from home.  I also changing their job title, giving birthday cards, holding social events, gym memberships, dress down Fridays, order-in a pizza once in a while, let them leave 15-30 minutes early one day…  The people I have been talking to have all this, or their company’s equivalent.  And yet they still want to jump ship.  This is because all this ‘motivational’ thinking is still happening within the current business paradigm which dates back to the Industrial Revolution.

When asked what would motivate them, some very common answers have been coming up:

•   the sense of real value in the work they are doing for their clients/customers (and not just how much money this will make the company)

•   seeing that the contribution of their individual skills/personality makes a difference (i.e. it’s not just whoever happens to be in the postholder role at the time)

•   the experience of genuinely collaborating equally with their colleagues without the barriers of a hierarchical corporate structure

•   being able to experiment and try out ideas

•   using creativity and ‘non-business’ skills to solve problems

•   being trusted

 (Interestingly with the people to whom I am talking, money is the least important aspect.  Indeed, money only becomes an issue the more dissatisfied a person is, along the lines of, “If I am going to be unhappy in my work, then at least I am going to get well paid for it.”)

People will always be needed to work in corporations.  Some will accept the way things are run now as the only way and be glad to know their place in the system.  Some will accept it, but be unhappy and seek fulfilment, contribution and development outside their working hours, waiting for 5pm to chime before they get really excited about life.  Some, like those who approach me, are taking their toys out of the pram and setting up for themselves.  This can be a great thing for those who are natural entrepreneurs, creatives, freelancers.  But for those who actually thrive in being part of a bigger organisation, working around and with lots of other inspired and inspiring people, escaping the corporate life isn’t really the best option, either for them or for the businesses who lose the wealth of experience and potential each person represents.

I would suggest that the best option, for both the individual and for corporate life, is for businesses to become more centred around all their people (and incidentally, not just around their staff but also around their customers).  In business consultancy, staff motivation is often on the agenda, but in the context of, “this is how we run our organisation; how can we motivate our staff within this?”.  It is time to change it to, “this is what gets people motivated; how can we build our working methods around this?”

And then, perhaps, I will have fewer discontented business people contacting me.

As an inspirational coach, Deborah works with people to help them find and build on their vision. She supports clients by seeing both the big vision and the small next step. If you would like to find out more about Deborah’s fantastic work, please contact here at dhp@catchingfireworks.co.uk or check out her inspiring site atwww.catchingfireworks.co.uk