Three steps to effective ‘changemaking’

NLGN recently published a report discussing the need for local authorities to adopt a bold ‘changemaking’ approach if they are to survive, deliver top quality customer service and remain relevant.

The report’s authors, Adam Lent and Jessica Studdert, say this approach has three elements, which are as follows:

 

1. THE ACTIVE CREATION OF A POSITIVE CULTURE AND SHARED VALUES

Common to changemaking organisations is a recognition that while organisational structures and formal processes are important to delivering impact – they are rarely as significant as the unspoken norms, collective expectations or underlying ethos within organisations that ultimately shape behaviour.

While a negative and destructive culture can undermine even the best thought-through structures and processes, a highly-positive and constructive culture can find a way to deliver real impact even when operating in a context of messy or out-dated structures.

 

2. THE EMBEDDING OF THREE CLEAR VALUES

Three particular values are core to the changemaking approach, which need to be actively identified and supported to operate as the behavioural norm.

CREATIVITY: based on the sheer need for agility and adaptability to respond to external complexities and urgencies, there is increasing awareness that ideas and initiative cannot be the sole reserve of a few senior individuals. Organisations that do not encourage creativity across the spectrum can make poor use of insight and expertise, and be prone to inertia and conservatism – which limits impact.

SELF-DETERMINATION: closely linked to creativity, there needs to be licence for employees within organisations to act on their own initiative. Operating in a complex, fast-moving external environment, the freedom and willingness to respond quickly and creatively without waiting for permission is important. Organisations which are excessively hierarchical or process driven have diminishing impact.

COLLABORATION: the values of creativity and self-determination alone would create atomisation, unless the value of collaboration is pursued in tandem. This ensures that effort will not be duplicated but instead reinforced, and enables trust to be developed, which is critical to an environment in which managers enable their team to pursue their own ideas and initiative. This also speaks to the emphasis many changemaking organisations place on communication and dialogue, sometimes employing highly sophisticated and open approaches to the sharing of information and data.

 

3. A FIERCE CLARITY OF MISSION WITH A RELENTLESS FOCUS ON OUTCOMES

Even more than conventional bodies, changemaker organisations possess a very clear and precise sense of mission as well as a very strong focus on outcomes.

To some extent this is all part and parcel of an approach that rejects any of the bureaucratic distractions that might weaken a commitment to generating meaningful change. However, it is all the more vital in organisations that emphasise creativity and self-determination. Without that strong and precise sense of mission and a shared focus on clear outcomes, there is a risk that changemaker organisations can end up becoming little more than a loose affiliation of separate projects all pursuing their own goals – a situation that would inevitably blunt impact and ultimately risk the very coherence of an institution.

This also explains why, despite their emphasis on self-determination, leadership remains an important feature of changemaking organisations. Leaders guarantee focus on mission and set the culture and norms. But as all changemaking leaders recognise, this is a very different type of leadership than of old – based as it is on shifting systems through persuasion and vision rather than managing organisations through edict.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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