Driving lasting change is never easy. Leaders have often planned, tried, and, despite small tactical wins, rarely produced outcomes.
Ironically, a common perception about today's high-octane companies is that they're functioning on cutting-edge technology to implement solutions like a well-oiled and profitable machine.
"The truth is that many companies are being run like machines, industrial age machines," says New York Times best-selling author Brant Cooper, CEO of Moves the Needle and author of a new book, Disruption Proof.
Cooper and his team help Fortune 500 companies solve problems and make the leap to digital. This shift from an industrial age mindset to a digital age mindset is a Herculean problem and a massive headache for leadership, says Cooper. It means employing agile, human-centered design and lean methodologies to ignite entrepreneurial action from the front lines all the way to the C-suite.
In his book, Cooper bridges the chasm for organizations that wish to make the leap from dinosaur assembly-line behavior to today's complex, layered environment--where former ways of doing everything have become obsolete.
Once mindset and behaviors are aligned, companies can kickstart the change from within to begin driving momentum. The goal is not immediate transformation, says Cooper. Instead, it is to launch an initiative so that the work can begin as leaders deliver small wins.
Here's a taste of what Cooper's process entails, and the shift required to reach a digital age mindset.
1. Become Resilient, Aware, Dynamic (RAD)
What does a company's resilient, aware, dynamic (RAD) mindset look like, and how does this apply to business? Instability is inevitable. As such, leaders must be able to recognize uncertainty and admit when they do not know the answer, especially as best practices fail. This requires humility and transparency, as well as a willingness to balance new learning and efficiency.
Here's how Cooper explains the RAD mindset: If the organization's structure remains stable as a whole, even as the parts of the system may change or fail, it's proven to be durable through resilience. Are your teams able to absorb and share new, external and internal information and data, as well as easily recognize the unknown variables? If so, they're demonstrating awareness. When your organization develops a keen ability to change in response to immediate needs through speed and with a nimble approach, congratulations, you're dynamic.
2. Find Your Champions
You need a special set of people: your champions and change agents, the talented people working in your organization today. Your mission is to go out and find them. They stand ready and willing to dedicate their creativity, intelligence, and entrepreneurial skills to move the company forward. You must rally these people, regardless of their hierarchical place or role in the organization. Look for design thinkers, customer-experience professionals, agile and lean innovation experts. Bring together communities of these people in your organization and hold a voluntary event--a "disruption mindset happy hour" online, in-person or both. Provide food and make it appealing. People looking to contribute are usually hungry to do so. While not everyone will answer your call, the champions who do often lead by example and set the tone for kickstarting change.
3. Invite Everyone to Drive Change
The path to transformation depends on buy-in, such that leaders, managers, and frontline rank and file get on board. If the goal is to kickstart change from within, then it must move like a wave sweeping across and through the organization, impacting everyone. Just as you search far and wide for your champions, so, too, must you practice an invitational approach to include everyone to participate. You want vertical and horizontal cross-sections of early adopters, from bottom to middle layers to top of the org chart. Inviting everyone into the fold can galvanize excitement and create a new sense of unity and urgency at your organization. The call to change, in effect, tears down walls as you reshape teams to work together and bring new thinking to the mission in support of your values. A business that works to maximize efficiency in achieving its mission is a statement everyone can get behind. This makes transformation a shared experience for all, not just for the chosen few. When you kickstart internal disruptions the right way, a positive impact extends to everyone.
4. Create Programs That Empower Everyone to Contribute
If you want to empower your people to answer the call to change, you invite and include everyone within every facet of the system: employees, middle management, leaders, and support functions. Together, through a series of new initiatives, such as what Cooper dubs "Impackathons" (short for an "impact hackathon"), you get to establish a benchmark and practice the RAD mindset by applying it to various applications and scenarios. As Cooper notes, "Kickstarting the change requires that you get people together, give them problems to solve, provide direction and coaching, and let them go off and try to solve them." Your team gets to collaborate to solve problems and develop evidence that ideas will work, representing potential new value creation, before you invest in the solution. Cooper calls this the "crux of exploration mode." The transformation work you will do as an organization is in service to the company's mission. It must not only prepare the company to survive in the 21st century, but to thrive perpetually.
Cooper stresses two final points. First, seek balance in the core business between executing and exploring. Recognizing uncertainty and admitting what is not known, means that exploration work will increase the efficiency of execution. And second, the new business you will become emerges from within. It retains the legacy of your DNA, the positive aspects of your culture and ethos, even your original entrepreneurial spirit. But it must change to become RAD. Kickstarting involves applying the exploration behavior today--not reorganizing, creating an "innovation" silo, or planning transformation for months. It's doing.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Brant Cooper's last name.