There’s a lot of talk these days about inclusive cultures, stepping away from “command and control” type leadership towards a more collaborative style and bringing your whole self to work. These are great aspiration which many of the forward-thinking CEOs try to embrace and instil. But how do you translate these aspirations into the daily routine? How do team leaders and managers think about changing their long-practiced and squarely embedded style of leadership when they also have KPIs to achieve, sales to deliver and are not permitted to make mistakes or fail. And for what? After all – so they believe – their style works! They continue to deliver results and be rewarded for them! Why change?
The case for the shift in management style from one that leads from the top to one that’s more inclusive is well made. I don’t need to recite the plentiful HBR and other literature claiming that those companies that do not embrace this shift might no longer be able to compete with those that do. But what can you – the individual – do to contribute to this change? How can you go from conforming to becoming a change agent? To start with, you can do one or more of the following 7 things:
Start with yourself
If you have decided to make a difference at work by embracing change and facilitating it, ask yourself: “Do I need to change my own habits and thinking?” Chances are, you do! Start by learning about yourself, becoming more self-aware, figuring out your own blind spots, your own unconscious bias. Challenge your decisions and the way you make them. Observe: Who are your friends at work? Are they all ‘flock of a feather’? Do you encourage others to speak their mind and shine? How do you react to a different point of view? Do you dismiss it outright or see it as a valuable contribution? Once you’ve started changing some of your own preconceived notions, you can start asking others to change theirs – but not before.
Be a Rebel
Standing up for something you believe in is tough when tradition and status quo are not aligned with your belief. But taking a stance for something you believe is right and can bring positive change can be liberating and empowering. Can you see yourself saying out loud “Today, we are going to do things differently!” or “Let me try something new.” Or “Have you thought about doing it this way instead?”. Test your resilience by giving it a try and take a stance for a change in culture – however small it might be. Start with something like going out for lunch instead of eating at your desk (again!), or insisting in a meeting to hear from those who tend not to speak (be careful how you insist as not everyone likes to be put on the spot!), or maybe you can simply turn to someone who you know will disagree with you and say “What do you think?”
Start the conversation
Making the case for a change in which you believe is challenging and rewarding at once and might set wheels in motion towards a bigger change. When I wanted to start a conversation within my company on a particular subject, I organised an internal lunch event around a TED talk video of someone who said what I was thinking but in a much more eloquent and entertaining way. After the talk, we continued the conversation in the group to solicit the views of others on the topic, and I was able to voice my thoughts by navigating and facilitating the discussion.
Be an Intrapreneur
Facilitating change by breaking down fixed structures is difficult unless you think and act like an entrepreneur. You could, for example, propose to tackle a business problem (a small one) by encouraging a brainstorming session with those who wouldn’t typically be asked to engage with the problem. You’ll be amazed what ideas come out of this thinking session. The next step is to then present these ideas to your manager and ask whether any of them have legs and, if so, whether you could be given an opportunity to implement the best one or two ideas, on an experimental basis. Your show of initiative and entrepreneurial thinking would not go unnoticed, not to mention you would have an opportunity to show the company the value of being flexible and open-minded to change.
Be the lone voice
How often do you hear people disagree with the most senior person in the room? How good do you think that is for business? Done properly, the person in the room who adds a different perspective to the discussion is the person adding value. After all, what is the point of 5 or 6 (or more) brains in a room when they all think alike? If they all say and think the same thing, why not just pay one of them instead? But those who dare to look at the situation differently or from the view of a different stakeholder are the ones that improve decisions by making them more thoroughly considered, even if that does mean being the first person in the room to say so.
Be a disruptor
Coming up with ideas, changing old-fashioned structures and bringing original products and services to the consumer is what disruptors are credited with. Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, Crowdfunder, Money.Net, Vintu, Kensho – these are only a few of the companies that have changed the way we do business. They have all embraced change and used it to their advantage. Can you be a disruptor at work? You’ll need to take an existing concept, find its underlying assumptions and reverse them to find out how you can disrupt and innovate.
Come to ‘Changing The Playing Field’ conference
On 8 July 2016 we will be hosting our flagship conference focusing on how corporate norms, culture and leadership are changing, how these changes create opportunities for professional women (and men) and how you can become an agent of this change. We will be talking about values-driven corporate norms, collaboration and vulnerability, how to leverage gender-related differences for business success, and how to transform meetings and corporate culture to being more inclusive, agile and transparent. Join the conversation with us and BE THE VOICE YOU WANT TO HEAR!