Facilitation meets innovation

I recently attended a course in facilitation, The Effective Facilitator by Leadership Strategies. It was a powerful experience, and one which I thought I would share. Let’s start by looking at some situations where you might use facilitation to get results:

  • The CEO is fed up with all the complaints she’s receiving about their hiring process. It seems everyone has an opinion from the process taking too long to hiring people without the right skills. You’ve been asked to sort it out and fix the hiring process once and for all.
  • A core systems replacement project is running way over budget. Originally forecast to take 18 months and cost $3m, it is now in year 3 and $4m down…requiring another $2m to finish. We promise. You’ve been asked to come in and recommend whether to shut down the project or not.

Both situations have a problem that needs to be solved, a solution that isn’t immediately obvious, and a level of change that’s going to require buy in (because we’ll be asking people to change their behaviour and without buy in…they won’t). This last point is key. It’s what underpins the whole approach. If you want people to change what they are doing they need to create, understand and accept the change.

Did you say they need to create the solution?

Yes. Here’s why, illustrated with the normal big stick approach to change:

The CEO has hired Big Consultancy X me to fix the hiring process. An account manager arrives and six hungry graduates immediately fan out and start interviewing key staff. They call them stakeholders. Once the interviews are done the data is analysed, some charts are drawn up and the consultancy retires to a secret location to come up with some really clever answers. They come back, present the recommendations using PowerPoint and setup a so-called change management program to ensure the organisation does as it’s told. Systems are updated, process documentation is rolled out and users get trained. 6 months later the project is a complete failure. Key staff disagree about the way it should have been done, and new systems are ignored or adapted to do the job they way it’s always been done.

So what happened? Decisions were made externally before being explained to those affected. Feedback was limited to clarification of understanding. Alternatives were not considered. Basically, the workforce was ignored and treated with disdain. You can almost taste the disempowerment. So what is the alternative. Consider this example:

The CEO hires FacilitationRus to fix the hiring process. They meet with the CEO and listen to his problems. A workshop is called and everyone is given a chance to voice their concerns about the hiring process and the things they would like to see fixed. By the end of the session everyone agrees that we should have a plan for implementing an improved hiring process by the time we are done. Across a series of events participants are divided into teams and tasked with improving various aspects of the process. When they are done team representatives reconvene to pull together their suggestions into a single process. After a couple of iterations the process has been storyboarded in its entirety, and the team has a good idea of who will need to do what in order to make change happen. The hiring process improvement plan is drawn up and signed off by all involved. Teams even appoint activity champions to ensure their part is implemented to plan. The program is implemented successfully, and in record time.

So what was the difference? First, solutions were created by the people involved and not by an external consultant. Facilitators were there to organise the exercise and guide participants to a successful outcome with minimal fuss. Second, the solution was agreed to by all. There was consensus on the solution to be implemented, and a level of acceptance that this was the best way forwards. Everyone understood what was happening because they were actively involved, and were naturally excited to have been asked their opinion. As they say, its win win.

What has this got to do with innovation?

Plenty. Innovation is all about change. Changing the way things get done. Changing the products and services we use. Even changing our business models. In every case, innovation is about coming up with a new idea which could add some significant value and then making the change happen. Here are two made urban myth statistics:

  • 85% of bit IT projects fail
  • 85% of organisational change programs fail
  • 85% of new business ventures fail

Perhaps the common point here is in the level of buy in. If you really want people to change the way they behave, they need to have a hand in creating the solution. For innovative IT projects or revolutionary organisational change programs this means we need to actively involve our people in creating the solutions. For new business ventures maybe there are ways of connecting with customers and having them create new ways of using your products. The Kinect  and Wii hacks are great examples here…some people are even using them to fly

 

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