... and what to focus on instead
You may know that I'm hunting for a Transformation Algorithm
Its goal is to help us move beyond the >70% failure rate of corporate transformations and create transformative experiences for employees, customers and society. Ambitious? Moi?
To get there, I’m walking around the problem.
Looking at it from all perspectives (Japan style). So without claiming expertise in any domain, I’m blending systems thinking with neuroscience, behavioural psychology, philosophy and my background in experience design. There’s even a little math (I couldn't resist 🥸.
It's a work in progress, but I'm getting there.
Meanwhile, here are some more thoughts as I put together the puzzle. The article starts a bit gloomy, but it ends more upbeat… I promise.
It's all work in progress, so don’t hold back on comments, compliments or corrections 🙂.
These days, every company wants to see a 'mindset change'.
People need to be customer-centric. Digital. Agile. Sustainable. Innovative. More in love with the colour blue. After all, the consultants, executive trainers and software vendors say this is the future. Not to mention Mark’s metaverse.
To make this happen, organisations unleash a barrage of initiatives
They do enthusiastic presentations. Introduce new KPIs and dashboards. Launch internal communication programmes and training academies. Create new journey maps. Introduce AI. Get some fancy software.
Some even call me (obviously the smartest ones 😉).
At first, the signs are good.
After all, with enough pressure, you can get water to go uphill. Also, any decent third-party consultant or vendor will make sure that employees leave those workshops with a smile and some quick wins. Especially those that show progress in pretty graphs and numbers .
But then - one by one - the ‘old ways’ assert themselves
They raise dozens of practical, budgetary, emotional and IT concerns which are all valid and require the change programme to be calibrated. After all, leaders need to be pragmatic. These thousand slight cuts erode the big transformative vision and expectations get lowered. Things might even become as they were.
What if we were aiming at the wrong target?
If you look up mindset in a dictionary, you find it is a mental attitude or inclination. The combined set of assumptions, methods and notions with which each of us approaches problems and the world at large (our perspective). Something rooted in the way we view the world and our perception of reality (our paradigm).
This means that every mindset change is in fact a change in perspective or paradigm.
Let me illustrate with a consumer electronics company that wanted to go from product- to customer-centric value propositions. Digging deep, we found that from the engineer's perspective, the requested mindset change meant letting go of their long held belief that as the world’s best technical experts they knew how to make the best products on the planet (and had the awards and accolades to prove it).
Instead, they had to embrace that the customer knew better what great looked like and their opinion didn’t matter as much as they thought.
If you’ve worked all your life to become that smart and esteemed technical expert, this is an existential pill to swallow. Especially if the only rationale from the top is that "our Net Promoter Score should improve".
These shifts in perspective lurk in any transformation
Being agile means seeing that we live in a chaotic world where we can never really be sure of our best next step. True sustainability means accepting that there are limits to growth, also ours. Going digital means letting go of activities we have long considered to be uniquely human (ours?). Innovation requires unlearning the orthodoxies and beliefs we may have held since childhood. And so on.
For some people, these steps may be easy. But for most, they can challenge the core of who they are (even if they may not admit this to themselves).
Ignoring this deeper reality can doom your transformation from the start.
If the new KPIs, processes, systems and incentives you introduce do not match the worldview of the people you target, they will reject them. Sometimes they rebel. Sometimes they stand in the way without realising it themselves. Either way, your culture will eat your strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
So what to do instead?
If you want mindset change, focus on the paradigm shift first.
Before you expect people to approach problems differently (mindset), work on the way they perceive these problems and their context. Clearly describe the required paradigm shift in a FROM… TO… statement and make it as compelling as possible. All while acknowledging the uncomfortable bits head on.
Then, give people opportunities to embrace this new narrative through experiential programmes (remember: the old brain doesn’t do PowerPoint).
Once they see the world with fresh eyes, the mindset and changes will follow.
Or as my ultimate change guru Antoine de Saint-Exupéry used to say: "if you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."
But always remember that your perception as a leader is flawed too.
When you say: ‘I want a mindset change’, you are actually saying: ‘I want you to see the world as I do’.
This is often a big ask, as chances are you live in a world that is more affluent, more educated and more informed (I won't mention diversity ... oops, I did). You probably have a different education, live in a different social media bubble and even shop in different stores. You may even have the freedom to make your own decisions.
Seeing life your way, may not be as easy for someone who has grown up, works and lives in a different context (no value judgment here, just observation).
Inversely, unless you’ve done their jobs and lived their lives, you will have difficulties to imagine the world through the eyes of your people. No matter how you try.
So before you talk about mindset change.
Understand and start from your people's perspective and then expand it in the direction you propose. And if the gap between the two is too big, consider adapting your strategy.
Perhaps your world view and sense of possibility need an update too.
Alain Thys is an experience architect who helps organisations drive profit and transformation through experience.