A transformation (always) in progress
This series isn’t so much a guide as a personal account; rather than a map, we hope it offers a light and a compass. It’s the lived experience of what it’s been like for us to make significant, scary changes to our organisation in pursuit of a very worthy goal. It’s everything we wish we’d known before we started.
Each chapter covers an area we think merits some deeper exploration. The process is necessarily unique to every business, but we’ve tried to touch on some of the points which will apply universally. Importantly, we’re not there yet and likely never will be. To be constantly learning and changing isthe point – you’ve never really ‘arrived’ on a journey like this.
1. Expert advice isn’t always helpful.
Bringing in an ‘expert’ who doesn’t understand your business and what it’s trying to achieve can be counterproductive. You are already surrounded by experts when it comes to working out what needs to change in your business. They’re the people who work there.
2. You’re going to need resilience as a leader.
People will leave. Staff will tell you it’s too hard, that the new way is over-complicating day-to-day operations, and – probably more than once – that you’ll send the business broke. Digging in your heels and staying true to the vision is really, really hard in the face of negative feedback.
3. The learning and the change start with you
Redistributing power will be one of the biggest challenges. We all like to believe we’re humble and in control of our ego, but a hierarchy invisibly supports a lot of notions about who we are which can be difficult to give up. Some will struggle to stop being ‘in charge’; others will have difficulty assuming responsibility. Success for your organisation will require a commitment to self-mastery – an inward journey of reflection and growth – for everyone, and it has to start with you.
4. See your business as a system.
It’s not just about new routines, rituals and structures; these should be the natural products of deeper, systemic changes to culture and behaviours.
5. Remember it’s about function over form.
Most businesses are driven by the opposing principle, adhering to power structures so strictly that their driving function is neglected or forgotten altogether.
6. Expect your experience to diverge from what you’ve read. A lot.
There’s no real ‘how to’ for successfully decentralising your organisation. You will probably have read a lot of books and guides on the process. Be prepared for the likelihood that nothing you’ve read will work for you, and be ready to carry on regardless. We found that most of the literature was describing a destination, and not how to make the journey there.
7. Let go of what you think needs to happen, and instead embrace what emerges naturally.
The process is about responding to change in a way that is productive and enables learning. Sticking too tightly to your priorities will prevent you from recognising needs and opportunities as they emerge, which will stifle the very change you are trying to make.
8. The process takes time and change has to happen at a pace that works for everyone.
Milestones are important but it’s difficult to impose a timeline on something which is ever-evolving. After three years, we still have so much we haven’t ‘achieved’, and we expect that as we continue to change, so will our goals.
9. It’s hard to ‘stay true to your vision’ when your partners and customers don’t work that way.
The challenge of maintaining a networked structure when marketplaces seek out a hierarchy can be discouraging. You need to find a way to interface with clients who work according to traditional power structures, without reverting to them yourself.
10. One more thing – while you’re changing everything, everyone still needs to get paid.
A huge challenge which is often overlooked is the necessity to keep everything turning over in your business at the same time as you’re trying to change the way you work. The phone doesn’t stop ringing because you’re building a new dream.