The organisation of today is a complex animal, and housing providers are no exception to that rule. Demand for efficient, modern and transparent operating models that can cope with near-unprecedented levels of volatility and uncertainty are the order of the day. Can we rely on traditional methods to navigate our way out of the mire, or will a new set of leadership capabilities become the bedrock to enable true transformation with purpose so we are fit for the future?
It’s no secret; hot on large organisations’ agendas will be the transformation of operating models to gain efficiencies. Whatever your desired flavour of transformative change, the pace is often relentless, riddled with complexity and fraught with issues that can increase costs and decrease productivity. In the midst of constantly competing and conflicting transformation priorities, it’s easy for organisations to lose sight of their purpose, and how well colleagues are, or aren’t, plugged into this incredible source of organisational energy. This is where transformation initiatives are truly won and lost; in the hearts and minds of your staff.
What can be done to ensure the organisational purpose is lived out beyond the mission statement and stays at the forefront during transformation? How do we respond to the challenges we face when trying to build purposeful organisations? I think a shift in leadership thinking is the vital start to making the transformation agenda about enhancing organisational purpose first, and changing things, such as technology, second. This shift starts in a surprisingly simple way and has a single aim; strengthening your connection to what made you great as an organisation in the first place, by harnessing the innate energy of your purpose, and enabling your people to unleash the infinite power of transforming with it. Here are some of the ways you can do that:
Mind the gap
Colleagues often start to disengage during transformation because they can no longer see the link to the organisation’s purpose and what resonates with them as individuals. All too often, the net effect is that the organisation’s lifeblood is diverted away from being effective. It can become dissipated on things which don’t align to the agenda, or its energy is sapped altogether. This reduces the momentum of transformation and the flexibility of the organisation when reacting to further challenges. A fantastic example of closing this gap was the London 2012 ‘Inspire a Generation’ Olympic Games. Lord Coe led with purpose exceptionally well in the build-up and throughout. He was able to generate a level of commitment, energy and passion transforming the bid into what we now recognise as one of the greatest Games in living memory.
There is no escaping it
An organisation needs energy and passion to be great. It’s at its most concentrated when staff feel that what they do relates to something with value and meaning. If they can’t feel a connection to the purpose of the organisation, they create their own and synergy is lost. Too often the leadership, hierarchies, processes, relationships, contracts, technologies and offices constrain people’s ability to connect into and work with purpose. It’s the responsibility of leadership to ensure the path to getting to that purpose is clear for colleagues. Do absolutely everything you can to actively close down the distance between everyone’s ‘job’ and your organisational energy. Once the path is clear, colleagues are free to enact and live out the purpose in the most powerful way possible, resulting in giving your customers an experience of your organisation that is absolutely second-to-none.
Ask yourself: what enables my people to connect to our purpose, and what around us might be blocking that connection? Does your transformation use your purpose as a guide for decisions and plans? Are you willing to consider whether the actions you are planning take you closer to your purpose or further away from it? Most importantly though, what action can you take to remove the blockers and ‘close the power gap’?
Challenge entrenched, outdated and outmoded thinking
If in future you think like you do today, it’s unlikely that you will be able to solve tomorrow’s challenges. So if your thinking says one thing, but your purpose and those connected to it say another, then you and your shiny business case for transformation are in for a rough ride.
When committed to a programme of purposeful transformation, leaders have to be comfortable in positively challenging situational thinking that may have plateaued, become entrenched or reached its useful limits. The fruits of your labour will result in an eventual alignment of fresh and relevant thinking resonating with, and enhancing, this source of organisational energy. This makes it far easier for people to connect, and stay connected, with your purpose.
Ask yourself: how can you cater not only for the necessary delivery of things, but also maintain a focus on updating old knowledge? What action can you take to expose your organisation to new paradigms of thinking that might lead to it breaking free from the entrenched mental models and loops that hold it back? Commit to discarding comfort zones and break free of sector boundary lines when exploring new thinking. Dedicate time within your organisation to purely innovative, disruptive and entrepreneurial thought. After all, new and different thinking is a major catalyst of transformation, so harness this purpose-enhancing approach and start making it work for you.
The organisation as an organism
Everything is connected and is either enhancing or sapping your organisation’s energy; it’s your choice which one of those it is. The organisation is a complex, intricate and highly-connected system of values, beliefs, behaviours, levers, triggers and processes. The healthier that system is, the easier it is for your people to connect in and truly transform.
If the system becomes sick in some way and loses energy flow from your purpose, whole sections and functions begin to wither and die. That sounds melodramatic but it’s true; your purpose is what makes the system exist in the first place. Your people’s connectivity into that energy is what makes for a happy, healthy and powerful organisation. This is often why undertaking a set of transformation activities without an intricate understanding of the system, including all that is implicit and unspoken within it, can have hugely counter-productive results.
Ask yourself: how can I foster the understanding that to truly transform we must understand that we are all part of a much larger system? How can I challenge outdated mental models that see our projects and programmes as separate, different from the rest and unconnected to the whole? When people understand the interconnectedness of the organisation, the decisions they take during transformation start to account for the impact and resulting effects. This makes for a healthy system, which in turn improves the connections of individuals to the purpose, making your organisational transformation much more powerful and purposeful.
Truly long-lasting transformation comes at a mindful and behavioural cost that many organisations aren’t even aware they have to pay. This is why so many efforts fall short of the mark. These are a few of the shifts we must all make when pushing boundaries toward transforming with purpose, and creating the organisations of the future that we want to see. If the purpose of the organisation is unclear or people feel disconnected from it, the energy is diluted. Harness the power of your organisation’s purpose, plug people in and you will find transformation happens and achievements nearly always exceed plans.
Tom Sewell is head of change at Circle Housing Group.