“We need to work openly, with more transparency.”
“We need to rethink how we work and make some fundamental shifts.”
I hear C-level executives say things like this all the time. They peer into the future and recognize the need to move their workforce into a Future of Work mentality and practices.
Yet, when it comes down to implementation, the shifts are rarely as deep and meaningful as they intended. It makes people like me clench our fists, raise them to the sky and shout with frustration, “Why, Oh Why?!” Of course I have to lock myself in my closet before I do something like that so I don’t look foolish.
And at the same time, I understand. The CxOs want it one way, but things like politics, tradition, and other invisible forces get in the way or slow initiatives like this to a halt. I get it. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. I don’t like it, but it is reality.
I do believe, however, that if we understand the difference between what was intended and what is often delivered, we can try to shoot for the correct intervention and stay away from (and not settle for) one of a lower quality. It took a lot of dissecting, but I think I found a way to explain the difference in a way that can motivate teams to shoot for the best, rather than settle for what is easiest (and thus, much less effective).
In working with a client, I noticed that they were falling into this trap. They were leaning toward checking off the box with lower level solutions. It isn’t that they were not compitent (because they certainly were), it was just that all the forces that we all know so well were pressuring them to a lesser set of solutions.
I created this matrix to explain the difference between two levels of solutions. And as I did, I realized that just about every company I start working with has initially fallen into this trap. It is very easy to think that we are doing Transformational work when we are only doing Tranference work.
So, I share this will all in hopes that it will help you, too.
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FUTURE OF WORK CHANGE MATRIX
On the X axis is “Supporting Structure.” This encompasses technological, financial, moral, political, cultural elements of the overall structure that are there to support the action.
On the Y axis is “Purposes/Practices.” Why is something being done? What is that? It is the purposes for which we are carrying out a certain action. It is more than just how we are doing something, but also WHY we are doing it. Different WHYs lead to different WHATs.
In the Status Quo Quadrant (bottom left) nothing changes. It is the status quo. This is the default and fall back position. When things don’t go right, this is the refuge employees seek. It is comfortable and familiar to them, even if it might be the wrong thing to do. Employees have a tendency to migrate to this position. Unless certain fail safes are put in place, it will be human nature to revert to the old way of business. Always be watchful for this slip. It is dangerous and often toxic to change initiatives.
The Impossible Quadrant (top left) actually doesn’t exist in practice, but it does in theory. As an example, years ago I was asked to go take the company’s main process which produced 80% of the revenue and to find a much faster, slimmer alternative. I worked for months with many people. In the end I transformed a process that took 30 days and 20 handoffs, to 15 days and 6 handoffs. The efficiencies gained were incredible. There was one thing missing: a new support structure. I was asked to create new working purposes and practices, but not given any support on the structure end of things to make any changes.
And guess what happened? Nothing. Not one thing changed. I was incredibly disappointed. It was talked up as a huge win for the company, yet because it didn’t have supporting structure to make the changes, nothing happened. It died.
As the years rolled on pieces were picked up and implemented. I am sure it wasn’t pointing back to the work I had done, but rather they had to come to the same conclusion I had already come to and implemented it bit by bit.
A new way of working with new purposes without the supporting structure will never actually happen. Rather, they will fall back into the Status Quo Quadrant.
I know of another person who wanted to create a Enterprise Social Network for her company. She wasn’t given a budget or a team (and, obviously, no support), but the OK to press forward. And you know what? She did it! Three years later it was decommissioned because the supporting structure was not there. It died a sad death.
The Transference Quadrant (bottom right) is where many companies land because they don’t have what it takes to go to the top right. Rather than going for a big win, they go for the mediocre win. The win that is far less difficult and thus far less effective. It looks like there was a big change, but all they did was take the same purpose and move it to another place.
Instead of holding in-person meetings, a company might move their meetings to a virtual space to allow many more people to join. This is the same purpose moved to a new location (physical to virtual). This change can be very beneficial. So, it must be noted that the Transference Quadrant in and of itself is not an evil quadrant. Sometimes this is all that needs to happen. In this case, a move of location is a big win and can save a company a lot of money and time lost.
The danger here is shooting for the Tranformational Quadrant but only ending up in this quadrant. It can be deceiving. Too often, the Tranference Quadrant becomes a checkbox. “The CEO said to make a change, so we did,” but nothing really changed. Sure there is some change, but it was not to the extent intended.
The Transformance Quadrant is where the Future of Work lives: New purposes with a new supporting structure.
This is where the money is! (Not literally, but literally – you know what I mean?!) The change that everyone talks about takes a new supporting structure which, in many times, is radically different than the Status Quo. It also looks at new ways and purposes of working. The end goal (deliver what the customer wants) may be the same, but how we get there is very different.
And the Tranformational Quadrant lives on difference characteristics (part of the Supporting Structure). It doesn’t play by the same rules.
I worked with one team where their main process was closed, secretive and guarded. Needless to say, it took a long time and a lot of people to manage the process. When we revamped it using the principles of transparency and trust we found that not as many people needed to be involved in the process and the process took less time. Their end purpose didn’t change, but their work purposes did. They wanted to be more transparent.
As a result they saved not only time in the process, but over $100,000 a year in lower process costs. And that was just one relatively small process!
When shooting for the Tranformational Quadrant, it is easy for many to become weak in their resolve to make a real change. They realize that it might take going out on a limb and risking some credibility or political clout. I have seen some not make the change because they thought their budget would be lowered, even though the overall net gain would have dwarfed the budget loss!
There is a pull the the familiar, to the less risky. And that pull is down to either the Tranference Quadrant or back to the Status Quo.
EVALUATION YOUR INITIATIVE
When evaluating your next big move, decide which it needs to be: Tranference or Tranformational. If it is Tranformational, make sure you identify new work purposes & characteristics and the new supporting structure to support you. In fact, make sure everyone on the team understands the characteristics of that quadrant so they know what to shoot for. And then don’t give up.
This is another element in the recipe for the Transformational Quadrant: Boldness. You will be often times going against work traditions your company holds as sacred. If it is the right thing to do, press forward. The spice of boldness is invaluable and required.