How do we start when implementing future proof practices in an existing organization? This is perhaps the top question I get especially when working with large firms on this subject. Nature, as often, gives us all the answers: it is a mix of big bangs and evolution. Big bangs to create the necessary impulses for change. Evolution to create deep transformation over time via small increments. Evolution to touch profoundly the DNA of an organization. By mixing these two, sustainable changes happen in the workplace.
Top Down Impulses aka Big Bangs
In (large) existing firms, there are existing practices that do no favour autonomy and engagement of employees. Think of centralized budgeting processes for instance. To change these, a common way is to have the top (be it the boss, CEO, executive committee, top management) decides (even if the recommendation where initiated via a co-development) and to diffuse the changes in the rest of the organization. In large corporations, this happens often when a new CEO arrives or after an exploratory work from a restricted number of top managers has been done. By doing so, it creates top down impulses aka big bangs if you think back of Nature that can indeed trigger changes in a given organization. It is certainly not enough but it is part of the solution. To change for instance, the way budgeting processes are implemented in a 100.000+ employees organisation where this process is usually fully centralised, a impulse from the top is necessary to make it more future proof.
Evolution and Viral Development
Combined with these big bangs, nature has given us evolution and viral development. For a new breed of species to appear, one needs time, plenty of it, and a lot of experimentation of new combinations. This is the same when implementing new organization or management practices. Give it the time and start a lot of experiments. These experiments do not have to be for the whole organization, but could be at the level of a team, a department or a business unit. To the extend of your span of influence. These experiments create inspirational stories of success or learning, and committed champions to push the boundaries. Which generate even more experimentations so a virtuous circle is created. These experiments and stories create and get propagated through then informal networks of champions. Very much in line with the viral change promoted by Leandro Herrero.
So ultimately you need both big bangs and evolution to create sustainable changes in organizations. While big bangs are pretty much understood (in the business space I mean :-)), it is the culture of experiments, story telling and connecting via informal network that need to be developed further. It is also where the most resources should be spent. By doing so real re-invention of organizations happens.