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Agile minds – Workplace management supplement

Workplace consultancy firm, Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA), has put together a series of five seminars in 2012 that blend best practice case studies, external research, comparative data and expert insight. In the first of a series of reports from the Workplace Performance Innovation Network, we look at building and presenting the business case for change.

An agile organisation is designed to change without pain, turn on a sixpence, and is a business with a free and trusting flow of knowledge, where people work effectively with colleagues wherever they are supported by the most appropriate technology. If you were starting your business again, wouldn’t you start it as an agile organisation? That was the question posed by Andrew Mawson, managing director of Advanced Workplace Associates, opening the first event of the Workplace Performance Innovation Network (PIN).

The PIN is a series of events, tools, expert insights and information spread over two years to support senior leaders to make the lasting transition to new models of work, place and workplace management. It blends together best practice case studies, external research, expert insights, comparative data and tools/methods within professionally facilitated half-day workshops. Organisations in the insurance, retail, FMCG, banking and oil and gas sectors, all in various stages of the journey towards being more agile organisations and introducing agile working, gathered in late January to share experiences and insight and listen to expert advice to support them on the journey towards creating an agile workplace.

“The agile organisation is characterised by collaboration, trust, knowledge, change, innovation, productivity, sustainability and relationships,” explained Mawson. “The default position for many businesses is working in ‘the office’ with people treating the desk and workspace in a fashion akin to an addiction.” Breaking that emotional contract with staff is a difficult and sometimes sentimental journey, rather than a logical one, he acknowledged.

But making the initial change is only half the challenge – maintaining it and ensuring people don’t slip back into their old ways is equally as important.

Mawson set out the prerequisites for successful workplace transformation, which included business sponsorship (ideally with vision from the top); an integrated facilities management, corporate real estate, HR and IT team and processes including agile working being included in the property strategy; strong promotion and engagement within the business using a range of internal communications tools; and solutions such as the right space, IT, telecoms and FM.

But, most important is setting out the prizes for each business. “You need to show what’s in it for them on an individual and corporate level. That can be everything from office space savings, reduced CO2 and strategic elasticity to improved team working and knowledge sharing, access to more diverse employment tools, increased productivity and better work/life balance.” It’s not generally about cost, although that may be the initial business driver. “If you’re going to sell it as saving a few quid on rent, then it won’t be successful.” The key, he concluded, was to understand individual’s and the organisation’s issues and show how agile working can help.

The group was then asked to individually (and anonymously) rank issues such as reducing cost of overheads; improving people’s productivity; improving cross-disciplinary working; increasing the ability to inflate or deflate the business with ease, on a scale of one to ten. The results were later shared among the group to demonstrate the different drivers for different organisations and sectors. Interestingly, those new to the agile working journey saw cost as a key driver while those further down the journey considered issues such as improved organisational flexibility and collaboration as key, suggesting that while cost might be the initial goal, other, more important benefits soon come to the fore.

Case study

Bringing the agile message to life was John Weeks, chairman at market intelligence company, Mintel, who described the organisation’s journey from a one-person-one-desk culture in a ‘rabbit warren’ office, which had low meeting room availability, no collaborative space and little room for paper storage, which made it difficult to retain staff to new facilities and an agile working culture. With a lease break coming up, Mintel conducted an exhaustive search of available space and chose 11 Pilgrim Street – two floors of 10,000 sq ft each, which is open-plan with flexible meeting rooms. There are coffee points (which there wasn’t in Long Lane), meaning that Starbucks is used less and staff saves time. Instead of individual desks, Mintel opted for benches allowing for ultimate flexibility and introduced hot desking. On quieter days, people spread out and then move up when the office is busier. Nametags are used on desks so everyone knows who’s who. Funky ideas have also been introduced – a tea point in a caravan, a tardis entrance to a meeting room and a tea lady. The key is to keep it fresh so it doesn’t look tired in ten years’ time.

“It was clearly an emotional issue for staff to lose their own desks, but there had to be a compromise: have a fantastic workspace to be proud of and share a bench or have a shabby workplace and your own desk,” said Weeks. Agile working etiquette has been introduced in the office to ensure people use the space correctly. For example, people have to sit at a different part of the bench than they did the previous day, which prevents people hogging the same space.

As a result of the move, staff retention improved and the workplace became a recruitment tool – people visit the office and want to work for Mintel. The space is also far more flexible; there is at least another 50-100% space utilisation before the company will need to expand its space.

The business case for change

The facts and figures make for interesting reading, but people only change their behaviour when they feel an emotional connection to an idea, they don’t do it on facts, explained Karen Plum, AWA’s director of consulting who introduced a session looking at how to deliver the case for change.

Using the Bateson (2004) theory of rational and emotional transitions, Plum explained that people tend to fall into four segments: the unengaged, the chorus, spectators and advocates. The aim is to take everyone from the CEO and leadership team to teams, champions and all employees through the journey from being unengaged to being advocates of agile working.

The change process starts, not at delivery, but when the idea is first given approval, said Plum. The usual approach is that an idea/problem emerges, approval is given to the project/initiative/solution from stakeholders and then the project team sets about data gathering, working out the opportunities and putting together the business case, which is then presented to stakeholders. “The problem with that approach is that from the time that the project is approved to when it is presented formally to stakeholders, they haven’t been communicated with and therefore become more disillusioned with the idea and are harder to convince. It’s essential that the change management starts from when the idea gains approval, not at the delivery stage. People must be involved at every stage.”

Project managers also make dangerous assumptions about people such as the business case will sell itself as the numbers are irresistible; people are reasonable and open-minded and willing to say ‘yes’; any past experiences will be forgotten; and they won’t say ‘no’, based on an emotional response. “Getting champions inside the organisation to sell it internally is essential, together with having a business case which appeals to the diverse needs of the people affected.”

The case for change should include the what, why, how and when:

  • What
  • What are we moving from and to?
  • How to tell the story using pictures and numbers?
  • Describing what will be delivered and how will it work?
  • Addressing known concerns and making evidence available;
  • Why
  • Why are we doing this?
  • Whose vision is it?
  • What are the opportunities?
  • What’s in it for the stakeholders?
  • Does it make financial sense?
  • How
  • What steps/processes?
  • Who will be delivering the project?
  • How will we communicate all of this?
  • How will we continue after the first implementation to business as usual?
  • When
  • What is the timescale?
  • What are the key contingencies?
  • What other initiatives might this intersect?

A range of communication tools and techniques must be used including audio, video and interactive technology to engage people’s emotions. “You must inject the wow factor into the project, to ensure it is engaging, that it excites people, addresses their emotions and is presented to stakeholders by someone who is credible to them.”

But most important, concluded Plum, was to think about business as usual and not just the launch of the project. “It’s like a marriage – you can spend an awful lot of time thinking about day one, the wedding itself, but maintaining that enthusiasm once the party’s over is the key to success.”

“The facts and figures make for interesting reading, but people only change their behaviour when they feel an emotional connection to an idea.”

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