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How to drive paradigm level change? Our learnings and one crucial breakthrough innovation

Driving paradigm level change can be amazingly inspiring and quite scary at the same time. Back in the 2017 we took a courageous jump into something unknown.

Jaakko Hartikainen / May 10, 2019

In the previous blogs we have discussed the challenges and magnitude of change when the management paradigm is concerned. In this blog we want to share few of our real life learnings, findings and also one breakthrough innovation that has helped us to take this change forward in our organization.

In management paradigm shift the traditional hierarchic, command & control based "machinery" models are replaced with "living organism" type of operations placing humanity and people at the center. More information and introduction in our opening blog.

How it all started

Back in the spring 2017, when we were about to start this transformation, we had an intuition and belief of the new era, but we really didn't know what it would be and neither had we too much concrete ideas on how to get there. So it all started like a courageous jump into something unknown. One of the few compasses we had in the beginning was the inspiring book "Team of Teams" by the former US Army General, Stanley McChrystal. (Later on we have named our journey as "CEM Team of Teams")

In the spring 2017 situation, where we didn't know too much and when the organization's awareness and maturity of the new paradigm were very limited, we were faced with a tough challenge of how to move forward and get started. We discussed a lot about our experience and the typical approach where organizations drive the changes by first planning it in a small group of people, maybe doing some small inclusive exercises with wider group and then starting the implementation by changing structures, roles, lines and boxes in organizational chart. We felt that this receipt and model would not work in this quantum leap of change. We needed to do it differently.

One key principle in the beginning was that we decided to keep the structures more or less untouched, we promised to employees that there will not be a single "big bang". We believed that this would increase the feeling of safety, and would keep the peoples' attention on the important things. When starting to shuffle with lines and boxes in the hierarchy, it takes all the attention of the people who are used to the old paradigm. When following this principle, we were faced with another challenge: how to drive change forward, when people don't see any significant change in the core elements, which in their minds are always associated to changes.

Considering the "Iceberg of Ignorance" theory, we felt as another principle that the whole organization would need to be part of the change design from the very beginning. However, because of the magnitude of change, the history and starting point, we felt this principle would be difficult to follow in spring 2017. We decided to just start communicating and driving the new ideas forward and planned to involve more and more people in the organization step by step during the journey, when we all would know more about the unknown and when everybody start to be more aware and aligned with the core ideas.

Iceberg of Ignorance

Tons of communication and learning by doing together

The early visions and ideas of the new paradigm formed the core of our organization's future plan. When sharing the plan / strategy for the organization in June 2017 we didn't talk too much about the typical business logic and rational action plans etc. It was much more about describing the vision and talking about megatrends and our core beliefs. Things that truly touched employees on emotional level and topics people could truly relate to. This was also a significant change where the plan / strategy took a very different format compared to the ones organization had had earlier. Being used to communicating more traditional and logical business plans, it felt amazing to see how peoples' eyes where shining when we presented the ideas and the completely different angle to describe our way forward.

"CEM House"  –  key elements in the strategy framework

The key idea in driving the change was to talk about it a lot and live the new paradigm as much as possible in all real life situation. Gradually more and more people in the organization started to get onboard and together form the view of paradigm in our context. We also organized two different two day workshops with ~50 people with this agenda for getting the teams and people pulse and ideas of the change.

In early 2018 we had the common understanding and platform strong enough for starting to help teams and people moving towards the new paradigm with concrete actions. We did this by creating our "Team-of-Teams boarding" model, where a sequence of workshops is organized with the teams for equipping them with the understanding and elements required for becoming a team in CEM Team of Teams network of shared consciousness, empowered execution and networked intelligence. All the workshop modules for the team boarding have been iteratively developed by testing and practicing things with the first pilot teams. The way to do this, which is also one of the key learnings, is that no team has ever been forced to join the Team-of-Teams boarding. It has been 100% voluntary and teams have themselves decided if / when they are ready and willing to start this.

CEM Team-of-Teams vision

Since the team onboarding was very much a journey into something unknown we openly stated that we don't know where we are in 12 months (meaning how many teams have been boarded etc.). There were no milestones, KPIs or Gannt diagrams but a lot of passion and drive to experiment and learn. A lot of things have changed during the journey and steps have been adaptively updated all the time  – we believe it's essential in this type of transformation. Fixed milestone, KPIs and Gannt diagrams would have killed the continuous sensing, learning and adaptation  – and they would have given wrong perception to the employees. Now, everything we did and communicated was underlining that we are experimenting and not sure how things will turn out.

Old structures and blueprints becoming a problem

Even if our teams onboarding and mindset shifting were progressing, we felt that we had come to a tipping point in the end of 2018. It became more and more evident that the old structures and blueprints, which were left untouched in the beginning, were now becoming a real obstacle for entering the next phase and level in the transformation. The old paradigm relics like fixed leadership teams, business unit structures, manager role descriptions, rewarding systems, decision making structures etc. all started to feel much outdated and slowing down our progress in the transformation. What makes this also interesting is that all these elements felt to be "quite ok and logical" just 18 months before and now all of a sudden they feel like old relics. This is one example of the depth of this transformation on individual and personal level.

This was a real challenge, since we felt the pressure to re-design all these old relics, but we didn't have a solution for the future design. It was and still is very much a journey into something unknown.

Our innovation: "A-B-C model"

We started to resolve the situation by taking an empty A3 paper and sketched the big picture and all the elements we felt that need to be addressed in this design.

A3 paper sketch of the A-B-C model

This one A3 paper and the invented A-B-C model became our map for navigating forward. Short explanation of the elements in the map:

  • Module A: For moving forward in the future design, we need to thoroughly and honestly understand our starting point and current mode of operations. This understanding is not about writing out the "formal and wanted" description of our current model, instead it is an honest interpretation of how things really are. For this reason we are using observation as the main method for module A.
  • Module B: "Our Big Thing" is the shift from our current design (module A) into the future design (module B). Future design means the definition of our structures, roles, responsibilities, leadership, decision making mechanisms, rewarding etc. in a way that follows and supports the "Living organism" paradigm.
  • Module C: In addition to A and B we also listed different important elements that we believed would form the strong foundation and understanding for being able to design the future model. These elements were gathered into module C.

A-B-C model summary

A-B-C model summary

When moving forward with the A-B-C model, we came back to our original principle of involving the whole organization into the transformation design. We started sharing the problem statement (situation and obstacles) to the whole organization of 600 people and asked anyone with passion and interest of resolving the situation to join the design work. Together with the volunteer first roughly 100 people we are currently together building the understanding of elements in module C. This is done with some books, articles, virtual communication channels and workshops. The outcome of the part C will be new level of consciousness needed to design the B to meet the new paradigm's requirements. Once we have together formed good understanding we will move forward to module C together with the rest of the organization, the 100 first volunteers playing active change agent role there.

The key rationale of the A-B-C model and approach is that:

  • Truly knowing our today's operations in different areas of the heterogeneous organization enables us to understand the impact of the change and helps us securing a smooth transition.
  • Based on the research and "Iceberg of Ignorance" theory the management can only see 13% of all the problems in the organization. Designing the future with only this information doesn't feel too smart. Additionally by just having managers involved would also lead into the problems described in our previous blog.
  • Designing a change on paradigm shift level requires that people have formed the new level of consciousness required for seeing the future. When the people have built the common understanding and being part of the design work it is a huge asset in the next phase when implementing the design.
  • In this design work the highest priority deliverable is not the documented new design. More valuable is the joint journey and understanding. We believe these two elements together form a strong foundation for the next phase.

Summary and conclusions

Driving paradigm level change can be amazingly inspiring and quite scary at the same time. For us, two key success factors has been to first create emotionally touching vision, communications and direction with courage to challenge everything we have, and then not to over-engineer any solution but continuously iterate, learn and adapt.

We claim, that the A-B-C model and especially the C-part is something that almost all of the companies and traditional change programs will never touch. It is so easy to fall in love with logical structures and to engineer new solutions, that we actually forget to build the crucial new level consciousness first. The risk is that the change will end up being superficial; same way-of-working and power dynamics continuing in new boxes or structures.

We believe the change would never be possible for us without addressing the C first and building our new consciousness together with the first 100 volunteers  –  together we can make it so much stronger than any leadership team alone.

With passion and humility,

Co-authors Jaakko Hartikainen & Mikko Virtanen

Do you want to be a part of driving paradigm level change and much more? Join Tieto CEM!


Our blog series:

No 1: Call for Paradigm Shift in Management
No 2: Magnitude of Change when Shifting Management Paradigm
No 3: Why do so many companies manage people like machines and why is it one of the biggest problems of our times?
No 4: How to drive paradigm level change?  Our learnings and one crucial breakthrough innovation
No 5: Incredible India and breaking the hierarchy
No 6: Management paradigms in a nutshell, inspired by Frederic Laloux's book Reinventing Organizations
No 7: Our unforgettable journey to trust, transparency and eventually success 
No 8: We all know that “Carrot and Stick” model is outdated — Why is it so damn hard to implement new ways?
No 9: The Power of Purpose
No 10: Finding your purpose and living your life with it can unleash tremendous potential 
No 11: Organization as living organism and complex adaptive system

Jaakko Hartikainen
Head of CEM

Jaakko Hartikainen is a senior business leader with broad experience in building next generation digital services, agile way of working and new business models. His passion is to place humanity at the heart of everything and build sustainable success for increasingly complex world by empowered people and teams.

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