My access to the FutureLearn course, Make Change Happen got perilously close to being denied before I completed it. I got a warning notice. ‘You have 36 hours left on this course.’ But yesterday I finished it – 100% completed.
Of course, I could always pay to upgrade and ‘Get access to this course for as long as it’s on FutureLearn as well as a print and digital Certificate of Achievement once you’re eligible.’ The price is £32. I wonder how many people do take up that offer, or the other ‘unlimited’ one: £189 for one year.
But this blog isn’t about FutureLearn’s pricing or business model. It’s about making change happen, or more precisely, what I learned on the course that I can apply in my work as a ‘changemaker’. Note that I didn’t choose that descriptor, it’s what the FutureLearn educators call the course participants. I rather like their cheery tone e.g. section 8.9 begins, ‘Let’s take some time now to look at how you can take your next steps on your journey as a changemaker.’
An organisation designer can be categorised as a changemaker, and I enrolled on the course anticipating I would learn things that I could apply to my organisation design work. That has proved to be the case.
A couple of blogs ago, I wrote about weeks 1 – 5 of the course discussing many useful resources and information. Weeks 6 – 8 were equally valuable. They covered developing strong messages for change, taking action to make change happen and reflecting on change.
Week 6: Developing strong messages for change
Useful in organisation design communication and engagement is the advice that, ‘To build effective messages and an overall story you need to tap into your audience’s priorities, values and concerns by asking yourself the following questions.
- Have you clearly articulated the problem and the challenge and why it matters to your community or other people?
- Have you articulated the solution and what the benefit of change will be to your community and audiences?
- What will motivate people to act (e.g. values and ethics, legal concerns, practical benefits, enlightened self-interest, rational arguments, evidence or something else)?
- What attitudes will prevent them from acting?
- Who would be the right messenger for your target audience? (someone they respect, someone from the community affected, someone unexpected)
- How do you connect to their values?
- What do they want or need to know?
- What kind of information attracts them?
- What do you want them to do? What ‘call to action’ could you use?
- How can you motivate people to believe that they can make a difference?
From this information we can build a narrative that connects
- the head – stories with facts, figures and examples based on evidence
- the heart – stories based on feelings such as love, fear, anger, excitement
- the hands – stories appealing to the person’s desire to act on behalf of shared values
The educators told us that this approach ‘is effective in helping people understand the purpose of the change, motivate and connect them to the values and people involved in the change, and point them to what they need to do.’ What wasn’t emphasised in the course, that I’ve learned, is that different audiences/cultures respond to different stories – you need multiple stories.
This head, heart, hands approach sounds simple and sensible and although various research suggests that emotions play a bigger part in choices and decisions than we think (or like to think). An article on climate change illustrates. Related to this, the rise of fake news suggests that we need to take great care with who, how, and what we are appealing to in our messaging. Stories can be as harmful as helpful.
Week 7: Taking action to make change happen
Week 7 was heartening reminder that ‘Change action is very much a journey into the unknown, in which you feel your way. Being alert and responsive to shifts in the landscape, and adapting accordingly is what makes an effective changemaker.’
I think, as the course educators say, that in our organisation design work ‘we need to be clear on the risks you will be taking in order to make the change happen and think about how you will manage these risks.’ This sometimes means challenging a leader, ‘the status quo or people and institutions who have power and influence and this can come with risk’.
What we (organisation designers) also need to bear in mind is the basis on which we are making decisions. What rang true for me, as I worked through week 7, was the point that ‘As a changemaker you will decide what the best tactics and activities that will likely lead to a change are. However, your decisions will be influenced by your own beliefs and attitudes, your privilege and prejudices about how you think change could happen.’
I’ve recently been facilitating organisation design programmes in the Middle East and China and the tactics, attitudes, assumptions I’ve advocated in doing organisation design work have been challenged by the different cultural norms in play in those societies.
As a generalisation I’ve been asked many more times in those cultures for ‘the right answer’, than I have in the UK and Europe, where ‘emergence’ is more acceptable.
Week 8: Reflecting on change
Week 8 really made me think about the role of an organisation designer as a changemaker for positive good of the many. It was a rather uncomfortable thought process. I started to wonder if, doing organisation design work, we can truly say that it brings about ‘positive change’?
Are we rather, the puppets of power and politics? Do we have hope for a better future and are we ‘grounded in reality and fully aware of the challenges, both personal and in the external world, that will need to be faced’, as we do our design work?
As I read, ‘There can be unintended consequences of change that weren’t anticipated. And there can be doubts and discomfort that can affect your confidence, and indeed your motivation, as a changemaker.’
I’d like to think that I am a changemaker, acting for positive good, ‘Understanding what [the challenges] are and how to face them [which] means having our minds firmly placed in the realities in which we live.’ I know that, ‘Change takes time and is often achieved through small, sequential action that requires dogged persistence. But it also happens by grasping new opportunities or taking advantage of critical junctures and events that arise and dancing with the system’. But am I dancing with the system or is the system leading my dance?
Do you think of yourself as a changemaker? Are you acting for the good of all organisational members? Let me know.