No-Meeting Massive Organizational Change
Imagine if the American revolution happened without hosting a single meeting. Here is a hypothetical way this could happen. The approach can be used within your organization to usher massive organizational change without wasting time.
People waste a tremendous amount of time on organizational change. Most people are baffled by such a complex and daunting task whether it be reprioritizing a team’s focus, changing a major HR policy, or shifting company culture.
I spent the past 5 year researching the best change management practices. I experimented with these practices at the Series A and B funded startups in the education and health technology sectors. The best techniques enabled me to achieve some pretty striking results:
- seamlessly convince all students to receive 50% less coaching due to budget constraints
- shift our entire staff to adopt a new stack of teaching tools
- shift culture to be more supportive, with measurable results
^ All of this with no meetings. I repeat NO MEETINGS.
Allow me to illustrate the brilliance of these technique through a quirky example:
The American Revolution.
The common (and wrong) way to create change
Most people aim to create change by “touring for consensus.” Let’s see this strategy live …
It’s 1776. You want to start a Revolution.
You begin by rummaging out of your cottage on a “tour of consensus” to convince your fellow colonists to join. You knock door to door. The cobbler, baker, and blacksmith are in. You next gather all the haughty town big wigs (literally — they wore big wigs) near town hall to discuss. Despite high enthusiasm, most of your meeting is wasted providing context on the situation with the Brits; you barely get to action items. Afterwards you walk around the village to laboriously corral more colonists. Your strategy seems to be working — the army builds.
By the third week, your “touring for consensus” approach begins to fall apart as your revolution strategy evolves. You meet with ole’ George Washington. George shares a brilliant idea: turn the Boston Harbor into tea, #brilliant #yum. You agree with excitement! But you are also stressed. You now must proceed through an arduous rigamarole of updating all the stakeholders: revise the strategy, update the cobbler, baker, and gardener, identify hanging questions, return to George for his council, update the strategy, share updates, repeat, repeat, repeat…
This inefficient approach to organizational change is common in today’s workplace. The changemaker “pinballs” between stakeholders, collecting perspectives and updating everybody on the progress.
The “touring for consensus” approach unnecessarily wastes time on constant communication updates.
Here’s how the American Revolution could have been better pursued…
A better approach is what I call “No-Meeting Organizational Change.” This approach involves centralizing all aspects and discourse on the change in a single document. Let’s look at it live…
It is 1776. You pursue a different Revolution strategy.
You clear the brush behind your cottage. You expose a bare wall. On the wall’s spackle, you write out your strategy for the revolution with full, clear context.
You knock door to door and invite each neighbor to “read about the crazy idea I wrote on the back of my house.” Each invitation takes you 1 minute to articulate instead of the old 30 minute explanation of the revolution. George Washington comes by. George shares the Tea Party idea. He writes that idea in the margins of strategy. All future visitors also write their feedback. There is no rigamarole. You only explain the situation ONCE.
This story illustrated a powerful lesson in organizational change:
Conversations lead to partial understanding. Documents provide the full picture.
Create ONE source that captures all the context, feedback, evolving strategy in a single location. As you engage stakeholders you centralize the hive mind and coalesce perspectives into a conclusion. The entire process can happen async.
You, colonist changemaker, however, face a risk. A British-supporting rabble rouser could hijack your initiative and write a seething critique on your wall. They could bend the revolution in the wrong direction: stay a colony forever!
The changemaker thus needs a more controlled release. You need to engage the right stakeholders at the right time in order to hedge risks. The changemaker needs to follow a second lesson…
Engage those likely to agree first, and then gradually engage the detractors.
This gradual engagement helps you strengthen your proposal as you suss out concerns and incorporate them to strengthen your proposal.
This process can also derisk the communications on the change might aggravate people. Socialize the early drafts with people to gauge their response and improve it. After getting feedback and affirmation from a representative sample of your community, you are likely to not ruffle any feathers.
Test out communications to understand how it lands. Then improve it.
In the end …
Smooth change is not a giant leap, but an iterative gathering of the crowd
Last year, I was given the daunting task of restructuring our school’s coaching program. Anxiety filled in my chest. Due to budget, I had to find a way to reduce coaching time by 60%. Students would be pissed. Coaching was one of the most prized aspects of our school. The change was likely to create an angry backlash and significant drop in our student satisfaction. I felt doomed to fail.
I created a document outlining the full context, available options, and recommendation.
I carried forth the process in this post — with both students and staff — with great ease. No resistance. No rebellion. No anger. Just motivated understanding and the kind of peaceful collaboration that we all yearn for in our organizations.