Fostering a Disruptive Culture to Create a Stronger Organization

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If you ask Denver-area executives what their definition of “disruption” is, you’ll likely get a variety of answers — from distractions, to fostering improvement to being positive. However, attendees who participated in the September 2019 Webolutions Executive Roundtable agreed that disruption can be summed up in the form of a question: “What if we did it this way?” On Wednesday, September 18, 2019, Webolutions brought in local leaders to connect with one another and share insights on fostering a disruptive culture, inspiring them to help each other thrive and create stronger visions for their organizations.

Fostering Disruptive Workplace Cultures

To help Denver-area executives brainstorm ideas on disruption, Webolutions began the roundtable by outlining three criteria of a disruptive workplace culture:

  • Employees, at all levels, continuously challenge the current company systems, strategies and processes in pursuit of improvement.
  • People are encouraged to speak up and constructively share their thoughts and ideas.
  • Change is actively embraced and encouraged.

One executive in the engineering field said disruption is seen as natural progression for the company. “One instance we’ve done this is by going from paper billing to paperless billing,” he said. And getting to natural progressions such as billing updates does not happen over night. “Change is embraced and encouraged, but it also happens in increments,” he said.

Denver-area leaders acknowledged that disruption is a natural force in their organizations, and it also can’t happen alone. One executive in the medical field has helped assemble an innovation group designed to put innovative programs in place. “Innovation is one of our core values, and we see it less of disruption when it’s labeled as innovation” he said.

Managing Disruption

As attendees presented their experience on how disruption is part of their workforce, discussion then shifted to how to effectively manage the disruption. “Innovation without direction is like saying here’s a blank piece of paper; now draw me a portrait or a poem,” said Webolutions Founder and CEO John Vachalek. Similar to innovation groups, executives have also implemented inclusion groups to get ideas from all employees. “We want to hear your ideas,” said one executive in the food and beverage industry. Other executives pointed to generational differences in disruption, and how guiding them with specific instructions is an example of “formal innovation.” “Just try and see if you can get a 20-something to answer the phone,” said one executive in the non-profit industry, “that’s why we need to guide them.”

Coordinating Change

The willingness to guide employees in a disruptive culture is part of the solution; another part is implementing tools, knowledge and systems in place to coordinate the change. Like workplace culture, systems and processes will continue to change for an organization, though not every employee may be on board for these particular changes. One executive in the financial services industry has devoted one employee, a Process Champion, to make sure systems and processes are in place. The process champion excelled so much at her position, the executive said, that she got promoted to Director of Transformation. Attendees also suggested 30-minute check-ins with employees to ensure that their transitions to the new systems go smoothly. Furthermore, understanding what protected characteristics are is crucial in ensuring that organizational changes do not inadvertently lead to discrimination or bias in the workplace.

Continually Evolving the Organization

When presenting change, Denver-area executives referred to Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. “It’s important to build the narrative,” said one executive in the armed forces “As humans, we are built to know stories.” Another suggestion on presenting change to an organization is allowing employees to digest ideas. “As an executive, you may have had this idea swirling in your head,” he said, “And when you present it to your employees, your workforce may have questions and ideas you may have not have thought of.” In addition to having employees digest ideas, one Denver-area executive said to conduct a debrief of the disruption 6 months after it was implemented, and decide as a team whether the change was helping or hurting the organization. “Let’s make the change together,” said one Denver-area leader. “Don’t let the ego get to you; let go of the ego.”

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