How to begin working in ‘new’ ways

by Charlie Widdows, on 30 Mar 2020 6 min read

new ways

It can be tough to embrace change – whether that means innovative ideas, new ways of working or sudden business disruption

As we revealed in our Innovation Blockers report, introducing employees to new ideas and ways is one of the biggest challenges faced by innovation leaders. In this article, we explore these difficulties and discuss practical approaches you can take to help maximise productivity.

Whether you’re introducing different technologies or new ways of working, changing people’s behaviour is tough. In fact, IBM’s ‘Making Change Work’ report showed that only 20% of organisations are successful in managing change effectively.

As innovation managers, it’s your job to identify these new ways of working, understand why employees might be resistant to making changes and implementing positive steps to counter these challenges.

What are the new ways of working?

In many ways, the future of work is already upon us. Business models and work structure have started to incorporate flexible working and remote working opportunities, while new productivity apps and approaches are being used on a daily basis.

According to enterprise tech expert, Bernard Marr, positions within an organisation are becoming more fluid, eschewing traditional organisational charts in favour of project-based teams. This is actually helping the “gig” economy expand (since professionals sign on as contractors or freelancers and then move on, though government regulations like IR35 in the UK may have some impact on this) and forcing everyone to be more flexible in their work.

Mobile technology and the internet have given remote working and flexible working an added boost too. Employees no longer have to work from one location to fulfil a brief, instead, they can live and work wherever they want.

However, for most, flexible working and remote working are still deemed as an added benefit, so the idea of “core hours” being present in the office still remains strong.

Trying to embed new work models alongside innovation is still an unknown quantity to a majority of employees too. The evolution of automation and other major changes inflicted by artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and autonomous systems makes employees feel like their jobs are under threat – despite the clear benefits these changes can bring, such as improving operations, technology and customer-experience functions.

In an episode from the McKinsey Podcast series, MGI Chairman and Director, James Manyika, explained that the conversation around AI, autonomous systems and robotics has accelerated and become more heated because of what it can do and the speed at which these technologies are evolving.

There’s a question whether we’re really doing anything different or not; but it feels different – when you have machines that are able to do pattern matching better than human beings.
James Manyika, MGI Chairman and Director

Nevertheless, the solution to evolving as a business and keeping up with future developments is to get everyone to embrace these changing innovations and ways of working.

As we discussed before, innovation is hard to measure. So, despite the benefits of artificial intelligence, automation and open attitudes to flexible/remote working from some, changing the organisational status quo is still a major obstacle.  

Why might employees find it difficult to embrace change?

Persuading employees to buy into a new innovation or way of working can take time. This is because those behaviours are deeply ingrained and habitual. In Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, he writes how humans follow a system of cues, responses and rewards – practising the response stage until it becomes a reliable and automatic habit.

So, when you add something new which disturbs these formed habits, your employees’ common response is to resist and revert to what they know and what they find easiest.

A new way of working requires additional work or effort and some employees won’t enjoy that unless there’s an incentive. Learning new skills or processes isn’t easy and can be intimidating. As humans, we establish a comfort zone and find it hard to break away from this.

Flexible working and remote working should be celebrated. The problem is, they’re still regarded as an employee benefit and not a way of life. BBVA illustrates the point that most employees are under the spell of presenteeism and have the perception that if they’re working remotely, then they’re out of sight and can easily get forgotten.

In this technological age where AI and automated systems are simplifying processes, having these kinds of innovations integrated in your business model can raise concerns among employees too. With faster ways of working, generating leads or improving the customer experience, where does this leave employees? Could these innovations lead to redundancies?

These attitudes and behaviours of employees can also have a damaging effect on innovation. In our Innovations Blockers report, we highlight that one of the biggest issues is that the innovation process is often unstructured and unpredictable.

Innovation is about exploring the unknown and finding new ways of working and creating. Neither of these things can be achieved unless a business allows for a bit of unpredictability.

However, unpredictability can be managed to create consistent results. As mentioned earlier, humans follow a system of cues, responses and rewards, which must be repeated before it becomes a habit. By establishing a clear and repeatable process for innovation, you can make it easier for leaders and employees to support new ways of working.

Starting the conversation

The fear of the unknown is a scary concept and hard to overcome. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to create a smarter way of working. However, there is a lot of thinking already happening around best practice. Getting employees to support and participate in the new ways of working is about seeing things from their perspective and trying to involve them in the process as much as possible.

As PwC highlights in its ‘Preparing for tomorrow’s workforce, today’ article, ways of working and people’s relationships with organisations are becoming more fluid. More employers are opening their eyes to flexible working and remote working – hiring contractors, freelancers and portfolio workers. You should harness the potential of this flexible talent, sell the brand story and involve them in it.

This same transparent and all-encompassing idea is supported in HR Zone’s Change management article. It explains, to successfully introduce new ways of working, innovation managers must:

  • Explain the benefits – communicate with employees and explain why things are changing – including the benefits.
  • Address the concerns of employees – allowing them to air their views and concerns to ensure they feel valued and raise any potential issues or conflicts.
  • Define success – show employees what success looks like with the new way of working or innovation in place.
  • Incentivise success – show employees what’s in it for them. Can the new tool help manage their workflow better? Will a new process potentially boost sales, therefore improving their likelihood of receiving a raise or bonus?
  • Be open to adapting the changes – stay open to change. Teething problems are natural, so embrace them and be open to changing the changes.

Bernard Marr also makes a valid point in his Forbes article by stating that we shouldn’t succumb to the “robots will take over all the jobs” view, instead adopting a more optimistic outlook where humans have the opportunity to focus on work that demands their creativity, imagination, social and emotional intelligence and passion.

The bottom line is, we must not let our human instincts of reverting to common habits get in the way of innovation. Trying new ways of working is the only way a business can evolve and grow. So, it’s just a case of listening to thought leaders, joining in the conversation and trying methods for yourself.

Looking ahead

Over the coming months, we’ll be continuing the discussion on how to get employees to successfully embrace new ways of working with more relevant content. This will include valuable insights from industry experts and proactive solutions to add to your innovation strategy and practice.

What new ways of working are your employees finding the hardest to adopt? Join in the conversation on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

Or if you’d like to get early access to our all-in-one innovation measurement system to help you think bigger and work smarter, visit our platform page here

Topics:Innovation Blockers