When it’s time to change your Strategy, the Obeya is your best friend forever

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    When it’s time to change your Strategy, the Obeya is your best friend forever

    Key Take Aways

    • When it’s time to change your Strategy, leaders in an organization do well to focus on the work process, the activities that are needed, the actions that people need to take, and the belief that they can do those actions in confidence and safety.
    • Invite people into the Obeya to participate in a redesign of the way we work and manage. This idea does not have to be sold, it cannot be enforced, it should not be ordered. What does work is an open invitation to take ownership.
    • The Obeya offers the forum to operate in a customer-centric way, across departmental silos.

    Strategy is of strategic importance

    Your mission states why you even exist as a company as you envision your near term future. Your Strategy will clarify how you’re going to achieve that. Strategy is about choices, but all too often we hesitate to make them, preferring to keep all options open. There’s nothing wrong with making decisions at the last responsible moment. However, being goal-oriented means that you know exactly what your goal is, you know what actions you take to achieve your goal and the set of assumptions and principles you hold. How else could you keep a promise to your customers without jeodpordizing your organisation’s credibility?


    Make a choice

    You need to have an idea of the capacity of your system, an opinion about the capabilities of your team and the maximum output of your work process. Time, money, resources, attention, these can only be spent once. We wish to establish strategic choices and live up to them. Determining what to do is just as important as knowing what to say no to, when faced with a sea of opportunities. We need to make good use of our combined expertise, and come together as a team in the Obeya. That’s where we begin to build the new reality of tomorrow.


    In comes the Obeya

    The idea is that the Obeya provides all relevant, up-to-date information about the objectives of the company, about how they are achieved, and of the people who work passionately to realize these objectives. We spend our vital energy on continuously improving the entire system. It is the place where communication is supported on all elements, both for the sender, the message, and for the receiver. Working together in an Obeya Navigation System is a powerful engine for team culture, and will help you direct your Strategic change.


    But how to change?

    Organizations are not democratic; organizational change is also not a democratic process. It is important to acknowledge that the other person has the freedom not to want something, but that does not mean that the change will not take place. Participation would exist without any accountability, and others might hesitate to join forces, if change isn’t properly introduced and guided. After all, people would rather stick to something old than embrace something new. Introducing new Strategic Objectives is such a change.

    Our brains can hardly be modified once we have grown up and that has a huge influence on the changeability of our behavior. Our attributes are fixed, our character is formed. “Can we still change?”, is the question. After early development, the environment in which we live can still influence our behavior but apparently no longer our character. “We make many of our decisions based on our intuition, without consciously thinking about it, but that only works if the unconscious brain is fed with information over a long period of time and intensively”, says brain researcher Prof. Dr. Schwaab [2012]. Emotions are also of great importance in these unconscious processes and even of decisive significance when passing moral judgment. Our behavior is therefore largely driven by unconscious processes and emotions.


    It’s in the Brain

    An old Chinese saying says it’s simple to change the course of rivers and move mountains, but it’s impossible to change someone’s character. “Our brain cannot but work for the most part as an efficient unconscious machine, which nevertheless makes rational decisions. Unconscious, implicit associations allow us to make a huge number of complex decisions quickly and effectively, something that would be impossible if a careful, conscious, but slow consideration of all pros and cons was required for everything”, according to Schwaab.


    Lazy Humans

    One way or the other, we as people prefer not to make too many choices. Conscious choices that is, assuming we believe in the illusion that there is such a thing as a free will that precedes decision making. It takes too much energy for our conscious brain; we prefer to keep our options open. Especially for choices or promises that we’re expected to keep or live up to.

    On top of this, we need to consider that we are already overwhelmed with so much information, we receive so many impulses throughout the day that can deter us from our initial intention. Internalizing new information therefore requires thinking, focus and processing time. After all, what people think and what they do determines the outcome: results for the organization.


    Customer focus is what matters most

    It is a major step forward to say that from now on we will be more customer-oriented as an organization and we wish to put the customer experience at the center of all our work, in all our considerations. Sounds good, as a revitalized strategic intention. But how do you demonstrate the kind of behavior required for such an intention to come true in people’s daily choices?

    Once people start taking responsibility for results and want to be held accountable by others in their organization, they take ownership to test, adjust and modify their beliefs. New thinking influences new actions and leads to new results. Nothing works faster and more effectively than that. What people believe in, what they believe to be true, is at the base of all their actions.


    What about the leaders?

    Leaders in an organization do well to focus on the work process, the activities that are needed, the actions that people need to take, the belief that they can do those actions in confidence and safety. Leadership itself is also just a process and leaders are certainly not excluded from the change required for a new way of working, in fact, they serve as role models, whether they want to or not. So when we talk about our own beliefs and the actions that follow, we ask ourselves: “What should we stop? What should we start?

    The Leaders around us are under a magnifying glass: everything they say and do, or especially not say and do, can be picked up and magnified in an organization. The credibility of any improvement initiative therefore depends on the beliefs of the leader and to what extent this becomes visible in his or her actions. Anyone can be a leader in the organization. Mobilizing the power of informal leaders as role models is highly desirable.


    Improvement is good. Continuous Improvement is better.

    As humans, we want to be good at something. We want to be convinced that we can do something and be involved from the start. There is a void between intention and action that can be resolved through daily practice, from unconsciously incompetent to consciously capable. Continuous improvement in particular, requires analytical skills to be able to quantify and solve problems, but not without the combination of interpersonal skills and knowledge about effective communication.

    I myself do not believe that a leader can be responsible for the motivation and inspiration of others. Inspiration and motivation are emotions of the individual, therefore the responsibility of the individual. It differs from person to person, from context to context and from day to day. These are emotions that people do not even really control themselves, so this kind of brainwork is impossible to delegate to someone else.

    Stay ahead with the Obeya Navigation System

    However, formal leaders can create the right conditions. That I do believe in. They can seduce, reward, celebrate, punish, remove obstacles, create clarity or help prioritize work. The Obeya Navigation System provides them with the optimal conditions. This way they enable a platform on which people can find the motivation and inspiration to contribute to a change. As a leader you have a duty to be inspired yourself. Make sure you are, so that the spark of enthusiasm will spread.


    Learn beyond comfort, before terror

    People prefer to live and work within their comfort zone. Although there is no stress there, unfortunately, not much is learned either. Only beyond the boundaries of the comfort zone is learning capacity considerably pushed forward. Eventually the stress increases to such an extent that one can only flee, fight or freeze. At that point, the return on investment curves towards zero and there is no more learning. We call this ‘Learning beyond comfort, before terror’.


    What’s in it for me?

    When introducing a different Strategy, everyone wonders what the price is to take ownership of the new plan. To what extent is the comfort zone stretched? In which ways can you influence the work process yourself? How can you ensure that you do not lose your competence? What is the way forward to develop capabilities at a new level and how will carefully built relationships remain intact? After all, you think you know what you have today, but you don’t know what you will get tomorrow. That feeling of uncertainty is an automatic trigger for asking such questions.

    Humans, as biological beings, are constantly changing and developing. You could not stop that process, even if you tried. People are the directors of their own life or perception of it. They live their own story. They star in their own movie. Also at work, a delegated task or a proposed organizational change, will be recreated in the mind of another person as if it were his own thought or her own idea. Rules or procedures merely serve as suggestions in that light. As individuals, we will always fit ourselves into the picture and add our own signature to it. We determine what has our attention and what disturbs us; everyone’s comfort zone is unique. We pay attention if we think we can derive meaning from something. There is no point in going against this fundamental individual freedom.


    An open invitation

    For our Obeya initiative we will therefore invite people to participate in a redesign of the way we work and manage. This idea does not have to be sold, it cannot be enforced, it should not be ordered. What does work is an open invitation to take ownership. People need to be able to talk to each other, come to an agreement, before they give meaning to a new reality. We do not have to agree with each other, but we do want to discover as many perspectives as possible on the same shared reality. This creates rich, collegial relationships in which information is exchanged and knowledge is not only shared but multiplied. An Obeya initiative starts from a thorough design, but continues to be developed and adjusted forward in time. That’s okay, that’s evolution. We realize that developing a new habit takes practice and time before it works.

    Must, want, dare, can, choose and believe: this is the mantra for change. An organization is a living system of many separate parts and interactions, comparable to a big city. The more connection there is, the better the performance. A Complex Adaptive System, like the Amazone Forest. We must change because there is urgency. We see that ourselves. We believe in the new narrative. We also want to belong to this new movement, identify ourselves with this new purpose. We want to change because we feel supported by new structures and work processes. Nothing stands in our way. We choose so ourselves, autonomously, and feel that we are respected in that choice. We dare to change because we see others are doing it too. That is encouraging, even challenging. We can change because we have been trained, we have been guided, perhaps by an expert coach, and we have had the time to fail and learn. We are confident that we will get better at it. Must, want, dare, can, choose and believe; all need to be properly addressed if we want to implement a new Strategy.


    A new dialogue

    Once we take ownership as individuals, that will influence our thinking and therefore our actions. We then dare to take responsibility for our actions and learn to trust each other. There is just as much room for intuition in the Obeya as for factual data. After all, we have seen how important the unconscious brain is in making choices and making decisions. Data and intuition only gain meaning when people are conversing with each other. Changing behavior in working relationships is the result of these dialogues. People are more open to change when it is pleasant, when it is meaningful, and when the consequences for their own behavior are clear. The Obeya offers the forum to operate in a customer-centric way, across the silos.

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