Change how you change

Shed your long-held assumptions and see your CU with fresh eyes.

May 10, 2016

The next time you go to work, walk in stupid and ask more questions. Your credit union will be better off for it.

That’s the advice Polly LaBarre, author and founding member of Fast Company magazine, gave attendees at CO-OP Financial Services’ THINK 16 conference Thursday in San Diego.

Her point: Shed your long-held assumptions and try to see your credit union with fresh eyes.

The future, she said, belongs to the mavericks: Those irregular people who think and act differently, and defy the conventions of traditional organizations.

“Traditional organizations aren’t designed for adaptability,” LaBarre said. “They were invented to ‘routine-ize’ the nonroutine and maximize standardization and control. They created the practices and systems we take for granted today. This is called ‘bureaucracy.’

“Today’s challenge is to be more adaptable and inspiring, and maximize human accomplishment. It’s the insurgents who create more value.”

What will it take to be the author of the future—rather than the victim?

LaBarre offered five “maverick strategies” to make credit unions more resilient and engaging:

1. Lead without authority. Leadership is undergoing a “radical revision,” she said, where power comes from sharing rather than hoarding.

In this new leadership landscape, all ideas compete on equal footing and organizations amplify, not squelch, novel viewpoints.

“Don’t force people to do things; inspire them,” LaBarre said. “If you can, you’ll be a good leader.”

She cited several “vanguard” organizations that have scrapped the organizational chart to become “collaborative communities.”

One such organization is Handelsbanken, a Swedish bank with more than 200 branches but only three layers of management. It has achieved great success with its “radical decentralization” approach, where each branch makes its own credit and pricing decisions based on local conditions.

Its motto: The branch is the bank.

“It has succeeded with its innovation and ingenuity advantage,” LaBarre said. “You need to actively revise your organization and your role in it.”

2. Change how you change. Retool your change process by challenging the assumption that change starts at the top, that it’s engineered, and that it should be imposed on people.

“When you over-prescribe the means and the end,” she said, “people don’t buy into change.”

Top-down change efforts fail most of the time, LaBarre added, because leaders often are insulated from staff and business issues.

Create sustainable change by:

  • Creating a change “platform” instead of a change program. Make change continuous.
  • Going from “sold” to “invited.” Equip everyone to innovate and involve everyone in change efforts.
  • Going from managed change to organic change. Let change occur naturally.

“It’s often said that people don’t like change,” LaBarre said. “If that were true, would we ever move or get married, and so on? We just don't like royal edicts.”

3. Doing the work of art. This means being original and creative—the most important work of all.

This isn’t for the faint of heart, however. “It requires the ability to start and shift things fearlessly and with velocity,” she said. “You need to be serious about generating the stomach and capacity for experimentation.”

This requires “playing as a team and trying stuff together.”

Pixar, for example, conducts a post-mortem after each film it completes to gain insights and make changes. Everyone in the company, from animators to accountants, are expected to provide feedback.

“It’s forced reflection,” LaBarre said. “Everyone’s insights are welcome. People really want others’ points of view; they’re invested in others’ success.”

Pixar’s internal motto: “Pain is temporary. Suck is forever.”

4. Opening up. Find creative people outside your organization and stoke their creative fire.

People outside your organization “know stuff we don’t.”

5. Learning as fast as the world is changing. Remain open and hungry to find new ideas.

Advertising executive Dan Wieden, who coined Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan, has said that his job “is to walk in stupid every day.” This allows him to “see more and see differently,” LaBarre said.

Other ways to stay fresh: Hang out in places where you’re not comfortable and spend time with people who aren’t like you. “This will keep you out of a rut,” she said. “Invite a weirdo to lunch.”

Also, invite the subversives in. “If you have any power and you’re orthodox, then everyone around you will be orthodox. Find people who push against the status quo.”

Ask more questions, too. Questions create empathy and help you connect with people who can help you.

“Kids are bursting with questions,” LaBarre said. “They have the ultimate fresh eyes. That’s what we need to get back to.”