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How might the public service design and implement organisational change (cultural, functional, and structural) in a way that:

  • promotes and harnesses staff engagement;
  • minimises disruption (to productivity and quality);
  • enables innovation and excellence; and
  • sticks (delivers on its intended outcomes)?

That was the question keeping us awake at night and led us to attend the Leading Organisational Change and Renewal Programme at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in November.

The programme is delivered twice a year (once at each Stanford and Harvard campuses). It aims to help participants “learn how to overcome the inertial forces that plague big organisations, and design an ambidextrous organisation that can generate streams of innovation”.

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Our fellow participants, 60 from 28 countries, and from diverse organisations: Nissan, Heineken, the United Nations, and NASA to name a few. There were so many rich experiences and skills among attendees that the conversations and interactions were as valuable as the course content.

What did we learn? Well how long have you got! The programme comprised 25 years of research, 17 case studies and readings, and five full days from 8am to 9:30 pm. That is a lot to digest and summarise.

Here are a few things that stuck with us, and felt particularly relevant to the work of the Service Innovation Lab:

  1. Ambidexterity is essential for innovation – organisations need to be doing two things, differently, at the same time:
    1. Continuous improvement of core work which requires predictability, stability, efficiency, control and variance eradication; and
    2. Innovation which requires speed, autonomy, flexibility, discovery, variance enhancement, and a different mode of management and leadership from business-as-usual and continuous improvement activities.
  2. There are three important disciplines of innovation:
    1. Ideate: identify potential concepts (eg. using design thinking, open innovation, hackathon);
    2. Incubate: test and refine, and prove you have a viable business, product or service (eg. lean start-up, business canvas);
    3. Scale: grow the product or service, and create an ambidextrous business.
  3. If people are excited about a change they will view it as an opportunity and if people are afraid they will view it as a threat - we need to act accordingly.
  4. If you are not making mistakes, you are not trying hard enough.
  5. To get things to stick or be successful you need to plan the implementation as well as the launch, and you need to plan it in advance.

What was one of the most important lessons that came through clearly to us in every session though? He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.

Everything comes back to people. The norms, values, and behaviours of people in organisations can help take us where we need to go or can hinder us if we don’t prioritise people, understand them and their needs, and engage and include them in an authentic and meaningful way.

We are working through everything we learned, applying it in our roles and preparing some things to share with others. Feel free to get in touch if you’d like to know more about the programme, the experience, and our insights.

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