I’m often asked how to best help businesses work through transition and change. After all, as the marketplace innovates faster and faster, it’s even more important that our businesses adapt seamlessly to market changes. Toward that end, I recommend businesses start by addressing their culture.

One key to building an adaptable and brilliant culture, however, is learning how to use prototyping to your advantage. Building a successful culture doesn’t require the perfect blueprint. Adapting to a changing market doesn’t require a perfect plan. In both cases, what is required is much simpler and comes in two parts: 1) you need to prototype, and 2) you need to trust what you find.

What is culture prototyping?

What do I mean by “prototyping”? I mean a willingness to test and retest ideas before accepting the idea that works best, rather than the idea that the organization may have been leaning toward. This means you must have an openness to trying out an idea, getting feedback on it, and adjusting accordingly.

Why should you prototype? Prototyping eases the way for buy-in, accelerates learning, and gives your organization the opportunity to move forward with intention and awareness. By determining what works and what doesn’t, on a continual basis, prototyping allows your organization to make changes as needed, adapting quickly rather than reacting after the fact. Prototyping allows your organization to be proactive.

Let’s examine how you might use it in your organization.

  1. Begin with the end in mind. To optimally prototype, you must first decide what success looks like. What questions will be answered—and what problems will be solved—by your new workplace culture? For instance, success in your organization might be defined as decreased stress, the right information getting to the right people, or solutions-focused employee conversations.
  2. Make the introduction count. How we introduce a process determines, in large part, how it will be received. For example, if we don’t introduce a prototyping plan to everyone, in a safe and respectful manner, and in a way that’s conducive to giving and receiving feedback, there’s very little value in initiating the process at all. It’s important to be clear about your goals as you introduce your plan to your organization.
  3. Learn from larger organizations. Even if you are a small company, the lessons of larger organizations—such as General Electric—can help you ensure the long-term success of your organization.

When GE decided to rewire the ecosystem of its global culture, it relied heavily on testing out ideas with small groups of employees. GE wanted to create a fast, agile, simplified culture. Design it, try it, learn from it, and iterate it was a modus operandi. Rather than waiting for a “perfect” design to execute, they found that they learned more quickly, raised more employee engagement, and achieved better results through prototyping, learning, and creating the next iteration.

You can do the same with your organization. If you’re willing to learn by doing, prototyping is perfect, as it takes the fear out of jumping in with both feet. Instead, you can try intentional cultural design and discover what does—and what does not—work for you.

  1. Trust what you find. Of course, discovering what does and does not work for your company only works if you trust what you find. Remember that prototyping is about learning by doing, rather than getting the perfect result immediately. Trust the process, though, and you can quickly and readily learn what works for you and your organization, continually refining with further prototyping.

Remember, too, that prototyping isn’t personal. And remembering this makes it easier to trust what you find. Instead, it’s a process by which you can help your business responsively grow. It’s not the only tool in your arsenal, but it’s a great one to use as you develop an adaptable, learning-based culture. Prototyping allows you and your organization to build the kind of culture that embraces change in ways that inspire learning, decrease stress, and increase your competitive advantage.

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Claudette Rowley
Claudette Rowley is the CEO of Cultural Brilliance, a cultural design and change management consultancy. Over the past twenty years, she has consulted, trained, and coached executive leaders and teams at Fortune 1000 companies, small businesses, academic institutions, and start-ups, helping them create proactive and innovative workplace cultures that deliver outstanding results. She lays out a road map for organizational success in her new book, Cultural Brilliance: The DNA of Organizational Excellence. Learn more at culturalbrilliance.com.

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