Co-creating change: Start by listening

As I previously blogged, my organization focuses on co-creation as a way of enabling change, and I am a huge proponent of the approach.

One of the most powerful early examples for me was at the outset of a multi-year plan to modernize pretty much everything HR did and every tool we used to do it. Like other departments, HR was offered the opportunity of hosting a booth at the annual employee conference that year. It was too early in our planning and too broad an audience to engage on specific questions about tool functionality or new approaches. At the same time, we wanted to plant the seed that change was coming, and possibly gather a bit of information to feed into our thinking.

Rather than go for the usual show-and-tell, we decided to use the booth to hear what mattered to employees. And so, the "Tell us your HR story" idea was born.

How it worked
On the backdrop of the booth, we created a linear map of the "employee journey" at the organization. We then invited open-ended input, asking employees that stopped by to tell us about a time they interacted with HR. They wrote answers on post-its that were colour-coded for positive, neutral and negative impacts. They then positioned their stickies on the timeline.

The results were amazing. The input was analyzed and helped us prioritize half a dozen processes (subsequently called HR Key Moments) for improvement. Not only did we get a sense of which processes were sticking points for employees, we identified some specific issues and had names of people who wanted to get involved in the re-design. And while tool changes were already in scope, the exercise validated our plans in that area.

In addition to the stories we gathered, hundreds of employees stopped by, most learning a bit more about what was in scope for upcoming changes, with some adding their names to a list for future consultations even if they didn't have a story to share. 

More importantly, we made the case for change in HR
The most important decision we made was to invite front-line HR employees to staff the booth.

With my friend and former colleague, Cath, we held a training session for our volunteers the week before the event because we wanted to make sure they did not find themselves responding to feedback in the moment. Instead, we role-played having them respond with curiosity and more questions; their goal was to better understand the issue and how employees were affected. We agreed that if we heard questions or specific issues that could be handled right away, we would get names and follow up after the event (rather than trying to problem-solve on the spot).

People who had been in HR for years got to hear visceral stories, positive and negative, about employees' interactions with the department. The positives were all about the HR team—about their caring and professionalism. And those caring people heard how HR tools and processes could be ineffective and confusing, and how missing or incomplete information had cost employees frustration, time, or even money. They also heard how the impact of these interactions were still reverberating years (sometimes decades) after the fact. 

Even though I was hoping the experience would be meaningful for our volunteers, I was blown away by the results. Heading into the event, there had been an understanding in HR that changes were coming. After the event, people from across the department had a much better sense of why the changes were important, and we had members of every team committed to getting and staying involved. There was a perceptible mood shift on the HR floor and renewed energy for the work to come, with an after-glow that lasted months. 

Low-tech, high-touch
One other note about this engagement: Our booth was very low-tech. In fact, I got the jitters on the eve of the conference when I saw all the set-up in other booths. Most had multiple screens, touch displays, QR-codes, looping videos, and the like. Cath talked me down, reminding me we were going low tech by design, that high-touch was the whole point. She was right! We had by far one of the most popular kiosks, and one that gave us so much input and goodwill to build on.

We've used the same approach since, including for an engagement last year on how to make our workplace more diverse and inclusive. It was also really powerful and I'd be happy to share the details to anyone planning an engagement that wants to learn more.


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