3 Ways to Create Order to Encourage Change (Yes, Really!)

Here’s a contradiction: using order to create change. 

Or IS it a contradiction? It might seem like “order” and “change” live in two different universes, but in fact you need order to create change – and vice versa.

How is that possible?

In my livestream this week, I shared how disruptive organizations create just enough order to allow change to happen smoothly. They do so by investing intentionally in a strong foundation — structure, policies, and rituals — that can weather change without crumbling or cracking.

You can be a disruptive organization and have clear processes, beliefs, and behaviors that support change. Here’s how:

1. Invest in Openness

The importance of openness cannot be overstated. Openness builds trust and accountability. When you invest in openness, there’s no space for backroom politicking or lobbying – or allowing personal relationships to trump real data and facts.

It also creates a shared version of the truth, which is essential for sharing mistakes and leading from vulnerability, authenticity, and credibility.

Use these five questions to measure the openness and trust in your organization:

  • Are your employees comfortable talking to their boss’s boss?
  • Do employees talk to each other and share what’s going on?
  • Do you have good feedback systems in place?
  • Do employees feel like they can say what’s on their mind?
  • What information is open to employees?

Leaders can jumpstart the information-sharing process by opening up first and then inviting other people to be open with you.

2. Develop Agency

One of the most debilitating things I see in people is the feeling of being powerless and the sense that what they do doesn’t matter.

Agency does the opposite – it makes people feel powerful. They see themselves as members of a group and as owners of the organization.

To create agency, focus on defining what’s permissible and set parameters for disagreements:

  • Let employees know what risks they can take, what responsibilities are theirs, and what they should focus on.
  • Clearly outline expectations – what is one thing they can do? How far can they push boundaries?
  • Slowly shift ownership and authority over time. For example, ask your employees to come up with a solution, recommend the solution, and then make a decision in the future without involving leadership in the decision.

It’s also important to make it really clear to employees when they can and cannot agree. Let them know when it’s a good time to bring up different points of view – and when the time for suggestions and disagreement closes.

3. Redefine Your Relationship with Failure

A lot of leaders don’t feel like they can fail. They fear that people won’t trust or follow them if they’re not perfect. But failure is a great opportunity to create openness while bridging the gap between the reality of what you got and where you aspired to be.

Far from being a boogeyman, failure is a data point that lets you ask, “How am I going to close this gap next time?”

Here are three ways you can start redefining your relationship with failure:

  • Conduct effective post-mortems. Review every project with intention and openness. Are people saying, “I’m going to learn from that”? Are they noticing where their teammates are struggling and suggesting ways to do things differently? Are they providing constructive feedback? That’s how you come up with a list of things you can do differently next time – and see every failure as a learning opportunity.
  • Make failure visible. Allow your employees to see your failures and mistakes. This will encourage others to make their failures visible, too. If you start to destigmatize failure and celebrate and elevate the learnings, this shift will cascade down through the rest of your organization. Everyone will realize they aren’t expected to be perfect.
  • Define reversible and irreversible decisions. The vast majority of decisions are reversible, yet we treat them as if they were written in stone. Be honest: if you know a decision is reversible, you can make a quick early move to see what works. If it’s truly an irreversible decision, then invest more time making the right decision.

Change and order might sound like a contradiction, but there is so much to appreciate in how they complete each other! By bringing the strong foundation of openness, agency, and a new relationship with failure to your organizations, you will powerfully drive the disruption you know the world needs.