5 steps to empower punk employees

With the recession finally ebbing away and confidence in the markets beginning to swell, organisations are now switching their mindset from six years of survivalist cost-cutting to one of investing for growth.

A primary challenge for the IT sector right now is how to accommodate this rapid pace of change.

Punk is not dead. An unconventional, but effective approach, is to give the vocal but practical ‘punks’ of the organisation carte blanche to disrupt and challenge. Then all you have to do is simplify the change implementation process.

Humans love patterns and habits. From the daily morning coffee to driving to work; we are predisposed to abide by routine. Once laid down and practiced, habits actually become super-highways in our brain’s neurons. Since they become physical pathways breaking them requires physical change and that takes disruption, intervention and, often, trauma!

The marketplace is full of organisations, full of humans all clinging to routines, but the economy has seen much trauma as a result of the recession and so we’re seeing more and more change. There is disruption from technologies, start-ups and companies in emerging markets.

Things are in flux and to prosper form it, organisations need to become more innovative to question their existing process and ask if they are still relevant.

Given our natural predisposition to lay down habits and hang on to them, the challenge for most people and organisations when it comes to implementing change is not only coming up with new ideas, but also seeing them through.

>See also: Employees don’t feel responsible for company data – survey

However, there is a group of people who are adept at creativity, rebellion and making change happen. They are the punks.

Yes, that’s right, those people in your organisation that might not be the easiest to manage, might not be the best time keepers, the best at complying with the minutiae of the company policy – but do get things done, even if it means upsetting a few egos in the process.

For the sake of growth and efficiency, an organisation needs to give punks the space and authority to be themselves and bring some innovative change. Capitalism is for punks.

The challenge for leaders, though, is how to set the punks some boundaries? Where do you draw the line? How much disruption is too much? You don’t want to be tied to the past as that’s sure to fail, but you don’t want them to destroy all of the value either.

Like challenging teenagers, punks need strong and wise parents to ensure they don’t go off the rails. The leaders of an organisation need to be those wise parents.

Now, since you empowered your punks, there will be some changes you need to implement. But even the way change is implemented needs to change.

Leaders need to move towards more organic, creative and action-orientated modes of operation. Problem solving, direction setting and implementing change can no longer take months to formulate and action.

Key to implementing rapid change is to follow five basic steps and keep it low ceremony.

1. Ask some basic questions

Clarify what exactly is the mission; what are you trying to deliver. The best way to clarify the mission is often to set out a series of questions – but choose no more than five broad ones that everyone can remember.

2. Bring in the punks

So this is the point the punk employees – regardless of its disruption – need to be encouraged to enter the conversation and be given space to challenge the status quo. Existing habits, beliefs and procedures within an organisation need to be given a good shake to see if they still make sense.

Gather only the information needed to answer the questions. No more than is needed. If it doesn't answer the question don't bother with it. Be ruthless. It’s important to hold the space during Step Two so that information and ideas can emerge.

3. Bring the data together

And then formulate answers to the questions you set out in the beginning. This is an iterative process that usually takes several cycles. Initial ideas ebb and flow until the right solutions for an organisation becomes clear. Ideas should be discussed to provide succinct answers (solutions) to your questions. Again, time box this activity to focus the minds of people involved to reach the end game.

4. Turning theory into practice

Once you have an initial set of answers and solutions you need to turn them into actionable plans and ensure the rest of the company is carried along for the ride. Actions should be formulated and prioritised. A list of things needs to be put together that can be delivered over the coming weeks and months.

They need to be small enough that they can be delivered within weeks. Once the list is put together a project team and its executive sponsors need to socialise the original questions, the ideas generated and the action plans within the organisation. Feedback needs to be sought and actions and ideas updated as feedback is received.

5. Focus on results

The actions generated in the previous step should be prioritised on an ongoing basis and those of the greatest priority should be worked on first. A short sprint might typically be a ’10-20‘: 10 actions in 20 days. This is long enough to implement a reasonable size change or set of changes, but short enough to get positive feedback and not lose the positive energy of delivery.

Repeating this process every 20 days will see an organisation move to a rhythm of realising continual change, which is fundamental to prospering in this competitive, post-recession world.

>See also: One in four admit employees use "unofficial" cloud file-sharing

Even with the most complex problems, including the alternative viewpoint and following the five key steps is the key to affect rapid and progressive change. It might be painful but it will be worth it.


Sourced from Simon Sear, head of the change management practice at BJSS 

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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