How to make transformations happen with less “work” and more play

by David Lancefield Partner, Strategy&

Email +44 (0)20 7213 2263

Transformation is a fact of daily life for business and organisations, not just a buzzword. It's triggered by sudden crises, new competition, technological change, global opportunities, or simply the recognition that the world is rapidly changing around them - and they risk being left behind. These major change initiatives can be complex, cumbersome and costly. But they don't have to be that way - they can create new spaces for possibility—in markets, in operating models, and in employees’ hearts and minds – that yields profitable growth and breakthrough-level improvements.

In this new Podcast series Transformation Talks I explore transformation through the lens of a diverse group of people, who have driven, lived through or studied transformation in their own ways.

Episode 1 features  Dan Cable, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, London Business School: Keeping your people "alive at work" when transformation's on the menu. Listen here

I invited Dan because he’s done some fascinating research, published in a new book called “Alive At Work”, on what happens when companies allow their employees the freedom to experiment, to try new things and to play to their strengths - rather than simply have employees work within a rigid, goal-oriented results framework.  He calls this activating people’s “seeking systems”.

Dan argues that while managers need an element of control to get results, there's a real need for empowerment of employees as well, even allowing for creativity and - yes - play. In fact, our seeking systems need it.  

If you don’t have time to listen right now, here are the key themes that emerged from my conversation with Dan so you consider putting some of this into practice.

  1. Give your people more space and time to experiment

The way company culture has evolved we feel that work is "pre-scripted" around tasks that need to get done. We also know we are being evaluated on results. But leaders need to move towards a culture that allows space for experimentation, play, and social bonding, so that employees can unleash their creative skills.  In fact, you're more likely to deliver better results if you do.

Dan says: “[Managers] wake up and say ‘how will I get what I promised to the customer, how do I ensure that the regulators are not unhappy with us?’. That thinking often yields work practices that feel confined and straight-jacked.  It’s about making enough spaces where people can learn rather than creating procedures that they have to follow.”

  1. Leaders must learn to show emotions

Leaders are often driven by hard measures like productivity and removing waste from the system. But they need to listen to their people, show curiosity and encourage emotional inspiration - even give a deeper sense of who they are as a person.  

Dan says: “Leaders today need to be able to adapt, listen and learn. Leaders will need to get good at ‘emotions projection’.”

He adds that he thinks this could be a golden age for human emotions, hoping that what used to work at companies - a sort of “threat system” made up of an emphasis on people being reliable, on predictability and control - is replaced by an environment of “curiosity, enthusiasm and zest”.

  1. Be open to unpredictability and be prepared to adapt

It may sound like an obvious point but to achieve this leaders need to be open to unpredictability - especially in a transformation.  

“We are due for more self-expression if we want creativity. If we want innovation we need to be open to unpredictability, and we know that the world is changing faster than ever so that firms have to adapt.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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by David Lancefield Partner, Strategy&

Email +44 (0)20 7213 2263