Sometimes change doesn’t happen as quickly as we’d like it to. Whether you’re a change manager, agile coach, or employee tasked with making a change work, you’re most likely needing to influence people around you without having direct control or ownership of the change.

While we change agents have all the time in the world to think about the change and to come up with nice presentations that make our change sponsors feel good, breaking the status quo can often be frustrating.

We all have our own biases, and favourite approaches for change, but there is one timeless practice we can use to help us take the change where it needs to go.

Relationship Building

From the late 1960’s through to the early 1980’s, the folks at Xerox PARC employed the most brilliant, innovative workforce known at the time. They created the graphic UI, mouse, and arguably made the laptop economically viable.

These products made an incredible amount of money for many companies, except Xerox wasn’t one of those companies.

In the words of John Seely Brown, who ran the PARC lab, these products weren’t executed at Xerox because he hadn’t spent time building relationships with the people in the business units that made all of the money for Xerox.

While he had a fantastic innovation lab, plenty of resources (people and money), and a long rope with which to experiment with, ultimately, his peers didn’t listen to him because he had no influence by way of strong relationships with them.

Skeptics could call this corporate hobnobbing, or playing the political card, and they’d be right to a certain degree, however relationship building is important because when you need to break the status quo, you need to influence people with direct control over the system you’re wanting to change.

Here are 5 tips for not repeating the same mistake that Xerox did:

  1. Passion without Obsession: Great innovators are passionate about what is happening in their digital lab or factory. There is a fine line between completely shutting out the rest of the organization, and allowing too much of the legacy culture to creep into it. Learn to balance focus on the innovation lab with focus on allowing the rest of the organization to see what’s happening in your lab.
  2. Arrange tours at regular times as to not completely disrupt the lab. Adhoc tours can be highly disruptive. Arrange downtime each month to host an open house.
  3. Corporate roadshows: Offer to help ‘traditional’ areas of the business with practices that are working within your innovation lab. Most large organizations have internal conferences where divisions showcase what they’re doing, look for these opportunities to not brag about how great your lab is, but how you can help other pockets of the organization adopt some practices that can help.
  4. Stay in the building: While it’s tempting to physically move your innovation lab elsewhere due to “you’ll never innovate here syndrome”, avoid it and let people see what’s happening. Innovation may happen more slowly, but you’ll avoid severe relationship problems later on down the road.
  5. Make money: This one sounds obvious, but at some point, the pool tables, slushy machines, and other shiny objects are going to wear off with the rest of the organization. At some point, someone is going to notice that your lab is burning cash without necessarily getting results, or generating revenue. Eventually, people outside the lab will start to resent the fact that your team has a cool space, and nice perks while they are making all the money for the organization.

Today’s business world is obsessed with finding the right process model, but over the centuries two fundamental things haven’t changed: Competition and innovation. The more we innovate, the more competition we create. The more competition we create, the more we feel we need to innovate.

Process models can be important, but establishing and maintaining strong relationships throughout the organization will always help you break the status quo.

Learn How to Break the Status Quo