Igniting Workplace Revolution: A Practical Case Study
The work we do at Corporate Rebels is never dull. We visit the most progressive organizations around the world, learning how they make work more fun. And then we share what we learned via this blog, presentations and workshops all over the world.
Recently, we have embarked on another activity: direct support to organizations that are transforming. It is now an important part of what we do. This is when we put the stuff we write about into practice. And it’s where we learn to get better at what we do.
Every now and then we write about some of those experiences. This blog is about the work we’re doing with Aster Group in the UK.
How did it all start?
The relationship between Aster Group and the Corporate Rebels started, as most of our client work does, via our blog. Dawn Sowerby, Transformation Director, had been reading it for quite a while before attending one of our Rebel Events.
At this event, in London, we got to know her and colleague Michael Reece, Aster Group’s Operations Director. Soon after we started to actively support their organizational transformation.
Corporate Rebels Survey
Aster had already done some impressive work before we joined in. (Dawn chronicled this in an earlier guest blog.) The first support we provided was via the Corporate Rebels Survey.
We sent it out to all Aster employees. It gave us insights into the current and desired state of our 8 trends measure. It gave a clear view of how employees wanted to improve the organization. It also highlighted variations by department and levels.
Importantly, it revealed the biggest frustrations in the current workplace. Based on these, we designed workshops on the 4 trends that showed the biggest gaps between the current and desired states.
Rebel Week: Turning Inspiration Into Tangible Experiments
The workshop week was an important step in the transformation. We offered four different workshops to 250+ managers. We collaborated with fellow Rebels Lisanne van Nieuwkerk to design and deliver these. They focused on:
In each we set out to challenge, inspire, and experiment.
We looked critically at how Aster currently approaches these topics. What is going well? What is not going well? Why do we do things the way we do? Is it really because they are the best ways for the business? Or is it because “We’ve always done things this way”?
What can we learn from workplace pioneers around the world? How can we apply these insights to Aster? We shared practical tools, best practices, and methods used by pioneers around the world to enable inspiring workplaces. No fuzzy theoretical stuff, just practical ideas and case studies on what we’ve seen elsewhere.
We designed experiments to conduct in Aster’s approaches. Each manager was encouraged to design an experiment for two of the four topics. If they felt committed to experiment, we invited them to post their initiative on the “Commitment Wall”.
If they didn’t, that was fine too. We didn’t want people to put up commitments if they weren’t fully motivated to make them succeed. We believe in intrinsically motivated change, not in forced change.
During the week, the “Commitment Wall” filled with change initiatives that were set in motion after the workshops. The aim was to ignite as many Aster Rebels as possible by giving them the freedom and trust to experiment.
Strong willingness to change
The willingness to change at Aster was unlike any we have seen before. In almost all parts of the business, people were eager to step up, challenge the status quo, and take personal action to support the changes.
And it wasn’t just in the buzz of the moment. Experiments are already under way. For example:
- Experimentation with cross departmental self-managing teams;
- Teams running away days focusing on the four trends;
- Extension of the successful flexible working project to include areas that had not previously embraced it;
- Starting a ‘Project Marketplace’ where team members can see what is going on across the whole directorate and get involved in projects not directly related to their current job role;
- Some teams started to distribute decision making through the advice process;
- Supportive leadership was symbolized by manager’s offices that were turned into “Team Rooms” for all to enjoy;
- Departments which have been working in a traditional, office-based format, moving to more flexible working;
- Review of the ‘return to work’ approach following increased focus on employee mental health;
- Experiments on Role Reversal and Talent Partners were conducted to focus more strongly on talents, rather than job descriptions.
These are a few of the changes in this 1,300 employee organization. We’re honored to be working with such an enthusiastic group, and supporting them in their transformation. We all anticipate the emergence of a truly inspiring workplace.
Any transformation takes time, perseverance, and continuous experimentation. At Aster, it won’t be any different. Some experiments will fail, mistakes will be made, and challenges will arise. That’s why we’ll continue supporting them in various ways.
For now, we’ll be providing some specific support and training to Aster, whilst also touching base at a day event ("Return of the Rebels") organized with the manager’s from the Rebel’s week to see how they are getting on, what scattered experiments are happening, what barriers there are, and how to maintain momentum.
We support Aster to achieve their goal of being a workplace where people do good (by providing homes to people who need them) and where they fully enjoy doing this.
We’ll offer continuing help via remote activities (coaching, challenging, advising), so as to increase our impact as much as possible.
In short, we’ll do everything in our power to help Aster achieve their goal of being a workplace where people do good (by providing homes to people who need them) and where they fully enjoy doing this.
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In early 2018 I took on a new challenge. After two years in the popular management world I decided to take a leap into academic life. I started a part-time PhD program in Business at the VU University Amsterdam. Since then I have researched how large organizations (with thousands of employees) can scale and organize without the need for middle management. It’s time to share what we’ve learned.