Push what moves
A view from Sue Unerman

Push what moves

It's the small, manageable moves within organisations, rather than big shifts in working practices, that can lead to fundamental change.

The RSA’s head of design is fond of advocating the idea that in order to get change and transformation you need to “Push what moves”.  Note, push what moves, not what is most impactful. 

The Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce was founded in 1754 with the purpose of finding practical solutions to social challenges. Its members have included Charles Dickens, Benjamin Franklin, Stephen Hawking, Karl Marx, Nelson Mandela, David Attenborough and Tim Berners-Lee. It is highly influential and at the forefront of leading edge thinking about the future of work.  (For disclosure, I’ve just become a fellow.)

Push what moves is good advice in many respects – here are three:

  1. Creating change in systems and practices at work.

In terms of change creating quick wins, and then spotlighting everyone involved in those wins, can be transformational where weeks and even months of waterfall planning of a full roll-out of a new way of working can prove frustratingly slow and prone to failure. If you are rolling out a new planning process try it out with some friendly and positive teams and celebrate the outcomes (perhaps even awards won) before you roll it out to everyone. This effective pilot with the friendliest teams will allow you to identify anything that needs ironing out for full roll-out.

  1. Finding marketing growth.

My first lesson in marketing came from regional planning of television back in the days when the norm was to buy airtime in this way. I had done some analysis of the share one client had by different region and noted that they were under-represented in the North East. What an opportunity for growth! Delighted with this insight I made a recommendation to my boss that we pile in with significant advertising. He pointed out that there needed to be much more analysis of why the deficit existed in the first place. Did the brand not resonate there? Was there a reason for diminished distribution? Was there a powerful local competitor? If in doubt, the rule of marketing is to support your areas of strength. Often it is easier to give someone who buys the product fortnightly reasons to buy it once a week than to convert non-users. Easier to keep customers than to acquire new ones. 

  1. Creating a more diverse workplace

At the moment, the effort of becoming a better more inclusive workplace frequently falls to those who do not feel included at the moment. They will be encouraged to “lean in”, “join in” and “fit in” even if this means covering or not being able to bring their real identities to work. They are often pushing in at a door that only opens outwards. Booker prize-winning writer Bernadine Evaristo (the first black women to win the prize) says, “Organisations know what to do. They have to open the door. Yet the onus is always put on us, the people who have been shut out, to find a way in.”

She’s describing a situation where the boardroom is still (mainly) full of white men, and everyone else is outside trying to push their way in through a door that only opens outward. It is a powerful analogy.  As we ask in Belonging, the key to transforming and maintaining diversity, inclusion and equality at work: “Where are all those men in this debate? And what are they actively doing to change the status quo?”  We need people in the boardroom, in fact anyone with privilege, to open the door and invite different types of people from those inside in, to join them, to make them feel welcome and that they belong. If you can push that door open to be more inclusive of diversity then you should take this on as your important and special task. Become the solution. Push what moves. 

Sue Unerman is chief transformation officer at MediaCom.