Leading cultural change in your organization: the Basecamp approach
While working for a large Food and Beverage Company, I was part of a team in charge of deploying LEAN and Continuous Improvement practices across multiple functions.
BY ERIC HOLDENER
It was a multi-year project impacting hundreds of thousands of employees, requiring shifting entire behaviors and habits to evolve into a culture of adaptability, openness to innovation, and experimental mindsets for new ideas to drive change. It required equipping managers with new ways of leading our teams through co-creation and empowerment rather than rigid top-down command and control management. The initiative required a drastic culture change.
The challenge was to convince leaders why this change was necessary, and only providing examples and facts from other industries weren’t going to be enough to make a meaningful difference. In well-established organizations, we tend to be more risk averse.
So how could we connect decision-makers to this initiative with commitment, conviction, and alignment? By implementing the Basecamp Method, an organizational change method I developed to deliver massive culture shift.
“Basecamps are the origin of change. They are places where you create “shared consciousness” within your team, which fosters a co-creative and collaborative core culture.”
Basecamps are the origin of change. They are places where you create “shared consciousness” within your team, which fosters a co-creative and collaborative core culture. Change initiatives are born and grown here. A Basecamp is a place where your team expresses the future path through prototypes and experimentation. Your basecamp is a place where the vision of the future materializes through exploring, testing and iterating on new products, services and ideas. And if people can connect with these experiments in a “creative lab”, they feel safe to experiment and inspired to ideate and contribute. They will then be able to engage with this change and implement the steps necessary to transform your organization.
To initiate the first Basecamp, we appointed a leader with a strong success record, inspiring respect across divisions and care amongst their peers. This leader was very progressive and not afraid to test new ideas. They recruited explorers who were true believers in the purpose of this change and had exceptional skills in influencing. The explorers were deliberately curated because they are, by nature, adaptable and creative — this pioneering group were already demonstrating essential skills to ensure they would think creatively to build solutions that would create positive momentum in the larger organization.
The intrepid team of explorers first decided to make a short movie where everyone role-played a Football team. The storyline was that this team struggled to perform on the field and eventually become champions by adopting new methods of play that were more collaborative and creative than off their shelf playbook… and of course they went on to win the championship! The story described the current struggles that result from lack of alignment, risk aversion and staying stagnant. It demonstrated that by implementing new and more adaptive tools and techniques like prototyping new ideas, while at the same time ensuring a disciplined approach of analyzing and measuring their performance, they would gradually improve their game until they became a high performing team- a team of Change Champions!
What was interesting in this approach is that they not only produced a short movie (which is remarkable already for IT engineers!), but they also went way beyond and found a way to activate their Change Champion story in their work environment — they created football leagues and competition between teams to spark everyone’s engagement in innovation projects in a fun new medium and environment.
Creating a Basecamp
They redesigned their office space and allocated a section of their open floor to create a physical representation of their journey and a visual representation of the story of change. This basecamp would be the place to welcome new employees in the journey, inspire them, and engage them to join the team of Change Champions. And it was also meant to educate them on the tools and processes to use in their everyday work. They would also use the space to celebrate success and recognize everyone’s accomplishments in the journey.
Progressively, this Basecamp started attracting the attention of other leaders across the organization. They began visiting the space, asked the “explorers” questions about this basecamp, and would hear directly from them how this new way of working had improved their performance. Inspired by their success, these leaders started building their own Basecamps, and as more and more basecamps were created, this approach became viral, further expanding across all divisions until the entire organization adopted a robust innovation practice of its own.
For an organization to succeed in their transformation journey, they need to decentralize their effort and let teams take ownership of the change, and the Basecamp Method is an efficient (and fun!) way to achieve individual and organizational Change Champion status.