Interview with An Kramer, organisational coach in business change trajectories, on her latest book ‘Olifantenpaadjes’ and informal organisational change. 

“It’s astonishing how people feel loyalty towards an organisation, even when every aspect of it has been neglected. If you give way to that loyalty and motivation, you’ve got gold.” FreedomLab campus resident An Kramer facilitates business change trajectories. For years, she’s been using her own method with which An offers an alternative to the commonplace corporate restructuring. Recently, she has written a book about the method, called ‘Olifantenpaadjes’.

“In my book, I correspond my vision on organisational change and how to achieve it by taking the informal route.” Her years as a coach, trainer and innovator with De Baak, have convinced An that drawing up a new organisational structure on paper and implementing it, does –in reality- often cause more problems than solve them.

“Of course, if a company resorts to organisational restructuring, it means that there’s usually a justified underlying need for change. The question is however, if restructuring the formal organisation is necessarily the best thing to address it with. A new structure rarely does justice to the reality nor captures all of the work being done in a company. I look for the informal organisation. When you go around and talk to people on the work floor or in the boardroom, you’ll hear what is really going on. You hear the good ideas and you get to know the important connections. These connections rarely fit into the new structure. People still have tasks they do on the side, go more or less ‘underground’ to go about their business. Or even worse, they dig their heels in.”

Using shortcuts

Essentially, with An’s method ‘carrying the people with you’ afterwards, isn’t even a factor anymore. From the very first start, she includes ‘the people’ in the whole process of change. The intended transformation is not being a changed organisation but an organisation equipped for constant change. She does that by working with the informal organisational networks for the change trajectory. “I look at what ‘desire paths’ or shortcuts are already in use within the organisation and tap into them. The smart ways people have already found out themselves to deal with difficulties. This may sound elusive, but is far from it. I use clear systematic ways of organising change using those shortcuts. Often drawing from methods used in art and design, as these almost always vary profoundly from the usual and offer a welcome new perspective.”

Forming a collective

The first thing An does is form a collective of people that work within every layer of the organisation. Preferably including even customers or –with governmental organisations- civilians. Thus, making an instant connection between ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’. This collective then sets off to pinpoint the exact problem and find ways of solving it. What follows is a trial and error process in order to find alternative ways of organising the work. “With that, I always aim to design the project in such a way, that every method we use is a tool in itself that equips people to deal with change. It’s a way of securing continuity.”

Using clear cut transparency

It worked for a small municipality that wanted to become a learning organisation with more emphasize on self-steering. Which, ironically, the municipality indented to be carried out as a management trajectory initially. When An was asked for the job, the first thing she insisted on, was changing the approach to a company-wide project with workers from every layer to the project team, including directors. Engineering a trajectory for the project team on the very principles of self -learning and –steering. Workers were teamed up with others within the organisation for a long-term coaching relationship. Not only having private sessions, but also coaching on the job: joining the coachee during work meetings. “It was quite scary at first, of course. But the clear-cut transparency resulted in instant awareness and interest and people wanting to be included and on-board. The inclusion of directors made sure there was support within the board, that sometimes needed to be reminded to let go of top down mentality.” The end result was people being comfortable connecting through every layer, and having the tools to deal with new changes. An: “So now the people are an active part of the steering process. Instead of waiting in the office, to ‘abide’ another reorganisation.”

Together through complex systems

An’s fascination for the matter stems from –she assumes- the fact that she’s an optimist at heart. “There’s so much talent in people. I’ve learned that through coaching many people. But as a coach the tool you have, many times, basically comes down to telling people ‘to follow their passion.’ But that’s not sufficient if you’re up against these large, complex systems we’ve created. We are all trying to fight our way through them, and only if we form alliances we’re strong enough to crawl through that mud during hard times.”

You can find and order An’s book here.

To work with An, you can contact her via www.nomadischveranderen.nl