People support what they help build. We know this intuitively — my three-year old nephew is much more likely to eat vegetables he’s carefully tended in the family garden than those from the grocery. Hard evidence is growing, too. A recent study shows a direct correlation between the success of a change initiative and “the extent to which staff were able to contribute their own thoughts and ideas to shape or co-create the company’s change initiatives.” 

When organizations talk about “engagement” around a change initiative, sometimes they really mean “communication” – at best a two-way dialogue and at worst a one-way cascade of information. Communication is important, but communication alone is insufficient for engagement. Amy Arnsten’s neuroscience research at Yale University indicates that when employees lose autonomy over their work and are dictated tasks rather than collaborating, their brain’s cognitive functioning (and subsequently work productivity) decreases. Co-creation – the participatory co-design of solutions – is often the missing link between communication and engagement.

Five years ago, many of our executive clients were afraid to trust their staff or customers to co-design business and organizational strategies. But we’ve seen a major shift in leadership’s acceptance of co-creation as an essential method for making organizational change stick. The 2013 IBM CEO study reinforces this trend, predicting major shifts in collaboration with employees, partners and stakeholders in the next 3-5 years. 

This is an exciting trend, particularly because the benefits
from co-creating change are so strong:

  1. Powerful solutions emerge from diverse teams
  2. Collaboration creates a shared mental model as a byproduct
  3. Advocacy for and adoption of new ideas emerges authentically
  4. The process builds enduring organizational capacity

Where to start?

  1. Take Multi-Dimensional Diversity Seriously
    When pulling together your co-creation team, look for multi-dimensional diversity. A recent Harvard Business Review study demonstrated the performance advantage of teams representing both inherent diversity (traits you are born with) and acquired diversity (traits gained from life experience). Another study of 41 innovation teams showed that groups with a variety of cognitive types (e.g. creative, generalist, conformist, detail-oriented) produce higher levels of innovation. Download the worksheet below for a quick guide to assembling powerful, diverse teams. Co-creation succeeds not just because of a process, but because of the people animating the process.
  2. Re-Examine your RAPID/RACI/stakeholder matrix.
    Stakeholder segmentation matrices like RAPID or RACI are great tools for clarifying how you intend to engage key audiences. A commitment to co-creation involves moving stakeholders from passive roles to active roles. This need not imply that you should broaden your “decide” group to an unwieldy level – efficiency around decisions is important. High levels of inclusion in gathering input and exploring ideas can often make decisions easier by rapidly filtering and validating concepts.
  3. Change the Power Structure
    Look at the power structure of your meeting design – and yes, every meeting is designed, whether intentionally or not. Great workshop design includes democratic and inclusive techniques such as a neutral third-party facilitation, a mix of individual and collaborative exercises to take advantage of introverts and extroverts relative strengths, structuring opportunities for every voice to be heard, and democratic techniques for assessing and prioritizing ideas based on strength vs. criteria, not the volume of an advocate’s personality.  

Stephanie Gioia is the Director of Consulting at XPLANE.​

Co-Creation Worksheet No 4: Planning