Co-creation in work refers to the process of having employees contribute to designing and creating things that affect them. It’s most often relevant for things like organizational change programmes. Co-creation helps generate insight, better objectives, better solutions to problems and higher levels of engagement.
Summary by The World of Work Project
Co-Creation in Work
In many organizations, change, or other factors that materially affect individuals, is orchestrated at senior levels. This is, by definition, far away from the coalface. As a result of this, most changes are designed and planned by people who are removed from the day to day activities that ultimately need to be changed.
This remote decision making leads to sub-optimal decision making and planning. It also leads to reduced employee engagement and buy-in to proposed solutions or planned organizational changes. Generally speaking, people like things more when they’ve helped to create them (see the IKEA effect decision cognitive bias).
One of the best ways to overcome these challenges is co-creation in work. This is just the process of getting employees involved in certain aspects of change design and planning. Employees usually have a much better understanding than leaders of how things actually work, how they feel, what should be changed and what would make the organization both more effective and a better place to work.
As well as leading to better solutions, co-creation also increases employee engagement and readiness for change. It is often facilitated by digital platforms that allow many individuals to share their views quickly and easily.
Co-creation can be used in many aspects of organizational change from creating a new corporate vision through to re-designing an office. Co-creation is also increasingly used in the non-corporate sector and is particularly important in civil society and public engagement.
How to co-create
There are many different ways to actually engage employees in co-creation of a change process. Perhaps one of the most simple ways is to ask their opinions early on in the process.
For example, you may go out to your wider employee base and ask their opinion on potential designs when looking to rebrand your organization. Similarly, you may ask them for their opinions on what they think your organizational values should be, if you’re looking to introduce new values.
Another, slightly different, example of co-creation is the use of Bureaucracy Busters. This process involves reaching out to your employees and asking them what processes they think could be stopped or improved to make the organization more effective and efficient.
Of course, if you ask your employees their opinions, you need to listen to what they say. You need to treat their opinions with respect. You don’t need to fully adopt everything that they suggest, but you do need to consider their views. And you need to explain your decision making processes to them, particularly if you do something contrary to their suggestions.
Organizations often seek to change and improve. There are many similarities in change models that are often used. Organizations often use organizational development programs to do so. There are many models that seek to explain how change in organizations happens.
Similarly, there are many models that seek to explain individuals change. These include the Bridges model and the Kubler-Ross change curve.
It’s worth noting that there’s a lot of discussion and challenge around organizational change theories. We have several podcasts exploring this, including this one which explores the role of storytelling and co-creation in change:
The World of Work Project View
Co-creation in work is great. As John Kotter says in his eight-step model of change, you need an “army of volunteers” to succeed when delivering large change. And co-creation is one of the best ways to build such an army.
In may organizations change is imposed on individuals by those in leadership or those hidden away in “project rooms”. This is very understandable given the sensitivity of many projects, and that fact that projects change frequently, but in our view it causes problems. The three problems we want to consider are as follow:
- Many good ideas are overlooked (or simply never discovered). This is because the people who are closest to the processes and people being changed are not consulted,
- A feeling of being “done to” is created among those on the receiving end of change. This increases change resistance and lowers trust, and
- Leaders are already to the right of the change curve, meaning they’ve already gotten used to the proposed changed and emotionally adjusted to them, when they announce changes to their teams. This makes effective communicate more difficult.
In summary, our view is that co-creation should be used wherever possible. It should be used to help identify the best solutions, create genuine engagement and to create commonality between leaders and individuals.
We also believe that co-creation can be used in many, though of course not all, instances and that perhaps the biggest blocker to it is fear among leaders. People may argue that there is no time for co-creation, but we believe that time saved by not engaging in co-creation is a false economy.
Of course, any co-creation exercise must be genuine. If leaders just pretend to engage with their teams in this way then pull out an already drafted plan, teams and individuals will see through them, lose trust and perhaps disengage.