The most pressing issue concerning organizational change is how to take into account all the dynamics that affect employees, customers and stakeholders. In a previous post I discussed why organizational change is so difficult. My experience as an external consultant working with organizations in transition include: mergers of government departments; a merger of two oil companies - one based on a hierarchical structure and the other on self-directed teams; colleges in transition; governments downloading mandated services to councils and non-profit agencies; and several small to medium sized companies adjusting to new marketplace realities. I found that an eight point process based on an Identify, Design, Deliver, Stabilize and Evaluate Platform worked well for me.
1. Identify and Design - Focus on Need, Mandate and Transition Team
Clarify the need. Unfortunately, there are business owners and corporate boards, both in the private and non-profit sector, who initiate change without due process. I know of organizations that have replaced their CEO and members of the Leadership Team based on limited information. I'm not referring to those situations where the organization is in dire straights and require immediate triage and surgery, but where there is a vague felt need based on little evidence, misinformation, lack of understanding about the culture of the organization, or political bias.
When action is taken with limited information it puts the new CEO in a bind. Some CEOs push back and work toward a more developmental approach and follow a process similar to one outlined in this post; others, take a directive approach and make the changes as presented to him. In the latter instance I have witnessed CEOs who modified the Leadership Team without due consideration regarding roles, responsibilities, history, culture, or the real value individuals had made to the organization. They reorganized the boxes within the organizational chart, replaced members on the leadership team and marked others as redundant. The Board and Shareholders then expressed their satisfaction that their new CEO acted so quickly on their behalf. However, I found that when an unwarranted directive approach was taken, problems occurred within a very short time: morale faltered, confusion reigned, valued personnel left, and the CEO was replaced within two to three years.
The first order of business in any change process is to take the time to clearly understand the change requirements and their implications. Often times an outside consultant is contracted to work with the Board, CEO or Owner to clarify the change requirements and to recommend an appropriate process.
Set the mandate. Once there is a sound understanding of the change requirements the board/owner/leadership team need to set a clear statement of purpose and goals. The length and depth of these statements are contingent upon the extent of change under consideration. I ascribe to a short, crisp and exciting purpose statement which can be easily articulated to employees and stakeholders; and, a set of broad objectives with milestones to measure progress.
Establish a Transition Team To Plan. The next step is for the CEO/Leadership Team to establish a Transition Team to plan the strategy, set specific SMART objectives and guide the implementation of the change process. In large organizations the Transition Team is drawn from a cross section of team leaders and employees who exhibit leadership qualities. In small businesses the Leadership Team and Transition Team may be one and the same.
2. Deliver and Manage the Process
Engage Those Affected. As the Transition Team works through the planning stages it needs to find ways to engage all employees within the organization. One way the Transition Team can do this is to keep the various team leaders abreast of its progress, issues and actions. The team leaders can then place "Change Reporting" on their team meeting agendas and solicit feedback to the Transition Team. Another way is for the Transition Team to regularly meet with employees in small groups to solicit their input and feedback. In small businesses the process is the same but the feedback loop is shorter and more direct.
A key factor in any organizational change is to spend considerable time in clarifying how the change will affect individuals. I found that whenever change is introduced in an organization people respond primarily in three ways. There are those who embrace the change with great expectations - I refer to these people as climbing the 'Mountain of Hope'; there are those who view it as the "sky is falling" and descend into the 'Valley of Despair''; and there are those who are uncertain and they become the 'Wait and See Gang.' In most instances the third group make up the majority of the people in the organization.
In order to meet the needs of these three groups the Transition Team should consider a number of coaching and training strategies, for example: those who are on top of the mountain may require mitigating strategies to lower high expectations; those who are despairing may need coaching strategies to deal with anxiety and fear; and those who are waiting to see what happens may require regular updates and encouragement. Remember the outcome of any change process is to ensure that people function at a higher level on the other side of the 'Mountain of Hope' and the 'Valley of Despair' than they did at the beginning of the process.
If the change affects stakeholders, and in most cases it does, then the Transition Team should find ways to solicit input and feedback from them. For instance, they could consider focus group sessions with customers, strategic partners or aligned business associates. The Transition Team may find that the stakeholders may not always agree with the purpose, design or process but their input will be invaluable to help it clarify messaging and make adjustments to meet specific stakeholder requirements.
Communicate Regularly. The importance of communicating and communicating often cannot be stressed enough during times of change. Here are seven strategies I have used or recommended to keep employees current:
Continuously Learn and Improve. Organizational change provides a tremendous opportunity to promote learning as a continuous process. I found that my daily encounter with individuals provided invaluable teaching and learning moments. They happened when individuals were testing out new methods, brainstorming in meetings, taking on new work patterns and habits, or adjusting to revised roles, responsibilities and reporting relationships.
During the change process people will make mistakes. This is healthy as long as people learn from them and take corrective action. In essence learning and taking positive action is another way of understanding the process of continuous improvement.
3. Stabilize But Recognize Continuous Change
Calm the Organization. The issues the Transition Team first encountered will begin to settle once the changes begin to take effect . This reflects the movement towards a new level of functioning. The speed by which the organization calms is dependent upon the strategies the Transition Team employs. The deeper or the more complex the change the longer it takes to stabilize the organization.
When I refer to organizational stabilization, I'm not thinking about the absence of change. These days, as in the past, change is constant and even relentless. Everyday our marketplace is affected by technological advances, global and national conflicts, climate change, the introduction of new products and the renewal of old ones, or by mergers and acquisitions of companies. These provide both risks and opportunities and we need to proactively plan and respond to them.
I view organizational stabilization with the realization that change is constant and that organizations need to continually adapt with renewed vigor and vision. And, each time an organization successfully meets new challenges it reaches a new plateau and that plateau stabilizes a bit before the next wave of change hits.
The point here is that although there will continue to be change, the change that the Transition Team was tasked with has come to an end; and when new transitions are on the horizon than a new mandate and transition process is initiated.
4 Evaluate and Measure Continuously
Evaluate Results. If we take the approach that we need to measure progress along the way, then evaluation is also ongoing. In part this is alluded to in 7 above - continuous learning and improvement. However, sound practice suggests that when the final milestone is reached, the Transition Team should take a formal look back to: measure results against the strategic intention identified in the mandate and goals; review all the strengths, learning and challenges it encountered; and celebrate the end of the journey.
Questions to Ponder: How do you approach organizational change? What do you think the differences are regarding a developmental or directive approach to change? How do you identify your requirements, purpose and goals? Do you establish a Transition Team with authority to plan and manage the process? How do you engage your employees and stakeholders in the process? What type of communication channels do you use? Do you learn from mistakes and move on, or do you attempt to find fault and punish? Looking back at a transition that occurred in your organization what was the take-away learning? What do you think about the approach described in this post?
Author: Richard P. Fontanie MSW, FCMC Up-dated from Fontanie Learning Solutions
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