6 Principles for Organizational Change
In the business world, organizational change is a daily reality especially with new technologies and processes such as ‘just in time’ manufacturing, e-commerce, virtual organizations, and six sigma to name a few. In order for companies to survive and thrive, they must continually adapt to the market or make internal improvements of service or culture. Over the years I have worked for a number of industries such law enforcement, insurance, telecom and financial.
One thing I notice in every industry is that companies are constantly making changes to hopefully gain competitive advantage. Also, in most cases, transitions are not due to a downturn. For instance, companies forge new alliances, hire new employees, create new positions, allocate additional resources, etc. Some managers within the organization make changes just for the sake of “making a change” (which is the worst kind!).
For now we are going to discuss constructive organizational change. If you are with a company that thrives on “doing for doing’s sake” without adding value, pack your boxes and RUN. There is no need for additional stress to please managers who constantly shift your cards around for their own agenda. Also, there’s a good chance companies who are just “busy” without any real vision or focus have a better chance of getting crushed by the competition.
As an employee on the receiving end of organizational change a number of times, I have a bit of experience. I have shifted departments, changed responsibilities, hired new employees, survived layoffs, gotten laid off, received offers as a contractor and employee for fast, medium and slow paced companies. Change is something I am generally comfortable with. In fact, I find if I have the same experience day in and day out, I will get easily bored and burned out. So, let’s start with the overall roles and principles of organizational change.
Major Roles in Organizational Change:
To be clear on what groups of people I’m referring to, I’ve listed them below.
- Initiator: This is the person who is initiating the change for the organization. The vision may start with this person, but usually works with other change support members to formulate the overall vision (likely when it involves a bigger organization).
- Change Support Members: These members may or may not exist in your organization. If they do, they are there to assist the initiator come up with the general plan and provide guidance to the target members.
- Change Managers: These members are the ones that create the detailed plans with the Initiator and work with the Target Members on a regular basis to keep the course of change on track.
- Target Members: These members are the ones doing the heavy lifting, the real changes being asked. This is where most of the resistance and success will ultimately end up.
- Secondhand Members: These members are the ones that need to assist and get the proper resources for the Target members.
So, this will be the terms I'll be using to identify groups.
Here are some of the principles I’ve observed in organizational change:
Change is a pain, but organizational change can be painful and chaotic.
- Change is a pain, but organizational change can be painful and chaotic.
- Resistance to change is a given.
- There’s two sides to every story.
- It takes two to tango. Trust is the superglue that makes change sticks.
- The proportion of clear, constant, 2-way, multi-way communication, the greater the success of change.
- Enjoy the ride. Chances are, change is going to be a while.
The steps of making a change for an individual are not much unlike changing an organization. It’s just more chaotic, and slower. When making a transition within an organization, it’s almost never done in a straight line. People bring their own personalities and beliefs to the table, we are not robots. So, that’s where leadership skills come in to bring those unique people to move in the right direction.
It’s the initiator’s job to establish shared vision for the organization. After an initial planning change session, coming with a, common vision that the rest of the organization “buys” is the first principle towards initiating change. Be sure to give the organization the facts on why and how we need to change.
Expect resistance to change
People in general have a fear of the unknown and don’t like the feeling of being out of control. Therefore, give the target change members as much responsibility to come up with the best implementation on their part. Sometimes that’s not feasible, but anytime the initiator gives responsibility to the target change members, it can help them gain some sense of control.
Create the environment to support change and as mentioned above, create a vision that the company will be excited about. That may not be the easiest thing to do, but do the best to take your time in the beginning of the transition to manage resistance to change. It can pay dividends if you nail the issues sooner than later. So, anticipate every possible source where the resistance may from. If you are following a model or methodology, be sure to remain flexible on the approach and use your intuition to make a judgment call.
Unite the clans by knowing two sides of change
There are two “major” sides within organizational change. The ones initiating the change (usually management and executives) and the ones on the receiving end of change (usually employees, but can be anyone). They both have different interests. Whether if you’re an employee on the receiving end of change or an executive initiating change, it makes sense to understand and look at the “other” point of view to achieve success. Taking the time to understand the “other side” will drastically improve the chances for any organizational change. This can be applied to a non-profit or volunteer organization. So, let’s take a quick look what goes inside of one who initiates and receives change.
Initiator of Change
Target Change Members
Increase sales (by size, frequency, and customers)
Improve Quality of product and/or service
Positive Work Environment
Doing Something Meaningful
Trust is the glue that makes change stick
Stephen Covey in his 7 Habits series uses a fantastic metaphor for trust, the ‘emotional bank account’. Similar to a bank account, you make deposits and withdrawals. When you make continual sincere, honest deposits to a person you will help gain their trust. People will begin to open up and see you as more trustworthy. Again, this is not always an easy task, particularly if a person lacks the personal integrity.
On the other hand if the initiator makes continuous withdrawals, then the pace of organizational change will slow dramatically. If this is the case and you’re the initiator or manager, start making deposits. Even small ones that are sincere and honest will go a long way. Making the attempt to understand the target change members will go a long way. Be true to your word. Nothing breaks trust more than a person who doesn’t keep his/her word.
Another aspect of trust is people’s abilities. If a person is honest, keeps his word, but cannot do the job they are asked, then it will be considered a withdrawal. So, when you’re ready to make the organizational change be sure to have the change manager and initiator that can DO the job well and work well with people.
The proportion of clear communication, the greater chance of achievement
You can’t properly execute strategic change if you don’t fully understand what needs to be done. So, take time to make sure everybody has a clear understanding of the reasons for the change and what needs to be done. If the reasons are clear and makes intuitive sense, it will further your trust.
There are a number of communication tools at any organization’s disposal: one-on-one meetings, department meetings, interviews, surveys, brainstorming sessions, meeting agendas, etc. Use them to gain clear insight on the change strategy. However, because of all those communication tools available, there may be even more confusion. This brings us to our next point, Questions.
The initiator (or managers) needs to ask good questions. The questions you ask will determine the answers and results you get. For instance if you ask “what needs to be changed?” you will get an unfocused answer. If the initiator asks “what can we do to increase sales by X dollars while spending only Y dollars?” you will get a more defined answer. Obviously, different people within the organization have different perspectives, so getting the right questions is an important skill to master.
Once the initiators receive the answers they desire to begin the change transition, be sure to communicate very clearly and often what the roles will be for each person. If a person on the receiving end of the organizational change isn’t clear on what he/she is supposed to do, it will generate frustration.
Try to Enjoy the Journey, a successful transition takes time
It’s hard enough to make changes by ourselves, even when we are very motivated! Just think of when you wanted to get up early to go pump iron, or stay away from sweets (dreaming of Krispy Kreme now). Enabling the entire organization to start and maintain the change requires a lot of internal resources. Therefore it’s incredibly important to keep the momentum going until the organization is able to maintain the transition to “auto pilot”.
In order to get to “auto pilot”, be sure to have a good system in place. If you have a small business, the best book I’ve read on developing systems is E-Myth Mastery by Michael Gerber.
Here are probably the most important
- Training – In most change, it’s important to get the proper training. It will enable the members within the organization to get the job done right with far less frustration.
- Information management – if an organization can’t get the critical information in place that they are off track, then they WILL be off track.
- Job/Position placement – This is where the organization should place the right people in the right roles, based on their strengths and experience.
- Communication – Take the time to build a set communication structure within the organization. Clear, open, & constructive communication creates accountability. Where appropriate, keep measurements of every communication. (if done in a formal survey)
Be sure to foster the culture of constructive change, you can use “other people” to the organization’s advantage. If the organization has a culture of secrecy, or has a culture of scarcity, there will be resentment.
Return to Home From Organizational Change
This is just a primer on organizational change. It can be a huge undertaking, so be sure to understand all the points you need to succeed. Good Luck!