This is Part 1 in the series on Change Management | Read Part 2
To change the way you work, you have to change the way you work. As obvious as that may sound, achieving change that delivers the value promised by a new way of working is no simple matter.
[Listen to audio version, read by David Hodes]
Change requires what Deming characterised as ‘constancy of purpose’ in addressing a real need, inspired by an attractive vision for the future, and executed with a relentless focus on a credible plan to get there.
Large-scale change—such as the implementation of the Theory of Constraints and its associated Systems Thinking suite of methods and tools—requires a comprehensive, focused and structured approach to ensure the workforce is effectively transitioned from the current ways of working to the desired future state, whether technically, organisationally or personally.
Of primary importance is an understanding of the value contained in the business case for the change initiative. The realisation of this value becomes the focus of communications designed to stimulate awareness of what’s at stake and inspire all stakeholders to play their part.
By definition, people follow leaders. Thus, for the success of an organisational change, people with authority, power and influence must visibly lead the change by engaging with as many stakeholders as possible. It is for them to communicate the importance the initiative has for the enduring success of the business, and thus encourage a high level of adoption.
“To change the way you work,
you have to change the way you work.”
But what and how are leaders supposed to communicate? How do we create an aligning narrative that has irresistible sway? What is going to be most effective? Telling the story, selling it, consulting on it, or working with two-way communication to co-create it? Different parts of the organisation will be operating from their context, and any program of change must take account of the readiness of a division, function or department to embrace the call for change.
It is a big deal for all levels of a workforce to transition to a new way of working. Thus, any organisational change-management program needs to understand the impacts and develop formal plans to address them. These impacts can range from changes to reporting lines and accountability hierarchies to new KPIs, processes and technology along with their associated rhythms and routines.
Learning new ways of working induces anxiety but can also provide the stimulus for personal growth. To reduce the anxiety and increase the chances of making organisational change stick, you must invest in supporting learning and performance management programs. The performance management work can be enhanced through formalised coaching and mentoring. These programs need to be designed to aid with both the transition to the new ways of working and with sustaining them over the long haul.
Let’s take a closer look at the processes and tools that we could use to bring about large-scale organisational change. In the first instance, leaders must lead the way. This leadership means sponsoring the change initiative. It’s no good holding anyone accountable to perform a piece of work if you don’t provide them with the resources necessary to acquit that accountability. Those resources will come in the form of people, materials, information and money, all of which are likely to be constrained, and therefore the subject of fierce debate over their use. The leader’s job, then, is to tangibly demonstrate that they are willing to dedicate the necessary time to sort through these competing demands. They have to model the behaviour they wish to see, develop a charter for their initiative, and take a meaningful stand for the benefits they want to realise.
The next step is to create a shared need. This need involves both a positive and negative aspect. It is necessary but not sufficient to talk only of the benefits. We must also make a case for what would transpire if we didn’t make the change. We should support both the positive and negative points with data and be transparent about the assumptions underlying the reason for the choice of the solution. Too often, the parsimonious will emphasise cost without examining opportunity cost, and it is thus the role of the leader to articulate both. If we are confident in the business case, we can proceed to sharpen our focus and more vividly render our vision. If not, it’s back to the sponsor for a rethink. We should never get so infatuated with our idea that it trumps the need for sound reasoning supporting a compelling business case.
A valuable way to provide focus and vision is to define the future state from a behavioural point of view. In other words, we can develop the suite of behaviours we want to see more of and which we’d like to retire. Next, we must develop creative and effective ways of communicating these behavioural changes and then embody them in everything we do. It’s of the essence to create a compelling ‘elevator pitch’ which powerfully captures in as few words as possible the raison d’etre for the project. This articulation is often the ultimate statement at the top of the Goal Tree.
With clarity of vision and a focus on the goal, we need to step into a process of coalition building. Coalitions of the willing are what make organisation-wide change occur. We need to determine who the key stakeholders are and what level of support they are likely to give the initiative. If we sense resistance, it is no good to simply moan about it. Instead, we must use our listening skills to not only understand where they are coming from but to feel with them—to empathise. Seeing and feeling others’ points of view allows us to develop more effective influencing strategies designed to address their sources of resistance to what we are trying to change. Deploying a sound influencing strategy can remove a lot of the undesired friction you may encounter on the way to achieving the goal. There will always be laggards and recalcitrants, but if we can work well with the early adopters to build out an early majority, the late majority will follow, and the laggards will either comply or leave.
When undergoing organisational change, people can keep their anxiety in check if they have a good sense that there is a plan, with a beginning, middle and end. Developing a roadmap for the transition from current to future state allows people the opportunity to gain comfort from the order such a roadmap produces from the tendency of change to create chaos. Everyone gets a sense of where we are and what remains to be done. Along the road are milestones and tollgates, allowing for reflection, recalibration and renewal.
“Seek out the champions and recognise their courage and skill”
As mentioned above, organisational change inevitably means changes to reporting lines and accountability hierarchies, as well as the instituting of new KPIs, processes and technology. Therefore, a good plan will incorporate an understanding of how we can leverage existing structures and systems to support the transition to the new ways of working. It is doubtful you can move from an extant set of systems and structures to something entirely new without going through one or more transitional arrangements. Therefore, we must think through these interim systems and structures and effectively communicate why they are necessary waypoints on the road to the desired future state.
Finally, to sustain momentum, we must always be on the lookout to ensure that our teams have the resources necessary to manage their day jobs and the demands of building out the new. We can and should develop fora to share learning, rapidly adopt what works and abandon what doesn’t. It is essential to continuously connect what we do to the overall business strategy and ask if it is getting us closer or further from our goal. It’s not easy to overcome your fear of failure, and very few are willing to be the first to cross the chasm, so seek out the champions and recognise their courage and skill. And be sure to celebrate success whenever possible and use those small wins as occasions to reinforce the idea of progress toward a goal worthy of the team’s energy and talent.
The change to using Theory of Constraints (TOC) as an underlying operating system is both profound and exhilarating. We’ve developed the Systems Thinker Course to bring the ideas into your organisation.
[Background image: Butterfly cocoons, Hakon Grimstad on Unsplash]
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