Strategies for Expediting Organizational Change

Posted by Marbenz Antonio on December 6, 2023

Introduction to What is Required to Accelerate Organizational Change

Delivering effective organizational change involves two significant aspects, akin to the visible and hidden parts of an iceberg. Drawing inspiration from the iceberg analogy, where 90% is submerged, this metaphor illustrates that many factors influencing organizational change lie beneath the surface. In the context of change management activities, the 10% above the water represents metrics, measures, reporting, processes, and formal communication, while the critical 90% operates below the waterline.

A synergistic collaboration between the above and below the water factors is essential for successful organizational change. These components should function as delivery multipliers, reinforcing each other rather than conflicting and diminishing their impact.

Achieving effective organizational change necessitates well-defined and communicated success criteria, unwavering leadership commitment, and stakeholder focus on objectives and key results (OKRs). This alignment should be under the agreed-upon change plan, supported by an organizational culture facilitating the desired transformation.

Top Tip: Define Successful Organizational Change

Initiating a pre-change “go” discussion involves defining the parameters of successful change, outlining the OKRs for successful delivery, establishing metrics for measurement, ensuring adequate resourcing, and implementing a communication process tailored for change. While these aspects seem like common sense, they often encounter challenges, especially in terms of their recognition and commitment, considering the iceberg metaphor with its visible and hidden factors.

The primary challenge lies in the fact that factors “above the water” are more tangible, measurable, and readily accepted by senior managers. These factors are viewed as rational and objective indicators of delivery achievement. On the other hand, “below the water” factors are perceived as real but somewhat ethereal, creating a dichotomy in their acknowledgment and commitment.

The two-fold challenge arises from the ease of measuring factors above the water compared to the difficulty of quantifying those below. In the spirit of full disclosure, the author, an organizational change practitioner, advocates for a balanced approach, continually addressing both “above and below the water” factors in the evolving organizational change transition.

Quoting W. Edwards Deming, the blog emphasizes that managing something without precise measurement is not only possible but also crucial, dispelling the myth that what cannot be measured cannot be managed.

Sponsors and Stakeholders

Most of the time, the appointment or selection of sponsors and stakeholders in the initial phase of change is based on seniority. Choosing sponsors based on seniority exemplifies “above water” thinking, associating seniority with commitment and positive influence for the change program.

Reflecting on the ideal choice of sponsors and stakeholders, change practitioners might consider whether the current individuals align with their preferences. If not, it prompts an exploration of why and if a change could be made.

Imagine asking current change sponsors and stakeholders to complete a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) for their understanding of their roles. The question arises: would the output align with day-to-day actions, and would they agree on role definitions using standard frameworks like ITIL or AGILE?

If there is a lack of agreement and consistent behaviors, rather than fostering change velocity, confusion, and misdirection are more likely to impact change efficacy.

Top Tip – Set the Correct Expectations for Organizational Change

They conducted some research on Google to trace the origin of a quote that has been widely circulated. According to their findings, the quote “People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do” is attributed to Lewis Cass, an American military officer, politician, and statesman who lived from 1782 to 1866.

The relevance of this quote to the “above/below” concept lies in the potential disparity between verbal statements, or what is said publicly, and the actual behaviors exhibited. This disconnection emphasizes the critical importance of aligning spoken words closely with corresponding actions, contributing significantly to the success of effective change. We owe our gratitude to Lewis Cass for this insightful perspective!

Line Managers

Let us clarify the term “line managers” as used in this context. Line managers refer to those managers who directly oversee individuals in both operational and staff departments. Operational departments are primarily focused on delivering the organization’s products and services, while staff departments are more oriented toward strategy and enhancing organizational effectiveness (other definitions may exist).

“Above the water,” it’s likely that statements will assert that line managers are committed to strategic change, aligning their OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) to provide a measurable focus on change delivery.

“Beneath the water,” the reality may differ based on organizational culture and the actual alignment of OKRs and objectives. The alignment between Business As Usual (BAU) and change deliverables can pose practical challenges, especially regarding resourcing. Both the number of staff and required skillsets for these deliverables may be scarce, leading to potential competition and conflicts among senior managers over responsibilities.

It’s important to highlight the potential negative impact of cognitive dissonance among line managers and others. The effectiveness of organizational change implementation can be compromised when sponsors, stakeholders, and influential individuals choose to overlook the contradictions they introduce into the organization—contradictions between stated intentions and actual behaviors. It can be argued that the more senior the individual or group within the organization, the greater the potential for confusion.

“Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. People tend to seek consistency in their attitudes and perceptions, so this conflict causes unpleasant feelings of unease or discomfort.

The inconsistency between what people believe and how they behave motivates them to engage in actions that will help minimize feelings of discomfort. People attempt to relieve this tension in different ways, such as by rejecting, explaining away, or avoiding new information.” Verywellmind.com, accessed 1 November 2023.

Top Tip – Engage with Line Managers

When formulating a change plan, it’s crucial to consider how the meaningful integration of change into the organization can be facilitated through practical engagement with line management.

Initiate engagement with line management as early as possible in the change process. This approach is highly practical as it demonstrates respect for the role of line management and provides an opportunity to identify and address factors that would support a balance between business-as-usual (BAU) activities and the transition to new ways of working.

A pivotal aspect involves spending time with sponsors and senior stakeholders to create a balanced approach to Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), considering both the requirements of delivering BAU products and/or services and the transition to future products and/or services.

Once this approach is ready for discussion, involving line managers in the conversation, and seeking their thoughts and suggestions, becomes crucial. The more they contribute meaningfully, the more likely they are to be aligned both psychologically and physically with the implementation of change. They, in turn, should adopt this approach to communicate with their reporting staff.

While this may seem like common sense—and it is—the reason for emphasizing this is that, in practice, many organizations claim to have such practices in place, but the reality often falls short. This means that those most likely affected by the change are also grappling with cognitive dissonance, using current practices while transitioning to new ways of working.

Observation Changes Behaviour

The Hawthorne Experiments conducted by Elton Mayo et al. in the 1920s and 30s highlighted a notable observation: individuals tend to modify their behavior when they know they are being observed. This phenomenon, known as “The Hawthorne Effect,” has implications for how knowing this could potentially accelerate organizational change.

As mentioned earlier, the significance of behavior, appropriate metrics, and engagement with line management is crucial for accelerating and embedding effective organizational change. In their absence, the lack of these factors can considerably impede the speed of effective change.

To illustrate, consider a practical example from recent work involving organizational change related to an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementation. While all the necessary elements, such as Board commitment, resourcing, metrics, and project plans, were officially stated and committed to delivery, the actual reality was starkly different. Efforts were predominantly directed toward resolving stated commitments rather than focusing on the project’s delivery. This discrepancy created a constant state of cognitive dissonance among the staff involved, impacting their day-to-day work priorities. Instead of accelerating project delivery, these hidden factors below the surface acted as a significant drag on delivery efficacy.

Top Top – Be clear about required behaviours

Clearly defining the required behaviors that are essential to support the delivery of organizational change is important. Often overlooked is the process of transitioning from current behaviors to the desired future state behaviors. This requires the courage to reflect on current realities and make necessary adjustments to facilitate the required change delivery.

Starting from the most senior group and cascading throughout those impacted by change, there is a need to hold each other accountable for exhibiting the required behaviors that support the transition. This can be one of the most challenging aspects of effective change, as it challenges existing organizational culture and requires the willingness of employees to authentically, visibly, and consistently adopt the desired behaviors for the stated change.

Investing time in creating and sustaining the required behaviors, and ensuring their consistent visibility, will yield returns over the life cycle of the change initiative and beyond.

In conclusion, a quote from Mark Carney, former Governor of the Banks of Canada and England, emphasizes the importance of conduct in the context of change: “we have the technical levers. What’s more important, the key issue, is conduct.” Examining examples of large projects like Berlin Airport, Venice Barrier, HS2, Crossrail, and the Edinburgh Tram Project illustrates how “conduct” and factors below the surface can significantly impact delivery. Reflecting on these examples can provide insights into the conduct and factors affecting your current change activities.

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