Organizational Change-the Journey


Many organizations recognize a need to change their culture, the environment in which their staff work and the actual work that their staff perform. All of this to ensure that their changing customer requirements are continually being met and that the strategic plan is successfully executed.

The opportunities are great but the great challenge is determining where to begin the journey. Where should we start this process of change? What steps should we take? How should staff at all levels be involved and how will we know when we have reached the end of our journey? These are the questions that usually prevent real action from being taken.

So let me tell you a story of how one organization, facing similar challenges, developed a roadmap to take them through the journey towards their destination.

The Situation

This organization had approximately 1,500 employees. They had many successes over the past 5 years but also many challenges. Here are some of their challenges:

  • There was a need for workload balance.
  • There was a need to match employee skills with the work they performed.
  • There was an expectation gap…senior management had expectations of staff that could not always be met.
  • There was a need for more delegation.
  • Problems were not being identified or resolved soon enough creating conflict.
  • Deadlines were not being met.
  • Management lacked the leadership skills to motivate staff.
  • Management lacked the ability to mentor and develop their staff.
  • One third of management were retiring in 2 years and another one third were retiring in the 2 years thereafter.
  • One third of staff were retiring within the next 5 years.
  • There were no succession plans developed.
  • There was no system of knowledge transfer in place.

And so the journey began…

Step 1: Tell the Staff They’re Going on a Journey

A meeting was called for all employees to let everyone know that a change process was about to begin. It was called “Project Change.” The President launched the meeting. He identified the issues and concerns, of which everyone was aware (maybe they had never verbalized it before but it was apparent). He also identified the expected outcomes and added the assurances that there would be no staff layoffs as a result of this journey.

And then it was turned over to me to tell them what they would see on this journey, what their expectation from this journey should be and what level of involvement on their part would be required in order for the journey to successfully reach its destination. Leadership would be done through a steering committee and various sub-committees to ensure that the process was an open one, because all levels of staff would be involved.

And so I began the journey with them…

Step 2: Form the Steering Committee

The Steering Committee was comprised of a team of 8 individuals. It was a mix of management and staff. We held a full-day session to begin our development. It is through the Steering Committee that I would coach and provide direction. The President became the Sponsor of this change initiative. The Steering Committee would report directly to him.

We developed a Charter and statement of purpose. We identified roles & responsibilities for each member of the committee and developed a communication strategy of expected outcomes at the end of the journey.

The journey continued…

Step 3: Sub-committees Formed

There were a number of sub-committees identified:

  • Culture Team (which became known as the culture club)
  • Business Process Review Team
  • Leadership Development team
  • Training Team
  • Communication Team
  • Organizational Issues Team

Each sub-committee team reported to one member of the steering committee. This ensured continual communication between the work of the team and the steering committee. The steering committee lead member that each sub-committee reported to was included on the team but each team selected their own leader.

Each sub-committee team identified their roles and responsibilities, developed a statement of purpose and overall goals. And they created a project plan to ensure the successful realization of their goals.

Step 4: Communication to the Organization

Continuous communication to the organization helps enormously in creating the change culture. To start off the communication process, another “town hall” meeting was held for all staff to identify all of the volunteers on the various teams as well as the purpose and responsibility of the steering committee and teams.

After this meeting, a bi-weekly newsletter was launched with key issues and recommendations discussed in the bi-weekly steering committee meeting as well as milestone successes along the route of this journey.

Step 5: Name and Logo

The fun began with a contest to identify a name for this Change Project. The large banner that hung in the first town hall meeting was put on a wall in the office. Everyone was asked to write their suggestion for a name on the banner and put their own name in brackets beside it. Staff were asked to rank the top 5 names and from this process a final name was chosen.

With a name and logo staff began seeing this as a real journey. The vision was clearer. There was a name with a meaning and a logo to go with it.

Step 6: Needs Assessment

The next major step on this journey was to assess the issues, concerns, challenges and opportunities of the management team and of all staff groups within the organization.

We started with one-on-one interviews with each member of management. This included the President, the senior management team and the level of management below them. This resulted in a report on the issues, concerns, challenges and opportunities facing the management and the organization.

In addition to the management interviews, all staff participated in a skills inventory discussion. Meetings were held for all staff groups. Through these meetings we wanted to identify their current skills, future skill requirements, training requirements, etc. and match this against their current job descriptions. The outcome from these questions was captured in a report on the issues, concerns, challenges and opportunities facing staff and the organization.

Step 7: Culture Review

The management within this organization realized that theirs and their staff’s involvement in the “personality” of their organization was vital to its continued growth so a culture review was implemented.

The organizational culture research identified an organization that was angry, aggressive, not customer focused, etc. They described an “ideal” culture that is customer-centred, growing, caring, empowering, etc.

Step 8: Business Process Management

One of the outcomes of the Needs Assessment was a recognition that for most staff, the work they performed and the work that their job description expected them to perform, matched. This was different than what staff had originally thought. The only difference between their job description and what they described is that they tended to provide more detail about what they do, during the interviews.

But what did become apparent is that the work processes were flawed. They were redundant, people didn’t understand where their work came from, where the work completed went and the impact their work had on the customer. It was determined that work process improvement was needed.

To remedy this situation we implemented a Business Process Management workshop where, working through a business simulation, teams learned about workflow analysis, root cause analysis, problem solving, teamwork, etc.

The results were remarkable. They were not coached in how to apply the knowledge, only told to do it. They immediately started to re-think their structure, their workflow and their quality. They flowcharted and analysed. They didn’t make assumptions. They problem-solved to ensure their solutions were the right ones. The energy in the room was electrifying. The result was a reduction in costs, increase in sales and increase in customer satisfaction.

Everyone left the room energized. But the next steps were critical. In order to capture this energy and ensure that the knowledge was transferred to the work place a number of key business processes were identified. These were selected based on fact that if improved they would have a significant impact on the staff, the internal and external customers and the organization.

Each identified business process management team spent two days in an in-depth analysis of their business process. These ended with a series of recommendations and action plans ready for implementation. The analysis was so thorough that they had clearly uncovered everything. They were able to show a cost-benefit ratio that was clearly in the favour of the staff, the organization and the customers. Most recommendations were quickly adopted.

As business process management spread throughout the organization, jobs became clearer, individual work loads normalized, less overtime was seen by staff, customer satisfaction increased, the organization’s bottom-line improved (and this wasn’t one of this journey’s goals), and staff could see how their work and their job descriptions now matched. As well, there was now good documentation of all work processes. The detailed flowcharts were used as the operations manual. It was easy for an individual to see what it is they had to do and how what they did impacted others.

Staff workload balance was no longer an issue and the flowcharts were used as a first stage in the knowledge retention process.

Step 9: Organizational Management

The organizational management encompassed four major areas:

  • 360-degree Feedback
  • Succession Management
  • Organizational Structure
  • Development of Innovation Statements

360-degree Feedback
From the management needs assessment interviews I determined that a 360-degree feedback process (how they saw themselves as compared to how their staff, peers and manager saw them against defined management skills) would help to identify the specific competency requirements that management now had vs. the competencies required for their positions. This could then be matched against the competencies of other levels of staff to begin the process for succession planning as well as the development of the management team.

The feedback was presented to each manager in one-on-one coaching sessions. This helped them to create their individual development plans. I was also able to map these profiles against the organization’s competencies.
In combination with the individual needs assessment interviews that took place earlier, it was easy to combine the 360-degree feedback, management competencies and this needs assessment feedback into a composite for each manager that identified:

  • Current skill level
  • Expected skill requirement
  • Skill gap (if any)
  • Development necessary to close the gap (i.e. training, coaching, mentoring)

Succession Management
The 360-degree feedback process helped to identify a number of individuals at various levels in the organization as potential successors. This was matched with information collected through the needs assessment process resulting in a list of people who had an interest and/or were identified as a possible future manager candidate.

The selected individuals were put through the same 360-degree feedback process as their managers. Through one-on-one coaching, we were able to identify their development requirements and desirability for advancement.

The outcome of this step provided the organization with a number of excellent candidates for possible succession into those management positions that would be vacated in a couple of years as a result of retirements.

Organizational Structure
From the staff and management needs assessment I determined that a management retreat would be needed in order to address many of the issues, concerns, challenges and opportunities. As well, the results of the cultural review helped in the design of this management retreat. We decided that the retreat would begin with a review of the organizational structure.

This was perhaps one of the most challenging areas to manage. The current organizational structure would not support the changes identified through the needs assessments and more importantly, through the business process management sessions. And rather than just tell management that we would have to change it, I needed to work with them to come to this conclusion on their own.

Accordingly, we organized a 2-day retreat that got them to review their organizational structure, improve it and decide on how to implement a revised structure. The intent of this entire journey was not to lay-off anyone. And of course, they came through with great ideas.

The result…they determined that some changes to the original succession management plan put in place needed to happen and that it would not be possible to put the new structure in place tomorrow, it would take some time. This would permit the transition for those whose positions would no longer exist, to the role of special projects. And those that would be displaced were essentially management who were close to retirement. So they would be kept fully occupied through this transition.

Development of Innovation Statements
Management then identified a need to tackle some of the major challenges still left on this journey. The culture review identified that staff want to experience a different working culture within the organization. And management agreed that improving the culture was a significant priority for the organization. It was determined that this retreat would develop the strategies to reach this new culture.

The process we used was an Innovation Process. It was necessary to foster a level of creativity and innovation in determining the best plans to get this organization moving towards this ideal culture. The work during this retreat included developing innovation statements to capture desired outcomes and action items that will help achieve these outcomes.

The management team were committed towards establishing the culture that all staff so strongly indicated they would like to see in the organization. It was essential that each and every member of staff make their contribution to ensure that the culture increasingly becomes one where teamwork, personal growth and excellence are valued and rewarded. In addition, management put in place a means for assessing their progress towards achieving this type of culture and for making improvements on an on-going basis.

Step 10: Destination Reached

Project InnoVision was just that…a project…with a beginning and an end. But it was designed to be a journey. A journey that began as a project so that we could determine the direction. And now that the project was coming to a close, the direction was clear.

As the journey progressed, my involvement was continually lessoned. There was a closing organization-wide “ceremony” to mark the end of this part of the journey and to discuss the more difficult road ahead. But the map was clear. I felt as though I was the school principal and they’d all been my students. Well, they were graduating now; they had passed all the courses and were ready to put into action everything they had learned. It was great being a part of this process; it was one of the most gratifying experiences all of us had ever had.

We concluded by organizing a lessons learned session. It was important to review the goals as originally defined and to determine whether or not these had been reached. As well, what went well and what could have even been better. What should the organization do now that it was ready to begin the next journey of change?

One of the ‘lesson learned’ that they passed back to me was the importance of having selected a consulting firm that worked with them versus told them what to do. This allowed them to be involved and engaged. They had never experienced involvement to such a high degree, and it was fun.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications.

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