Rapid organizational change can improve performance, save money and increase employee morale. Now this may seem like a stretch, to combine the ideas of performance improvement while positively impacting our bottom-line and increasing employee morale; but these are the imperatives for organizational survival today.

It is true that never in a time, in our own history, have we ever experienced an economy such as the one we are in today. The sense of doom and gloom can be very discouraging. But these kinds of crises – 1873, 1929, and 2008 – don’t come around too often, and they force people to think in a new way. Rather than ignore this turn of events, today we have to ask ourselves and our organizations – what are we going to do to get through this crisis–because it affects us in all aspects of our life?

We can no longer look to the past to help predict the future. There are many challenges ahead in ensuring our organizations continue to survive. We have less resources and less money now than even 6 months ago. Yet the expectations for product and service delivery are higher than ever. It is now urgent that we quickly build or re-shape our organizational culture so that quality, in the delivery of our products and services, is “just part of what we do.” This will ensure a continued focus on organizational effectiveness, efficiency and the meeting of all customer requirements.

There are many drivers of change but in my experience, the most important key driver for change is when 75% of the organization’s leadership is honestly convinced that business as usual is no longer acceptable. Most organizations are probably there right now. They want something that is going to deliver some positive results through this unsettling period of transition. The Rapid Change Process is a way to achieve positive results quickly.

To be effective, there are two things you need to know about the Rapid Change Process for accelerating organizational change:

  • Understand the challenges and the opportunities that are associated with it.
  • Apply it as a process that is carefully managed and implemented.

Challenges and Opportunities

To fully understand the challenges and opportunities for your organization, you should first consider what impact change may have on your organization, so that you are prepared for it.
While there are many dramatic results that can be realized but there are also bound to be some challenges you will face when implementing change. Anticipating and preparing for them will lead to true improvements in your organization.

Challenge #1: Maintaining the energy and enthusiasm of employees throughout the change journey.

Creating an environment where employees are energized and enthusiastic about building and sustaining change is not always easy. Employees are probably feeling demoralized right now, uncertain about their own future and therefore uncomfortable about taking on new work, looking for improvement opportunities in their own work or handling other requirements that are part of the “new” organization. That is why how we communicate to employees about our change strategy is so important. We must help employees accept the need for change and energize them towards achieving it. This will require that we provide opportunities for all employees to express their concerns and to channel this energy into a process where they feel that they can make a meaningful difference.

Challenge #2: Ensuring that your organization adapts to change and does not backslide into old ways of working.

Individuals and organizations alike must be resilient enough to adapt to changes occurring in their environment in order to ensure survival. Without resilience to change, extinction occurs. While it may be difficult to accept and confront the need to change, we must accept that change is inevitable. Without it progress would cease.

Today, it may seem easier to ignore the changes we are seeing in the economy and to say “this too shall pass.” But unlike other economic times, we will not come out of this global situation the same way as we went into it. Those who are unwilling to change will cease to exist. We are already seeing the devastating effects in the marketplace; with organizations that are closing their doors, declaring bankruptcy, merging with other companies, etc. We will not be the same in the future as we were in the past.

Therefore, once we accept that change is necessary so as to adapt to a new global environment, we need to pursue our change strategy wholeheartedly and fully commit to it.

Challenge #3: Prioritizing organizational projects and resources.

Today organizations have fewer resources and more projects going on at the same time than ever before. As a result employees are reaching a point of saturation. To overcome this challenge the management team must identify all projects and other initiatives currently in play throughout the organizations so that they can immediately begin a process of project prioritization. This will present an opportunity to drop low-value projects that are no longer helping the organization to realize its strategic imperatives.

Challenge #4: Understanding the science of quality and implementing it as an art.

Not everything in our organizations needs a Lean or Six Sigma program. Most processes will benefit if we can help them by providing just-in-time quality tools. This is because the full Lean/Six Sigma tool box might be overkill and take too long to implement. Part of the change mandate today is speed. The Science of Quality Management is one’s understanding of everything that is required to help a process to improve – all of the tools and practices. Today, however, we must start thinking about the Art of Quality Management which is fundamentally an ability to best apply the necessary quality tools so as to make a quick, immediate and lasting impact on the process, the staff and the customers.

Challenge #5: Managing the cultural shift that is needed to create and sustain organizational change.

Sometimes it seems that all we do in our organizations is change. If you have felt this, you are correct. What we are feeling is what is actually happening. We change, then change again and then change yet again. Change is constant. However, these changes are most often localized in our departments and in our jobs. It is not usually organization-wide. Today, it is time to engage in a quick but dramatic change in how the entire organization operates and how it is structured to deliver its products and services to its customers. Such change requires a cultural shift for the entire organization. Although not easy, it is a critical requirement for this journey and momentum must be continued and not dropped in order to sustain the change necessary for survival.

Many remember the recession of the early 1990s. I was a little surprised when early on the media tried to compare today to then. Fortunately they have stopped doing that. Today is entirely different to the early 1990s or other small recessions of the past decades although there are some similar outcomes.

During the other, smaller recessions, there were also staff lay-offs and concerns by organizations on how they would survive the economics of that time. Many organizations embraced the concept of “Reengineering” but failed to apply it properly. For many organizations, reengineered equated to huge staff layoffs. These organizations really didn’t understand reengineering at all and this gave reengineering a bad name, so it fell out of favour. It is unfortunate because reengineering is fundamentally a sound process. If properly applied, staff layoffs should have been determined on the basis of re-thinking or reengineering work processes with fewer resources. The idea of re-thinking our key business processes is still with us today. It is now imbedded in both Lean and Six Sigma.

The lesson from this story about reengineering is to be careful and learn from past experiences when applying organizational change strategies. Before we rush after the next great organizational change tool, we need to fully understand the science behind it and consider the consequences of our actions. We must not allow it to go the way of reengineering.

Rather we need to use a clear process for implementing change that everyone understands and quickly buys into. This major change initiative must have impact the bottom-line and benefit the organization’s customers and stakeholders or it is sure to be dismantled. And most importantly, we need to make sure it can be applied quickly to be successful; recognizing that in today’s world, change initiatives require a fast, not slow, journey.

To illustrate the process and benefits of Rapid Organizational Change part two of this article series will describe our consulting story about an organization that has been in a state of crisis through our current economics and how they are applying Rapid Organizational Change to survive and thrive.

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. For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca