The Challenges and Opportunities for Accelerating Organizational Change – Part 3: Creating the Change Vision
Part 1 of this article reviewed background on change management practices of the past decades and discussed the challenges and opportunities for organizations as they try to implement change initiatives. Part 2 went on to describe how to build momentum for change initiatives using the example of the Electra Company’s real change journey.
In Part 3, I will focus on the creative process of how to create the change vision; referring once again to the journey of the Electra Company. As a quick reminder, the Electra Company is an actual client who implemented our Rapid Change Process. Their name has been changed for privacy purposes.
3. How to Create Awareness and Energy
This is the creative part of the Rapid Change Process. The Change Steering Committee must create a vision of what the future will look like, once the entire change process has been successfully implemented and the new culture is apparent. We generally start this process by reviewing the results of the culture change survey already conducted as well as the results of what staff said in their feedback sessions to make change happen successfully. That being done, we begin to a brainstorming exercise to guide the Change Steering Committee to look beyond the present day state of the organization, explore its future and help them create their change vision.
The Electra Company Story
The next part of this process for the Electra Company forced them into a more creative and less tactical mode. This unto itself was a change for them. We guided the members of the Change Steering Committee through an exercise that would get them to think past the present and into the future by asking them to describe a scenario of what could happen in the company 5 years into the future. We told them that a major business magazine was now writing an article about the work the Electra Company had done to manage some significant changes. This business magazine wanted the Change Steering Committee to draft the article. The article needed to help readers understand how the company got from a challenging period five years earlier to their current successful state. They wanted to know:
How Electra Company was now operating (in this future state)?
- What is the organization’s structure?
- What are the key roles and responsibilities?
- What are the key work processes?
- What were the customers, staff and suppliers saying?
We then divided the nine-member Change Steering Committee into two groups and asked each group to start writing an article, giving them no restrictions regarding time, money or other resources so that their creativity could flow as easily as possible. The article would describe their future state and what it took to get there. It did not have to be based entirely on reality nor did their scenario have to define goals that would have to be completely realized.
Once each group wrote their articles, we asked them to read their article to the other group. Collectively we compared them, identified the similarities and differences and then used the combination of ideas from both articles to help shape their final vision for change.
Some of the Change Steering Committee members told their staff about the experience. Many of the staff were excited about it and thought they should also be given an opportunity to describe a possible future for the Electra Company. So we got volunteers for these future state feedback sessions. About 200 out of the 500 staff volunteered. A half-day session was held with them and they were given an opportunity to develop articles, similar to what had been done by the Change Steering Committee. They were divided into smaller groups of 10 each. Each team was given the task to write their own articles. When they were finished we asked them to identify the strategies that would be required to realize these “dreams.” They quickly and easily identified these. The articles and strategies went to the Change Steering Committee. It helped them enormously to fine tune their final vision. As well, it gave the staff a sense that they were being “listened to” and helped to gain their commitment to the change process.
4. Develop the Change Strategies
Change Strategies close the gap between the present and the “ideal future” as defined in the vision. Essentially, the change strategies translate the vision of what the organization is trying to become into specific strategies that will help to achieve it. It is the framework, derived from an understanding of the employee’s and customer’s needs, that describes the products, services, structure and work processes the organization is offering and should be offering in order to satisfy employee and customer needs and expectations.
Change Strategies must be described, understood and accepted by everyone on the Change Steering Committee. They are communicated to all employees together with the identification of milestones.
The Electra Company Story
Engaging staff of Electra Company to develop articles and then strategies was extremely helpful to the “Project Thunder” Change Steering Committee.
The Change Steering Committee developed Change Strategies which incorporated those from the staff. This was the start of the real journey of significant change. So it was important to get to this stage as quickly as possible to sustain momentum and enthusiasm. From the start to this point, only 4 weeks had passed. They had done a lot quickly and had made good progress. Although the journey to this stage was intense it was not too long.
The Change Steering Committee identified some key milestones to achieve their change vision that included: change readiness sessions for staff, a 360-degree feedback process for the leaders training, succession planning, examination of the organizational structure, business process analysis, skills inventory, organizational culture review and so on.
As well, they decided to depict these milestones as thunder bolts coming from the sky and used this visual illustration to help them track the journey’s progress and communicate it to all employees. As part of their communication strategy mandate, they decided to launch an on-line newsletter with pictures and visuals of the thunder bolt chart to keep staff engaged and aware of the progress being made organizationally.
Another outcome of this process was the realization that it would be impossible for the Change Steering Committee to oversee the successful implementation of all the change strategies. It was too big a task. So they created sub-committees to manage each of the change strategies. Each sub-committee chair would report to or was one of the Change Steering Committee members. This ensured that there would be good feedback and rapid decision making.
To set up sub-committees, the Change Steering Committee created a list of the change strategies and posted a list of them to all employees together with a volunteer sign-up sheet. It took a few days but people started to sign-up for participation in a sub-committee. There were some holes so we had to coax a few people to volunteer. The union president, who was initially, opposed to this entire process, volunteered for one of the committees – the one for business process improvement. He was concerned that business process changes may lead to job losses. The Change Steering Committee welcomed his contributions.
The next two stages in the rapid change process were done by each sub-committee. They maintained constant communication with the change steering committee who managed the on-going communication through the continuation of the journey.
5. Understand and Overcome the Risks
In Part 1 of this article series, I initially started by giving you some of the challenges encountered in change and some of the opportunities. Part of this journey is to recognize that despite your best intentions, despite everything you have done up to this point in time, there are still risks. These could be economic, staff, customers, management, etc. Many things can still create roadblocks in the change journey.
Risk analysis and assessment must therefore be a part of developing and implementing the change strategies. An analysis of what might prevent the organization from reaching these change strategies will help ensure that all roadblocks are allowed to surface and a plan put in place to remove them. Risk analysis includes an identification of the risks together with contingencies to overcome them.
When we think of risks we often use the traditional definition-the risk of something happening, something going wrong, some adverse impact, etc. This way of thinking can paralyze us and so we try to avoid anything that may be perceived to be risky. However, avoiding risk will stifle the change process. If you’ve gotten this far in the change process, don’t let this thinking stop you. Rather, think of risk as a lost opportunity. What are the risks of not moving forward with each change strategy?
One easy way to analyze risk is to use a force field analysis. It is a simple but powerful technique for building an understanding of the forces that will either drive or restrain a proposed change. Where a change strategy has been decided on, force field analysis allows us to look at all the forces for or against the strategy. It is a helpful process to plan for or reduce the impact of the opposing forces and strengthen and reinforce the supporting forces.
The Electra Company Story
The Electra Company’s Project Thunder had their sub-committees analyze each Change Strategy and identify the risks of implementing their strategy and the risks of not implementing it. They thought that this might identify reasons for not moving forward on their strategy. However, they began to realize that the force-field analysis provided them with reasons why a lack of success might exist and therefore what they needed to put into their planning to ensure that these forces did not overcome or prevent their success in the journey.
The sub-committees finished their analysis of each change strategy by completing a cost-benefit analysis. This helped them to recognize that, although there might be some cost in regards to budget, time and/or resources, they were able to also balance these out with what they saw as the benefits of moving forward with their Change Strategy. This analysis ensured that no change strategy was unnecessarily eliminated.
6. Create and Implement the Change Plan
If you don’t have a plan you’ll never know how you’re going to get there. The Change Plan includes identification of the Objectives required to meet each of the Change Strategies and a detailed Action Plan required to meet each identified Objective. It is important to include performance measures that will demonstrate when objectives are achieved to ensure that it is clear when each change strategy and related objective has been met.
Strategies often fail at this stage owing to a lack of detail and too much assumption that people will know what the steps involved are. No Action Plan ever failed because it had too much detail so I encourage you to include more detail than too little.
The Electra Company Story
The project plan to implement each change initiative strategy was actually developed by each sub-committee on Electra Company’s Project Thunder. This would have been too large a task for the Change Steering Committee to do. Besides, they could not have been responsible for implementing all the strategies, only overseeing them. Each project plan included resource requirements. Their successful execution meant that even more employees were engaged in helping to ensure the change strategies were successfully implemented through this journey of change. So in the end, this change process engaged almost 60% of the entire workforce in one way or another, making a dramatic difference to the overall success of the initiative. The original “naysayers” found it hard to complain since so many were involved with the implementation. Even the union president was quite excited by what was happening.
There was one sub-committee that was particularly interesting. They were responsible for the examination of the organization’s structure and determining whether or not it would correctly reflect the change vision that had been developed. This sub-committee had a concern about the outcome of the change initiative because they feared the elimination of jobs if roles became redundant with restructuring. The only way to move them out of this spiral of negativity was to get them thinking outside of the present and into the future tense. And we did this by engaging them in a re-structuring brainstorming exercise.
We asked the sub-committee members to consider this question: “If you had to create a structure for this organization because one didn’t exist, what would it look like?” We explained that they should not concern themselves with thinking about job responsibilities for the positions or who should lead each role-just “big picture” thinking regarding the new organizational structure.
It took them awhile to get into it but they did and in the end created a new structure that actually had two less people than was currently on the management team. So they had to think through how they would best implement this recommendation since the President had promised that there would be no job losses. In the end the sub-committee came up with an acceptable solution by creating new roles to support special initiatives such as special projects, change management leader, etc.
How this Change Initiative Changed Electra Company
What is the result of this change journey so far? The Electra Company has seen reduced stress levels among staff, improved motivation levels, clearer lines of communication, improved productivity, measurable cost savings, improved customer relations and continuous improvement as part of what they just do. They now have the culture in place to manage and thrive through these difficult economic times as they continue through their change journey.
Helping your organization through this rapid change process, and creating a culture to ensure that organizational change is sustained is a major undertaking. But it is one that can reap big rewards in the long run. It may seem daunting to know where to begin. However, the most important first step is just that – to take that first step. Once you do, you will find it will generate excitement and momentum among staff and positive results for the organization. It is a large and exciting process. Even a small initiative can help to demonstrate the possibilities of a more robust effort. In this economy you can’t wait – you must do it now or you may cease to exist.