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Organizational Change: Five Concepts Every Leader Must Know By Mark Hannum

November 8, 2012

Organizational change efforts are often long, laborious, emotional, and circuitous. And to be successful, leader(s) of any organizational change effort—from process reengineering efforts, to succession planning, to reorganizations—must understand the basics of how successful change happens. Here’s what you need to know to get started:

Know where you are headed
Whether it is a leadership development effort, a change or transformation effort, or a team intervention, there should be a basic purpose you are trying to achieve through the success of the intervention. This is not merely a series of characteristics describing the future. The purpose you are trying to achieve needs to be inspirational to drive the energy into the organization—energy needed to overcome the inertia of the current state of the organization. The organization wants and needs to accomplish something bigger and better than itself.

Every change an organization needs to make does not demand saving the world, but the purpose of every project has to have an emotional hook for people to connect with and understand. A purpose statement for the project needs to signal to people that the project is being done for the right reasons, for the right benefits.

Check your prescription lenses
The prism or lens you wear colors all that you see and do—these lenses form your assumptions and judgments—and many of us forget that we are wearing these lenses. For most of us, the lenses we wear tell us to work in organizations in a manner that creates ownership, commitment and free choice. Given the choice between implementing a system using an autocratic style and a democratic style, we, organization development types are most likely to recommend the latter. It’s critical to understand what kind of lenses you are wearing when listening and mirroring back information to your clients. Many interventions jump straight to the assumption that the solution requires some sort of training or development intervention, but that isn’t always the best solution.

Several years ago, an organization asked me to help them improve their decision-making systems in order to reduce the way the bureaucracy watered down the positive impact of the decisions. My and my client’s (the head of HR) lenses told us that training was the answer. However, the executive in charge of the entire project thought about it and instead decided to change the rules of the decision making game by mandating all requests up to a certain dollar impact have peer consensus and only one management signature for approval. The original problem anchored our thinking around a solution.

Set up the problem and opportunity frame
All change starts with an opportunity to be taken advantage of or a problem to be solved. For example, leadership development efforts are generally trying to solve a problem within an organization such as lack of growth, poor expense management, new technology, globalization, a weak leadership pipeline, retention problems, etc. Someone, however, has to notice that there is a problem or an opportunity. Herein lies the first and most important issue: How well will the organization receive the news of the opportunity or the problem?

The “passionate champion,” as I call the individual who comes up with the idea that there is a problem or an opportunity, needs to spend time in conversation with others, either formally or informally, to build and refine their idea. This individual’s job is essential; they are cutting through the organization to get to real issues and real problems. The type of conversation required to discuss real issues and real problems generally doesn’t occur in organizations. Passionate champions need to find ways to have conversations that bring the issues out of hiding and create new paths to solutions. These conversations, which we call “powerful conversations,” can take many forms—from philosophical sessions to brainstorming. Out of these conversations come the members of a small, passionate cabal plotting a new and different order of things. This new team, which could be considered a “hot” team, builds momentum for its ideas and eventually seeks the sanction of the organization.

Leverage a consultant or a team of consultants
The change effort, at this point, is now just a gleam in the eyes of a few passionate champions. Soon, it will become a legitimate effort on the part of the organization, and when it does, it will often require the assistance of an internal or external OD consultant, or team of consultants. The effort will require process, communication, logistics support, decision-making, conflict management, and measurement.
Substantial change requires a coach. The role of the OD consultant is to coach the organization, the teams, and the individuals through the process of change.

Manage the logistics
Controlling the minor details involved in a medium or large project can be a time-consuming hassle. Scheduling meetings, interviews, work teams, producing minutes, arranging rooms, editing communications, and presentations are hard work. On a large project, four or five people can be consumed by these activities. Organize these activities with real focus. Getting these details wrong can sink you.
But these are only the basics. Our next installment in Mark Hannum’s discussion of organizational change will drill down further into the 10 indicators of clear change.

So, let’s hear it. How are you and your organization dealing with change? Have you been tripped up by overlooking one the basics? Are you clear on where you want to go? Are you too close to the problem/opportunity? Who are your “passionate champions”?

About Mark:
Mark Hannum

Mark Hannum is a Principal Consultant at Linkage. He has over twenty years of experience in organization and leadership development, coaching, competency modeling, and executive team building and alignment. Mark’s skilled leadership and innovation has resulted in the successful implementation of many organizational design projects with client mergers and acquisitions. He is also a frequent featured speaker at many training and education events.

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