Delta Partners Management Consultants
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Is Your Organization Ready to Change?

Debra Sunohara

Though it may have been painful, your organization has just gone through a large-scale change initiative.

And now you are starting your next change project, right on the heels of the first one.

Taken together, this just might be too much change for your employees to absorb and implement. Following one change program with another will often create a ‘bunker’ mentality. Employees come to feel that they just have to wait-out the current transition in the hope that all will go back to the status quo. And, while a certain amount of skepticism may be understandable under the circumstances, this attitude does not inspire the trust that leaders need to have in their employees.

Pace of Change

Often the biggest organization-wide challenge is coping with the pace of change. The fact that employees believe many change-related deadlines are artificial suggests a lack of trust in the leadership. One common theme which you may hear is that the organization needs to slow down, prioritize, insulate certain aspects of its ongoing operations, and define and implement the change elements on a more rigorous ‘managed project’ basis.

Almost everyone agrees that ‘letting-go’ can be difficult for an individual, but ‘letting-go’ can be nearly impossible for the organization. When departments are faced with the question, “What are we not going to do any more?” as a result of the change, the answer is most often, “Nothing.” As a result, employees get the impression that more and more workload is being added without a compensating decrease in lower priority activities.

Of course, the problem is often that there is a lack of agreement on priorities among major stakeholders; there is no broader sense of what to let go in a business sense. As a result, the organization doesn’t let go of anything – giving the appearance of adding on with a sense of urgency about everything.

If a number of employees were to be interviewed in your organization, a significant number of them would likely say that people are tired. People have been in transition so long that they are burned out. They need a signal that the crisis is over — and that the sense of constant urgency is not the ‘new normal’.

Organizational Structuring

The structuring and restructuring of roles and responsibilities to align the organization with the new strategy is a key element of transformation. However, the iterative nature of this restructuring only adds to the sense of chaos.

Some managers may even say that they know what their responsibilities are ‘at this hour’, but by ‘tomorrow’ this could change.

There may be a general feeling that the delegation of responsibility is given and removed on an almost ad hoc basis. Employees may feel that the org charts don’t make sense because there has not been any real discussion of processes to support the new vision, and that org charts are designed around individuals – with too much attention given to political trade-offs. This appears to create organizational instability and uncertainty that has a ripple effect on the capacity of mid-level managers to maintain any single direction.

14 Change Readiness Questions

These 14 questions can provide you with an indication of your organization’s change readiness. This is not a ‘pass or fail’ test of transition readiness. If the answer is ‘yes’ to fewer than 10 of these questions, the organization is likely to have a difficult time moving through a transition. The results may be different – and likely less positive – when a deeper sample of the organization is surveyed compared to the opinions of only senior managers.

Yes or No:

  1. Is there a fairly widespread sense that the change is necessary?
  2. Is the change part of a widely understood strategy?
  3. Does the culture of your organization validate the idea of helping employees deal with the problems they encounter or are they pretty much on their own?
  4. Do most people accept that the change is an effective response to the underlying problem?
  5. Does your organization tend to blame people if they make mistakes in a new situation?
  6. Are there people in your organization who have expertise in the handling of change and who could assist others who may need it?
  7. Do people know what it is time to let go of – and why?
  8. Does your organization provide people with adequate training for new situations and roles that it thrusts them into?
  9. Has the change been explained to those who are going to be affected by it in as much detail as is currently possible?
  10. Has the proposed change polarized the workforce in any way that is going to make the transition more disruptive?
  11. Does your organization’s history work in its favour during times of transition?
  12. Is the level of trust in your organization’s leadership adequate?
  13. Has your organization set up some way to monitor the state of the change?
  14. Has a clear set of responsibilities been established for seeing that the human side of the change goes well?

As with any checklist or tool, this is not intended to be an exhaustive and complete list.  Rather, it should provide a starting point as you begin to ask the difficult questions of yourself and your people.  All input is valid, all data is useful.  But it’s up to you – as the “subject matter expert” on your organization – to evaluate the feedback that you receive in the proper context.

What do you think?  Are the questions relevant to your situation?  Did we miss any critical items that you think should be included in the discussion? 

Photo Credit: Lotus Carroll via Compfight cc

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