We coach our clients to take a thoughtful approach to design work and do believe that time spent up front involving people in shaping the future organization accelerates implementation. However, once a new framework is set and the leader announces the change, then speed is critical. The “gray period” is the time of ambiguity between the announcement that the organization will change through when the new organization is up and running. Drawn out transitions reduce executive credibility, staff morale and productivity, and even business results.
We focus our clients on eight organizational change accelerators:
- Use the business strategy as the North Star. Without a clearly defined and articulated business strategy, around which the executive team is aligned, then the change effort can go astray. The business strategy is the North Star. It defines the key capabilities that your future state organization must have in order to support profitable business growth. Organizations that are well-positioned for transformation have not only clearly defined the long-term business strategy, but also generated understanding and commitment to their strategic aspirations, deep within their company. Strategy and capabilities keep everyone focused when hard choices have to be made during the design and transition work.
- Make clear that the status quo is not an option. Be able to articulate why staying “as is” is no longer an option. Have a data-based, strategy-driven case for change with simple, compelling messages that can be readily cascaded and explained by others. Too often we find companies jump right to “why the future place is a better place to move to.” This is a mistake. Start with the reasons why the current state or path is not tenable. As obvious as these may appear to you and the executive team, they oftentimes are not so apparent to key stakeholders (employees, mid-level managers, internal clients and partners) who need to rally around the new thinking. At the same time, make links to the company’s core values and honor past success, so that the change is about building the future, not just fixing the past.
- Be courageous and decisive. If this is not part of your leadership persona, rethink your organization redesign aspirations. Transformation requires leaders who can make timely decisions and convey confidence. Go into design review meetings well informed and with a point of view on key decisions. Once you make a decision, do it with conviction. It may be lonely at times, and you may have doubts in your intended course, but at critical junctures your team needs your leadership. Your organization will take its cues from you. It will either be fueled by your confidence and optimism or paralyzed by your tentativeness. The worst case scenario is that the executive team senses your fear and either tries to wait-you-out or proactively works to shut down the initiative.
- Start with a high-performing executive team. You need an executive team that is committed to delivering the long-term business strategy — a group of people that you trust, trusts one another, and is accustomed to collaborating and making good decisions together. Better to make any changes in role or person ahead of the change, rather than try to drag a critical mass of executives along with you. If you know someone isn’t going to make the journey, make the call early and swiftly. Don’t wait. Determining the top jobs and the people that go into these jobs sends a clear message about the level of change you intend to make. It also ensures that you have the right group, with the right mindset, and level of personal ownership in the new organization that is necessary to quickly move forward. Additionally, it reduces personal anxiety in your leadership ranks and unproductive political jockeying for the “top jobs.”
- Make personal time for the reorganization work. Transformation work is the day job…and it should consume a significant portion of your and the executive team’s calendar. Collectively, you will need to be prepared to make time to evaluate strategic design options (e.g., structure, process), implementation choices (transition sequencing, change management approach), and talent alignment decisions for key positions. This type of work and decisions can’t be delegated. This is the work of the leadership team! This may mean stopping or slowing down other initiatives in order to make capacity for the organization to change, and explaining why to impacted stakeholders outside your organization. A design and transition timeline that drags on due to a lack of executive availability demoralizes the organization.
- Build internal organization effectiveness capability. Strong organization design, project management, and change management capabilities are essential to driving a large-scale organization transformation. While you can buy these capabilities at the beginning of your redesign journey (and many companies do), ultimately you will need to build internal capability in these disciplines to sustain what can be a multi-year transformation effort. If you do work with a consultant, select a partner that is willing to transfer knowledge to your internal teams.
- Pick a strong Transformation Leader. The transformation leader is not the project manager; rather the role is a strategic thought leader and conductor. The Transformation Leader should report directly to the business leader who is spearheading the initiative and be positioned as a peer to the executive team members. For a large change, this is a full time position for the duration of the transformation. The work of this job is to communicate a clear vision of the future state and inspire others to rally around the idea. It requires someone with the organizational and technical skills to direct the necessary resources to tangible deadlines and results. It should be filled with someone who can speak on behalf of the leader. The candidate for this role must have the gravitas to stand toe-to-toe with senior business executives, but also able to orchestrate the operational aspects of the transformation and coach the people executing the work. This is, at all times, the “adult and visionary in the room.”
- Build coalitions of political support. Strong, trusting and influential relationships with your own supervisor and peers is essential. Every reorganization has unpopular aspects. You will need a coalition of colleagues that support your vision of the future and will “have your back” when the going gets tough. Invest time early on to build demand for the enhanced capabilities, efficiencies, or new services your organization will deliver. Then, when other stakeholders complain about standardization or ask for special exceptions you have peers to turn to for support.