Anticipating the emotions that leaders are likely to experience during the organization design process is one of the most important skills of an advisor or executive. How people feel about the design and their place in it can make or break the success of the future-state solution. Empathy for your people and an ability to anticipate the highs and lows during the process can accelerate activation of the new design.
What is the Organization Design Energy Gap?
The Organization Design Energy Gap is the expected dip in emotion – uncertainty, fear, confusion, and skepticism – that many leaders feel as they collaborate on an org design initiative. It is most likely to emerge early in the work, when the problems to solve come into sharp focus, but the solution and path forward are still fuzzy. Leaders are beginning to wrestle with difficult questions and new trade-offs, asking themselves, “Will my authority or sphere of influence change?” “How will expectations of me shift?” or “Are we even capable of big change?”
When this normal dip is ignored, organization design initiatives can quickly enter an unproductive spin resulting in long delays, the spread of misinformation or confusion, and ultimately, a loss of momentum. However, when the Energy Gap is handled with intention, advisors and senior leaders can address these real concerns with authenticity and actually accelerate design and activation.
How to Anticipate the Energy Gap
Kickoff: Participants are excited and highly motivated to transform. They have ideas and may feel like the project is not moving fast enough.
Crystallizing the Problem to Solve: As complex root causes of symptoms come into view, mixed feelings start to emerge. While many are enthusiastic about building the new future, others are fearful about how it will impact their work, roles, or autonomy. Some may be nervous about what is uncovered in the assessment work.
Aligning on the Path Forward: This period is usually marked with the potential for further dips as leaders work together to debate changes to the status quo. In many cases, this is the first time that leaders are collaborating to solve for the organization in its entirety. Candid honesty is critical, and some may feel vulnerable having challenging conversations with their peers.
Designing the New Organization: Positive momentum begins as leaders practice collaboration and feel empowered to play an active part in the design process. However, there may be a slight dip in momentum as more individuals are onboarded to the work, challenge decisions, and raise new questions.
Creating the Roadmap for Change: The future organization starts to feel tangible, and those involved have a more solidified view on how the parts will come together. Confidence takes hold as the path forward becomes clear, including priorities for change, plans for implementation, and the formation of new governance forums.
Implementation: This is often the hardest time in the process because the work becomes a marathon and not a sprint. Active attention to the change is required for several months up to two years. As people across the organization begin to feel and experience the changes, fatigue can set in. Old patterns are easy to slip back into.
Addressing the Energy Gap
Executive and org design advisors can work together to guide leaders through the Energy Gap.
- Name it – Acknowledging and legitimizing that these feelings are common, expected, and temporary, keeps leaders focused on successful outcomes rather than their own discomfort.
- Make space for emotion – Lead with empathy and go into the work with an “eyes wide open” mentality. Create room for honest conversation, trust building, listening, questions, and constructive debate. Lead by example by sharing your own discomfort or personal stories related to organization change.
- Be transparent – Whenever possible, share non-negotiable or top-down decisions as they’re made. Provide rationale for decision-making when possible.
- Expand participation – Support those involved in the design to become “change champions” and advocates of the work. Be intentional about identifying those who are skeptical or have the most to lose, and make sure they’re closely involved in the process from the start
Organization design impacts power, status, and authority. Anticipating and planning for the common emotional experiences throughout the journey can ease inevitable anxiety while keeping your team focused on designing the right, future-fit organization.
Mackenzie Luong and Keri Macaluso, Managing Directors, Accenture Operating Model & Organization Design