6 Ways to Change Your Organisation: A Menu of Choices

“Without the spur of a crisis or a period of great stress, most organisations — like most people — are incapable of changing” John F. McDonnell

In a recent project, we worked with an executive team to develop a range of ‘future options’ for their manufacturing business.  There were a number of constraints…

Simple Roadmap: The project had both organisation and HR elements, including strategy creation, revising the structure, recruitment impacts and so on. The roadmap chosen to explain the change process had to be comprehensive yet simple to understand. Overly complex approaches risk organ rejection – a bit like people voting ‘no’ when they don’t really understand the question e.g. Brexit. This high-performance organisational also needed to be able to ‘flex’ to meet future demands. We needed to keep the focus on high impact (Shark) projects for the organisation.  There’s an upper limit to what can be done and we had to be confident enough to ‘take things off the list’, focusing on big bets that would make a difference.  A change strategy implies choice. You can’t fight a battle on 57 fronts simultaneously. Finally, because a number of initiatives (e.g. self-directed teams) were already in place, there was a risk in boring staff with ‘more of the same.’  The average age of people in the company was 29, so developing an inspiring idea of what we were trying to do would appeal to that particular demographic. To avoid the yawn factor, we needed to communicate this in an imaginative way that grabbed attention and made people want to be part of this.

The Approach: We presented 6 possible ‘change options’. Would any of these help your organization to perform at a higher level?

Option 1: Perfect Plc:  The core idea here is to develop a ‘Perfect’ Organisation. The aspirational title helps people think beyond ‘today’. Perfect Foresight (what the future will look like). Perfect Place to Work (for staff). Perfect Partner (for customers/suppliers). Perfect Place to Invest (for Parent company/shareholders)

Positive Future:  Building a ‘better tomorrow’ is a central idea within all successful change programmes. Under this heading you co-develop the future strategy with the leadership team and staff – developing something that’s emotionally appealing. It’s not just about clarity. You need to ask: How inspiring or exciting is this?  The ‘key questions’ for organizations under this heading include:

What’s the mission/central promise made to customers and staff? How clear is this (both to them and to us)? How well are we performing against this mission? What objective criteria do we have to measure our current performance? What are our key strengths as an organization? What unique capabilities do we have? Why do customers like us? Where are we feeling the most pain and why? What are the big issues that emerge/keep the senior team awake at night? Which areas represent the biggest opportunity to improve performance? Where is the market headed? Are there emerging trends (threats or opportunities) that we need to be mindful of? What’s the level of competition against ‘sister’ plants within the network? Do we ‘anticipate’ any attacks from sister sites? If we were successful in tackling the issues identified, would this improve competitiveness i.e. focused on strategically important (Shark) issues? Is there any dynamic in our management team, which stops us pursuing this agenda – even if this is awkward to discuss?

Prize: In relation to creating a future scenario, it’s often useful to have a positive prize for staff to aim towards e.g. show how some of the savings made might be reinvested in the business or the people.

Option 2: The BIG 6:  All organizations have a range of presenting issues. But only a minority of these are ‘BIG issues’ which will really improve performance. The BIG 6 approach presupposes that you can identity and resolve a small number of key challenges facing the business.

Insurance Company Example: ‘How can we ensure that the brokers are really happy with our service?’ An internal team were tasked with building a ‘broker engagement strategy’ including checking existing assumptions: How does the existing relationship with brokers work? Are all brokers similar or are some more loyal than others? In a future scenario, how strongly will brokers feature? Is the market moving to a low-cost model, where people have less loyalty to the brand and are influenced by price only? Should we think about a differentiated segmentation strategy whereby business customers continue to work through brokers and personal customers work directly with us? Should we move away from brokers altogether and set up a direct insurance ‘white-collar factory’ model for both business and personal customers?

Positive Statements: This approach needs careful thought before you develop initiative. Once the key challenges are selected, it’s often helpful to ‘frame’ these as a set of positive statements e.g.

How do we deliver superb customer service to differentiate our offering in the marketplace? How do we re-energize/re-engage the employee teams? How do we ensure that the senior team anticipates the future/inspires confidence? How do we exploit existing/emerging technology to make us ‘easier to do business with’? How could we reduce labour turnover to < 2% in the next 12 months?

Option 3: Process Reengineering:Q: To what extent do you need to ‘smarten’ internal processes?  While there is some genius in the detail around how this is done, the basic idea is simple.  Key processes are mapped  (historically on ‘brown paper’  – now using specialized software).  A review of these maps indicates the most likely areas of cost savings (process redesign, simplification or both).  There are two upsides of this approach.  Firstly, the gains made are completely measureable/quantifiable. It’s easy to capture a ‘before’ and ‘after’ shot of what’s happened.  Secondly, the process is quick. Re-engineering gains can normally be achieved over a 12-week period.

Workout Programme: Process re-engineering lends itself to involving people at lower levels in the organization. Probably the best-known example is the ‘Workout’ model used extensively in General Electric. Initially launched as a war against non-value-added activity, GE trained all staff in the removal of non-productive processes and the overall programme was labelled Workout. The idea is built on a number of underlying principles…

*Empowerment starts with trust. Performance data is shared with the workforce. *Treat staff as the experts they are; no one knows more about a process than the people working on it everyday. *Use process tools/discipline: This work requires a full re-skilling of the workforce – giving them access to engineering skills and process disciplines more typically associated with ‘graduate level’ positions. *A high % of recommendations don’t cost much to deliver. *While not every employee-led suggestion leads to breakthrough performance, small steps add up to large gains.

Evolutionary Change: Some of the other approaches to change are ‘revolutionary’ i.e. BIG BANG changes, radical overhauls of existing systems, the organisational equivalent of the TV programme ‘Extreme Makeover’ where a house gets knocked down and completely rebuilt.   In contrast, a Process Re-engineering or Workout initiative is often a series of small evolutionary steps – a renovation strategy rather than a complete new build.

Option 4: Cultural Change: The shorthand definition of culture is “the way things are done around here.”  How does this work in practice?

#1: Culture Mapping: The concept of organization culture comes from anthropology. A consultant attempting to understand the culture in Google is on a similar mission to an anthropologist looking at the Fulani tribe in Nigeria. Step 1 = establish the key beliefs in the existing culture (usually less than 6). This can also be ‘proved’ in the negative i.e. what’s not important in the culture? Key Questions:

*What are 3-5 ‘key beliefs’ which people in this organization share? What words or phrases best describe these? *How were you made aware of these (written format, stories, part of a formal induction, celebrations, creation of heroes etc)? *How do these underlying values/beliefs shape the way that employees behave on a day-to-day basis? *What ‘evidence’ do you have for the above? (stories you’ve heard; examples which you experienced or witnessed) *What ‘works well’ in the existing culture? For example, how much has the culture valued customers? *How much has the culture valued employees?  Describe this? *Has the culture valued stockholders/financial performance? *Has the culture changed over the past 5 years and why? Have some long-standing traditions been abandoned? *Do you think that the existing culture has helped or hurt economic performance over the past number of years? *What negative elements in the culture would you change?

#2: Future Proofing: Sometimes organizations are clear on what they want to ‘change’ but less certain about what they want to ‘become’. What will a better tomorrow look like? It’s not possible to change the entire culture; that doesn’t make sense. Culture is built over time. It’s normally either the shadow of a strong leader (Hewlett Packard & Ryanair are good examples) or the result of the organization learning to survive in a particular environment over time. These issues are deeply embedded into the DNA of the organization and can’t simply be thrown overboard. In reality changing an organization culture is really an effort to modify some elements while keeping others (the ‘trick’ is to know what to focus on).

#3: Behaviour Modification: The final stage is to change people’s behaviour. While ‘Behaviour Modification’ may sound like a social science experiment –  that’s exactly what all leaders are engaged in.  Assuming you have solid ideas about the ‘new culture’, several levers are available to push people towards this (Performance Management; Engagement; Rewards; Rituals; Storytelling  – are the most potent).

Option 5: Cause Marketing: Some companies ‘choose’ an external marketing or Corporate Social Responsibility agenda in order to ensure that the company stands for something positive.  This can be a simple sponsorship arrangement like RSA Insurance & the Irish Cricket Team or Guinness sponsoring Hurling within the GAA.

Product Links: In more recent times, the issue of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (CSR) is often linked to the core product e.g. the Dove campaign for Real Beauty is a way for women everywhere to identify with the company’s products.  Closer to home, AIB sponsored the ‘Better Ireland’ awards – which gave them a presence in local communities (a good fit with a business that’s located in most local communities). Some of the German discount supermarkets are now travelling this route.

Cause Célèbre: Is there any community/external cause, which would provide a solid affinity with your brand?  Normally, this idea is not ‘comprehensive enough’ to build an entire change plan around it – but it can be part of a wider programme. One of the upsides of CSR is that it allows employees to feel that the company stands for something important/noble – rather than just profitability.

Active Involvement: Some companies allow the staff to ‘choose’ a cause – often related to something internal e.g. someone may have a child or a family member with a particular medical condition.

Option 6: Revitalised Values: Some companies use their stated Values as a way to bring about internal changes. For example, one financial services company published the following set of values (it’s almost a war-cry’ for change)…

a. Action Bias: Speed pace/urgency/do-it-now: we need to compete on ‘time’ driven through smart processes (e.g. pre-approved credit decisions).  Develop a ‘bureaucracy busting mentality’ and make the ‘compliance agenda’ more manageable.  Build quality into our processes — not policing at end of the line.

b. Customer Value: Customer intimacy = a historical strength.  Need to maintain integrity and empathy.  Future focus to move to ‘total solutions’ plus service (including both cost and transparency). Our people are the Brand; ‘Real differentiation’ is how our people engage with customers and how we enable this.

c. High Performance Teams: Our model of high performance teams needs to be centrally driven through all businesses with supporting rituals.  Execution excellence = new core competence. We each need to deliver i.e. no tolerance for spectators on the pitch.   Leveraging synergy within and between businesses (maximum separation + optimum co-operation).  Disallow game playing. Unmatched talent spotting and grooming system for ‘tomorrows leaders’.

d. Innovation: Encourage creativity at all organisational levels, supported by technology (organisational knowledge, database/learning), training in innovation and rewards. Need to develop a number of innovation rituals to support this e.g. ‘shake the tree’ events.

e. Growth: Size matters!  No business ‘shrinks to greatness’. Yesterday + 10% is not enough. Move from ‘beat budget’ to ‘beat competitors.’  Stretch goals for each area of the business.  Turn historical pride in working for the company into an energised search for growth.

Practices Interrogation: An organisation uses these stated values to ‘interrogate’ and amend the existing working methods within the company.

Before you launch an organisation change initiative – put some thought into the exact method you are going to choose.  Why? Because, launching a change initiative that subsequently fails is a costly and frustrating exercise.  I should know – having been involved in many organisation change initiatives that didn’t produce any (sustainable) organisation change. Like a good carpenter – you ‘measure twice and cut once’.   Don’t jump into the cutting phase before you understand exactly what you are trying to do.


PS Lighter Notes: Important New Words for 2019

*TESTICULATING: Waving your arms around and talking bollocks.

Sitting round in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed and who was responsible.

The experience of spending an entire day swimming upstream only to get screwed and die.

An office filled with cubicles.

When someone yells or drops something loudly in a cube farm and people’s heads pop up over the walls to see what’s going on.

The art of whacking the crap out of an electronic device to get it to work again.

Minuscule fraction of time during which you realize that you’ve just made a BIG mistake e.g. hit ‘reply all’ button with your comments about the boss.

*MONKEY BATH: A bath so hot, that when lowering yourself in, you go: ‘Oo! Oo! Oo! Aa! Aa! Aa!’.

 The bus that arrives at the pub on Friday night while you’re in the toilet after your 10th pint and whisks away all the unattractive people so the pub is suddenly packed with stunners.

Couple of one-liners to kick start your week…

There’s a fine line between hyphenated words

There’s a gang going through our town, systematically shoplifting clothes in size order.  The Gardai believe they are still at Large.

At what age is it appropriate to tell my dogs they are adopted?

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.



About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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