Organisational change – common pitfalls to avoid

Very few institutions have averted the need for major change in the past century, as global crises and technological evolutions have reformatted or demolished entire industries. Though change has become more commonplace, effecting changes has not become any easier. 

I’ve helped restructure the operations and business development practices of a number of technology organisations and other service firms. If you have led a change programme or been involved in one; whether that initiative covered your entire business or only a part of its operations, you may have ran into one of these ploys. 


Change comes from the top down 

Nothing alienates professional staff more than leaders stating a change in the organisation’s strategy and operations than being given a new assignment and told, “Make this work.” Usually, when the change initiative is driven from the top, compliance may occur, but seldom will you get buy-in and commitment. 

It’s a fallacy to assume that you can tell staff what the changes are and expect them to just do it. Staff will usually follow directions, at least until there is resistance. However, without continuous training, communication, support, resources and accountability most, if not all, will revert to their former ways. Without commitment, the changes made will not last. 


You can do it yourself 

In most private companies, the owner’s role is usually vague. Sometimes, she or he may undertake any senior-level task or a low-level job that is vacant. Unsurprisingly, then, owners believe they should be the drivers of any change initiative. Much research has shown that they are mistaken. 

The core components of any privately owned business comprises the vision, power, need, ambition, emotional quotient, persona, strengths and weaknesses of its leader(s). These elements are the lens through which organisational change is viewed and the methods used to effect change. 

An inspirational owner will, therefore, seek to assemble the troops toward a new set of goals and achievements. An analytic owner can provide accurate data, comprehensive reports and compelling arguments indicating the importance of changing one course for another. Owners who are “drivers” will try to force everyone to change, using their personality and station to impose compliance. 

An outside expert can bring a different viewpoint, dynamic business ideas and the vigor the change initiative needs to commence. An outside expert can also add an element of guidance that builds trust and effects new behaviours. 


Relying on your industry only 

If you want your business to be mediocre, confine your benchmarks to your industry and competition for insight into your organisation. 

Recently, leading insurance providers have appreciably improved operations by mirroring the manufacturing industry. Since “The Toyota Way” became the premier standard, an increasing number of manufacturers have improved their performance by embracing “lean production systems” in their organisations. Lean is a way of thinking that represents a cultural shift from a top-down to a bottom-up organisational structure. The insurance industry was intrigued and looked externally to adapt processes more aligned with building vehicles than selling insurance. They looked externally to improve internally. Surprisingly, many industries have not followed suit. 


Poor execution 

Let’s say the odds are in your favour and you eluded the first three ploys. Instead of a top-down transformation you gained company-wide support for the changes your business needs. You engaged an objective third-party to assist, and you looked beyond your industry for inventiveness. One important element remains that will improve the probability of your success: Unless people are “owning” and implementing the change, are developed and trained, and then held responsible for their actions, nothing will happen. 

Frequently, the link between innovative ideas and consistent execution is missing. In order to succeed, business owners have to ensure that the environmental factors for example, workforce strategy, performance management, goals and metrics that support a performance culture are in place. Unfortunately, many flop because they don’t define the business objectives, set clear expectations, or provide timely feedback about accomplishment of goals. Tools, resources and training are not provided, and they don’t provide rewards and penalties to guide and instutionalise the desired behaviour. And lastly, they do not ensure that the people “owning” the changes have the required competencies, skills and knowledge needed to embed and sustain change. 

In our current business environment, change is essential therefore, at some point your organisation will have to change. Whether these changes occur gradually, involve your entire operation or are restricted to a few sectors, your attempts will probably fail without dedication, vision and without establishing a firm link of execution and responsibility between your change initiatives and your outcomes.