Changes seem trendy these days. People are investing in personal growth, sweating in gyms to sculpt their bodies, whitening their teeth, and the list goes on. While some of the efforts are certainly beneficial, we often waste energy on ‘attainments’ that are – sorry to say – essentially useless. I doubt it is any different with organizations.
So, what is a meaningful change, when is it really needed, and how to trigger and carry it out? To be honest, I do not have the full answer but as someone who has been entrusted with coordinating the CEF’s organizational changes, I have learned a few valuable lessons. Though the process is not yet finished and it actually never is (lesson number one!), I have decided to share my learning anyway.
Realizing the need
The theory says that in any organizational change effort, the leaders of change, usually the management, differ from change participants, the employees. The initial task of the change leaders is to persuasively communicate the need for change across the institution and to important outside players. Getting people on board is often easier said than done and smart communication becomes essential for building the momentum. The best tool for getting the ‘we need to change now’ message across is a compelling and easy-to-communicate vision that individuals can relate to.
From what I have observed at the CEF so far, I confirm that this theory is right. The need for change in our institution was communicated through an exercise jointly carried out by the CEF executive team and the staff. The management drafted an analysis, looking into the essential elements of organizational performance, such as programming capacity and governance arrangements, and later solicited feedback from the staff.
The institution-wide effort revealed areas requiring attention and already offered first suggestions for addressing them – the vision of desired end state. The consensus for change was broad, evidence based, and clearly communicated.
Make a plan
The theory continues, of course. Realizing the need for change is only the first step and far from sufficient to bring about the actual change. The vision must be transformed into a concrete strategy with a road map describing how to get there. As such endeavors are rarely a ‘smooth sailing’ operation, we also need to understand possible obstacles on the way and have measures for overcoming them ready. Chances of staying on the course are further increased, if a person or a team is mandated for carrying out the plan.
The CEF’s example again confirms the theory. The conclusions of the CEF’s analysis served as a basis for identifying several change areas requiring new or improved organizational capabilities. The executive team later mandated a program manager to coordinate the establishment of twelve project teams, each tasked with drafting a concrete change project. The aim of the still ongoing effort is to map out individual paths bringing about the desired changes, along with identification of risks, potential benefits and estimated costs.
Assure support and overcome resistance
Even though change is nowadays trendy, individuals in organizations might resist it for a variety of reasons, some justifiable and some not. Though criticism is potentially productive, change leaders need to deal with it before it becomes destructive and results in shattered morale and wasted resources.
Since our current change projects are in the drafting stage, I cannot say much about their successfulness. Judging from previous iterations though, success is expected. Like the theory advocates, the CEF’s mitigation strategy for managing resistance to change has been in encouraging broad staff participation in every stage of the process, along with strong management support and commitment on the top. Much better, I would say, than creating a sense of urgency and/or a shock which is the other tactics the theory finds.
I am looking forward to the upcoming weeks and months to see how the CEF’s change process unfolds and to the awaiting learning and insights ahead. Then, I might be able to give a more comprehensive answer to what changes are really all about.
- Senior, B. & Fleming, J., 2006. Organizational Change. 3rd ed. England: Pearson Education.
- Fernandez, S. & Rainey H. G., 2006. Managing Successful Organizational Change in the Public Sector. Public Administration Review, March April 2006, 168 – 176.