How to successfully change an organization?

The first thing you have to have in your mind is that you can’t control the impact of the change or the results. The only thing that you can do is to start a change. Understanding this simple fact help to save frustration and should help you to be prepared for a long journey that will eventually take you somewhere around where you wanted, but never precisely to what you envisioned. The saying “the enemy of the good is perfect” is perfectly match changing organizations.

The second assumption that you should have in mind is that the classical Organization Design (OD) mantra that people don’t like changes and therefore changes are hard is in bold southern language – bullshit! People are afraid of changes, that is true, but people want changes. Otherwise, it is tough to explain industries that help people to change themselves and become something that they want. It is true that people expect something outside of them to happen and make the change for them. But, people want to change! They afraid of it and have misconceptions how to do the change.

Change is not hard to start or to execute; what is hard is to know what will be the results of the change. To get somewhere around what you have in mind you need to be persistent and open to understand that any change (even if it ends with results you don’t like) impact both you and the group, so you might need to pivot as well during your journey.

In my post on “Understand why Management systems are so crucial for business success”, I introduce a model that depicts how elements in an organization are impacting each other. We can use this model to discuss the effectiveness, effort and success rate of different strategies for change.

Changing the management system will guarantee a quick change with better odds to achieve what you had in mind. Changing management system, on the other hand, will take a lot of effort. This strategy is the most ambitious effort, but with the highest probability to drive the change that you are after. Changing management system is addressing the core of any organization; therefore it is a change that impacts the cause of what you are trying to change, not to the symptoms.

Changing the organization structure is also bringing fast results with less effort. The disadvantage is that you are changing a symptom, so what you are trying to fix will raise its ugly head again. Since you are trying to resolve a symptom the odds that you are going to get the change that you after are slimmer.

Changing just the people without starting at the management system and structure to achieve organizational change is the longest process with a low chance to get the change done. The main disadvantage of this strategy is that when some variation of the desired change is in place, there are already other changes that you are after. In a business environment that required to change fast, this option is merely irrelevant. This strategy is the most common one. It is common because it used to be a good fit for organizations when the pace of changes in business was very slow.

Changing culture is delusion! It is like trying to change the shadow of an object on a wall. The only way to change the shadow is by changing the object. Many time the shadow of what you see does not even resemble the object that creates the shadow. The light and the light angle will do their magic. The shape that responsible for companies culture is the company structure. The light that impacts what you see is people. The management system influences both people and structure. You can’t change culture directly! The only way to do it is by changing people, structure and management system.

After you realize where you want to start your change, the main ingredient for success is a shared goal or a purpose. Goals need to be bigger than any individual goals. More significant in terms of how it is going to contribute to society and bigger in terms of what it will give people who are pursuing the goal. Making someone reach, impressive title, better parking spot and any other intrinsic goal won’t work. To be honest enough if you don’t have such a goal, don’t start the change. Without a goal, what you are trying to change and why?

After you have the goal, set expectations with the change, and choose where to start, you must find a way how the people that are going to be impacted by the change will define the change and execute it. Once people have a goal, they decided how to reach it, and they are executing their decisions and planning; nothing will stop them from reaching the goal. Again, it is not that people don’t like changes; people don’t like changes imposed on them.

To sum it up, People want to change. You need to supply them a goal and make them in charge of the change. You need to understand that you’ll never reach exactly what you are after. Last but not least understand which option works for you the best and start with your chosen strategy.

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