Move beyond implementation and enable healthy organizational change
Dr. Dawn-Marie Turner
When we talk about any organizational change event whether it’s new technology and process, introducing a new product line, or hiring a new team leader, the conversation almost always centres around return on investment and a successful implementation. There is no doubt these are important and necessary, but they don’t tell the whole story.
With the clients I work with we expand the conversation. In addition to talking about the successful implementation of change we talk about the integration of healthy organizational change. Why? Because to achieve real success and get a lasting return on your investment at the core of every organizational change must be the desire to improve the health of your organization. Improving organizational health includes the health of your bottom line, the quality of the services or products you deliver and the engagement and commitment of your employees.
In Launch Lead Live I talk about the need for successful and sustainable change. For me successful and sustainable change means creating a healthier stronger organization.
Six Characteristics of Healthy Organizational Change
Over the past several years I have identified six characteristics of healthy organizational change.
The characteristics are both qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative characteristics can be more difficult to measure, but are critical to your success. Your organization is created and maintained on more than your numbers. You can’t measure the success of your organization or any change simply by the numbers.
Here are my six characteristics of healthy organizational change:
1. The specific need for the organizational change is real, understood, and meaningful to the change-recipients
Change for the sake of change hurts your organization. Worse is faux change. Faux change is change for the sake of the changer. Healthy organizational change ensures the need for change has been thoroughly and holistically assessed. It also ensures the level of change proposed aligns with the need. The authors of “The Darkside of Change” point out, in an era of constant innovation it’s easy to feel the pressure to launch a major transformation when a minor course correction would be sufficient. Healthy organizational change also ensures the need is understood and meaningful for change-recipients.
2. Adoption has been achieved
The difference between adoption of a new state and adaptation is one of sustainability.
When we adapt to a new situation we hold out the hope that things will go back to the way they were. We create work arounds to make the new process, technology or environment work, look, or feel like the old one. One example of adaptation versus adoption came from a participant in a Living and Leading Change course. We were talking about a reorganization when the participant shared she had adapted to her reorganization. She was doing things like she always had just under a different department’s name. Her rationale was her belief the company would realize the department was in the wrong place and reorganize again.
When we adopt the new situation it becomes the normal way. We stop looking for a way to go back. We are fully committed to living in the new environment. Healthy organizational change focuses on the activities, time and conditions needed to enable adoption of the new environment.
3. Change capability is increased
One thing every leader agrees on is that whatever changes are needed today, they won’t be the last for the organization. Therefore it’s essential that every change you undertake in your organization increase your organization and your employees’ capability to succeed with the next one.
There is no value in changes that are going to make your organization sick down the road. You may think—well that’s obvious. The sad news is I still hear leaders talk about successful change as simply getting something implemented. In some instances even bragging about the trail of debris left behind. A kind of “you’re either with us or against us mentality.” Research found that almost one third of change initiatives made the situation worse instead of better. Healthy organizational change focuses on building long term change capability.
4. People demonstrate a high level of readiness toward the change
At every course, client engagement or speaking event I am asked about how to manage resistance to change. My short answer is always to stop managing it. Ironically it may be your attempt to manage resistance that sabotages your change efforts. There is a common, but erroneous belief that people resist change. The problem with this belief is it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In order to manage resistance it must first be created.
A much more powerful approach is to build readiness. People with high levels of readiness feel prepared, supported, and capable of making the transition. They don’t resist, they move toward the new situation. Healthy organizational change focuses on preparing and supporting people to create the readiness needed to navigate through the process.
5. People experience limited stress
Almost everyone, even me, laments about the discomfort of change. There’s good reason for this – change is uncomfortable. John Maxwell in his book, “Thinking for a Change”, reminds us that if change doesn’t feel awkward or uncomfortable it probably isn’t really a change.
Change is any event that pushes, facilitates, enables or requires us to move outside or beyond our current comfort zone. Every change creates tension between our comfort and familiarity with the current state, and our discomfort and unfamiliarity of the unknown new state. It is in this tension we create the stress necessary for change. At this critical point where new meets old you have the chance to excite people with the prospect of the new opportunities or paralyze them with the fear of uncertainty.
Healthy change focuses on creating only enough stress to facilitate and encourage movement away from the current state and not so much that people feel dis-stress.
6. People feel actively involved
I still hear leaders talk as if involvement of the people affected is optional. It’s not. The people impacted by any change you decide to implement are involved. Your approach will determine whether they are involved passively or actively in maintaining the current state or in adopting the new state.
Active involvement doesn’t mean that every employee or person affected makes every decision. It does mean there is a structure to enable involvement, and an active role for them as they navigate the Whitespace. Similar to the way your daily operation has a structure. Each person within your operational structure plays an active role in helping your organization deliver its service or product.
Healthy organizational change focuses on ensuring the structures, processes, and supports are in place for people to be actively involved in making the new, the normal. When healthy organizational change is your goal the people affected feel included. They don’t feel like the change is being done to them.
Change is a necessary part of your organization’s evolution. When your goal is healthy organizational change you enable people to develop the skills needed to move through change with you. Your organization is able to grow stronger, more productive, and prosperous because of change and not simply survive in spite of it.