I was organizing my junk drawer. It’s the drawer where I put small things I don’t know what to do with, but I don’t want to throw out. The first thing I did was to take everything out. Then I began to sort and categorize the items. It struck me, that as humans we are hard-wired to categorize.
We categorize almost everything. It could be the items in a junk drawer, the foods we eat, people, events, and even our experiences.
This sorting helps us to learn and keep us safe. We make decisions based on how we organize and group information and it defines the way we interact with our environment. So, it’s not surprising that we have a natural tendency to categorize our organizational change efforts.
Categorizing Organizational Change
There are many ways to categorize organizational changes. We can group them based on whether the change was intentional or unintentional. For example, implementing that new payroll system as part of your strategic vision would be an intentional change. Setting up your entire workforce to work from home because of a global pandemic would be unintentional or unanticipated change.
We also categorize and label organizational changes based on our perception of their size and impact on the organization and the people affected.
Transformational changes tend to be those changes viewed as larger and more complex. They are intended to reshape your organization, often involve multiple departments and people at different levels of the organization. For example, creating and implementing a new performance management system or redefining your core business and service delivery model.
Small or incremental changes such as those believed to only affect a few people or one department are sometimes called transactional. These types of changes often don’t fit an organization’s criteria for a project. For example, introducing a new team leader to an established team, a routine update to existing software.
Defining the type of organizational change will help you define the scope of the change event. Categorizing your change initiatives also helps you identify the resources, time and level of support needed to enable adoption. However, it also creates three blind spots.
Three Blind Spots When Launching Change
These blind spots undermine the launch and foundation of your change effort. They also sabotage future change efforts and decrease your organization’s capacity to handle future changes.
- Assessing the size and complexity of the change initiative on your perception of the change event and transition.
I have worked with many leaders who launched what they thought was a small change, only to be surprised when the change-recipients responded as if it were a radical shift for the organization.
The true impact and size of any transition can only be determined by the people who need to do the work to adopt the new activities and behaviours.
Almost every organizational change appears smaller and easier the higher your view of the organization.
- The failure to recognize that every change is interconnected then managing each change initiative as an isolated project.
Every change will send ripples through other areas of your organization. That’s why all the changes regardless of their size, whether they were intentional or unexpected need to be launched within the context of the current operation and other changes within the organization.
Your risk of a successful change in one area negatively impacting another area of the organization increases when changes are launched in isolation of the larger organization. In our Living and Leading Change Management Certificate course leaders use a holistic system thinking assessment to evaluate this risk.
- The belief small changes or changes that are needed because of an expected event don’t need a change management plan. Every change regardless of its size, whether it was anticipated or not requires planning.
A poorly launched transactional change is as destructive to your organization as a poorly planned transformational change. Death by one thousand paper cuts is still death, it just takes longer and hurts more.
Planning is one key to re-stabilizing quickly after an expected change event has occurred.
Overcoming these blind spots with the practice of change management
You can avoid these blind spots when you practice change management. When you practice change management you embed the essential elements of change and an understanding of the human response to change into your all of leadership and management practices.
The benefits of practicing instead of doing change management are:
- You gain the value of change management across all your organizational change efforts
- You can use the success of small and unanticipated changes to support transformational changes
- You build people readiness and resilience for the current and future changes
- You build organizational change capability.
Getting your changes organized can be challenging, let us help.