What is Organizational Change, and How Should Change Leaders Lead Transformations?

What is Organizational Change, and How Should Change Leaders Lead Transformations?
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As a leader of change, there is one overarching objective that defines your role: Turning separate initiatives into an integrated program of change.

Unfortunately, most change initiatives fail due to a lack of direction. Companies are so focused on radically transforming company processes, they fail to acknowledge their team’s inability to transform quickly.

Change takes time, and your strategy should reflect this ideology. When change is rushed, it is more likely to be resisted on an organizational level. This is a stark contrast to when change is gradually introduced, and staff are given time to adjust accordingly.

Change isn’t black and white, so there are various opinions on how change should be implemented. The influx of buzz terms doesn’t help, where people are often left wondering what is organizational change?

The chaos of change can rear its ugly head at any moment, especially when left unresolved.

We need to be having the right conversations, where change plans are evaluated, discussed, and implemented as a working progress. A shared framework is advantageous, so activities and responsibilities can be structured.

This should align with principles about ‘natural laws’, which govern organizational transformations.

These are necessary for successful conversions, playing a critical role in developing an integrated change program.

To help you on route to becoming the best change leader you can be, here are some top points to consider. These will shift your focus from asking the simple question what is organizational change, to discovering what you can do from a practical perspective.

Axes of Change

No single type of change is sufficient to bring about acceptable levels of performance. What’s more important is you can observe change from an all-encompassing perspective.

Though every company’s approach is unique, the most successful programs develop points of view based on three key initiatives.

When any one of these is absent, the change process is more likely to fail. A common mistake is the amalgamation of different initiatives that don’t preference the three key axes of change. Poor results are expected when these aren’t considered:

  • Top-Down Direction Setting
  • Broad-Based, Bottom-Up program of change
  • Cross-Functional Core Process Redesign

These three comprise a ‘transformation triangle’, which can collectively be leveraged into a coherent program. Each axis is necessary, so let’s assess them in greater detail to provide clarity:

Top Down

Successful transformations start with a clear, consistent vision from executives. As a leader, you should clarify priorities, communicate optimism, and actively involve staff with change initiatives.

Influencing the behavior of staff is a critical part of the process, with everything from themes and visions to new measures and objectives.

No single initiative will unfreeze and redirect an organization, rather a united combination of principles. What’s most important is consistency among initiatives, while continuously refining their potency.

It’s common to start with very broad objectives, but this is often a recipe for disaster. Instead, clarity and specificity in a top-down direction will ensure you’re collectively inspired to change.

It’s OK to start broadly, but only if you’re looking to quickly sharpen your objectives. Lead by example with a focus on meeting customer needs, while reshaping operational requirements.

This will help align change efforts with your ultimate goal. For example, you could synchronize your entire workforce by having executives redesign training schedules, while frontline staff address execution problems.

Bottom Up

It’s never as simple as telling employees what you want from them, and hoping they’re willing to follow. This can breed confusion and resistance.

Instead, it’s necessary to actively involve staff by encouraging them to think creatively and improve performance.

This can be achieved with the following steps:

  • Set goals
  • Determine Gaps
  • Understand Root Causes
  • Brainstorm
  • Monitor Results
  • Make Adjustments

This create a continuous improvement cycle, which should preference an all-inclusive approach where staff contribute to change processes. Every initiative should be tailored to specific challenges, skills, and cultural aspirations.

Team-based problem solving is complex, and though you’ll experience teething problems, be patient and you’ll notice progress.

Momentum will build when change is supported organization-wide, and continuous improvement will become a real possibility. A bottom-up approach is most effective because you’ll be tapping into the brains and energy of many.

Core Process

Some opportunities for improvement only exist from a cross-functional core process redesign perspective. This is where people, activities, and information are interlinked.

This seeks to produce dramatic improvements in cost, quality, and time, by shifting the focus of work and decision making to various departments. This allows the most competent staff available to make relevant decisions.

All companies have a few core processes they deliver on, which is their main source of value to customers.

By honing in on core competencies, organizations can drive value and competitive differentiation, which is necessary for changing organizational structure and enhancing performance.

When combined, these three critical considerations are groundbreaking, and function to sway your thinking from the simplistic question of what is organizational change. Instead, you’ll be combining three valid thinking points to instigate real change as a true leader.

Christopher Smith
Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.
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