The 5-minute guide to organisational change

Making significant change in an organisation is easier than you might think.  Here’s some thoughts.

Step zero: Take your ego out of the equation.

You should be performing organisational change to get the best result for the people involved in the situation.  The moment that you start putting yourself in the picture you will start to skew the outcome.  The best result may be that nothing changes – the ego will fight to “leave it’s mark” and this will negatively effect the whole process.

Step one: Find something to work on.

Choose something important – if you choose something insignificant, no-one will show up to help you because no-one cares enough about it.
Find something that is big picture enough to affect a range of people.  If you choose something that involves lots of people then chances are that no-one is focusing on fixing it, everyone will probably be polishing their part of the process in isolation and not looking at the big picture.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew.  Some indicators that something might be a bit big (for now anyway): you are completely unfamiliar with how this process works and who does what; a previous attempt to fix it failed relatively recently; the people involved are too busy to be involved; someone with veto power likes the current practice and will fight attempts to change it.

Step two: Work out who is involved and talk to them about it.

Find out the background to the situation and get your bearings.  Often problems exist because there are aspects to them that aren’t immediately obvious – these are the reasons the pain still exists and you need to find them.
Find out who the influential people in the situation are.  Remember that influencers can be people with organisational power (ie, managers / bosses), people with informal power (ie, “if Bob is ok with it, then so am I”), or people that the process has made powerful (ie, “Jill is the only one that can process these in the system and she’s really picky”).
Meet with the influential people and see how willing they are to look at how well the process is working.  Be very careful not to take sides at this stage – just because some parties are feeling pain doesn’t mean that there isn’t a legitimate reason for it, and coming in with assumptions about the outcome will only make things harder to find a positive outcome.  The primary thing to focus on here is how willing these people are to work with others, to share information and to listen.

Step three: Work out the approach.

For less controversial items, just get everyone in a room, set the scene and then let them talk through it.  For trickier items you might want to meet with everyone individually beforehand to set the scene and to give them a chance to be heard so the main meetings can be smoother.  For items where the power players don’t want to be open, perhaps meeting with some/all of them before the main workshop might be helpful.  Once you believe everyone is willing to attend and be open to what others might have to say, then you’re ready to start the main discussions.
The focus here is to get everyone in a room to talk about it.  Often, the huge pain one person experiences can be averted by someone making a relatively small change.  At first most won’t understand why they should change something they do but hearing what life is like for the other person and how much pain is involved is often enough for them to volunteer to help out.  This approach appeals to people’s good nature and puts them in a position to offer to help rather than be forced into it.
When writing meeting agendas be realistic about time.  Unless the participants work together regularly, people will still need time to form and bond before trust is created and they can work together.  It takes time for people to feel they have been heard and to hear and understand others.  Keep the approach flexible and don’t try to hurry people unless you absolutely have to.

Step four: Have the meetings.

Set the scene for why you have called everyone together and what the approach will be.  Try to follow the agenda and if you can’t, discuss how you should proceed with the group.  Facilitate well and stick to time – a well run meeting will ensure people will attend the next one.
The primary outcome of the meetings are that each person involved understands the challenges that all the others involved face in that scenario.  Once the common understanding is reached, switch to solutioning mode and get the group to talk through possible improvements.  Often these are quite obvious from the earlier discussion and simply gathering these may be enough.  The last step is for everyone to agree what will be implemented.

Step five: Communicate with the wider audience.

If everyone involved in the scenario was at the workshops then there isn’t much do here.
In larger organisations the people in the workshops are normally representatives of other people who are involved in the scenarios discussed.  If this is the case the outcomes need to be communicated so that everyone knows how to proceed and why this is the way things should occur.
It may be that the pain point was that people were required to do something without knowing why, and afterwards they understand there is a good and practical reason for it, so don’t feel so bad having to do it.  Of course, if there are changes then these also need to be communicated out, with an emphasis on why the changes were made and who represented their interests during these discussions.

Step six: Gather feedback

It is always a good idea to solicit feedback around how well the process went as this is the only way for you to improve over time.  This can be as formal as a survey with statistics, or as informal as having a chat over coffee offsite with those involved.

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