Organizational Change

by Dan Blank on July 9, 2010

Let’s say you need to move your business in a new direction. You are hoping the evolve the skillset of your staff, revamp your product and service lineup, and find new ways to partner with those in your industry.

So you’ve done a lot of research, worked through many different strategy ideas, analyzed the technological systems requires to make this change, and come up with a vision for your future. Maybe you’ve even created a PowerPoint presentation to communicate this change, and scheduled a roadshow to meet with each group in your company to get them on board.

But now, you are a few months into the shift, and finding it tougher to affect change. System rollouts are progressing, senior leadership has been working with you to revamp product and sales offerings, and others in your industry are impressed with your vision. And yet, the change comes more slowly than you would like, and at every turn, you find an entrenched business practice, a team that isn’t developing as you had hoped – a ship that can’t turn.

Organizational change is hard. It requires more than just the proper systems, technological savvy and strategic direction. Why? Because it’s easy to get a room full of 100 people to clap at a PowerPoint, but difficult to align and balance the needs, fears, motivations, and skills of those 100 people.

Sure, we try to pretend that this doesn’t exist. That every employee isn’t motivated by logic alone, but perhaps some deeper human emotions. I don’t mean that anyone has any ill-will, just that human beings are a funny bunch. And shoving them into a gray cubes and asking them to drink the PowerPoint Kool-Aid doesn’t always have the intended results.

Below are some ideas to help organizational change. I’ve utilized quite a few ideas I’ve heard from Simon Sinek, I highly recommend his book and blog.

  • People Want Something To Believe In
    It’s true. Do you think that every mechanic is motivated by the repair sheet for your carburetor? Many believe in the value of machines, or transportation, or in problem-solving, or in customer service. Their motivation may go much deeper than the specific project in front of them.

    Michael Arrington shared a great quote: "It’s completely clear that humans need a mission to accomplish to be happy."

    How do specific tactics (eg: attend training on this new content management system) align to a larger purpose? Telling people they have to, or that it will have new features, or save 15 minutes a day may not be enough to motivate them. Getting them excited about being a part of a revolutionary shift in publishing and journalism just may.

    And it that doesn’t work, tell them that this is how The New York Times does it. Or whoever they want to align themselves to. Because we all have heroes, we all have a vision of who we are that not everyone can see. When you help your employees make those visions a reality, you have given them the life they dreamed of having.

  • People Want To Be Involved, Not Managed
    That’s a quote I heard from Simon Sinek this week, and it’s so true. Maybe you did sit in a room with a few other managers and work out the PERFECT strategy, the PERFECT system, and the PERFECT way to get from zero to sixty as quickly as possible. Well, your project rollout shouldn’t begin until you make everyone feel involved, not just managed.

    An email announcing a shift in strategy or a new system they have to learn – that is not enough. Make the staff feel a part of the process. Even if you can’t integrate everyone’s ideas, at least give them the opportunity – the feeling – that they are involved in shaping the future. Everyone wants to be Willy Wonka. Nobody wants to be an Ooompah Loompah.

  • Make It Seem Like Their Idea
    Sure, to motivate an audience, you must listen before you tell. But things tend to work when you make a group think that the path forward was actually there idea. This is not some form of trickery either, it actually helps you ensure you are not just "listening," but ACTING on what you are hearing.

    Don’t worry about who gets the credit. When you allow people to feel as though the idea is coming from them, and benefits them, then yes you share the credit, but you also make it 100 times more likely that the project will succeed.

  • Personal Goals Must Be Aligned With Professional Goals
    In many organizations, there is an institutional illusion that each employees’ personal lives are somehow small and separate from their professional lives. When a company such as Google offers laundry service or nap space or healthy meals or child care or backrubs – it is seen as revolutionary, even though each of these things are reasonable solutions to basic human problems in our culture.

    People have their own personal goals. How does your plan for your company align to each employee’s personal and career goals? Telling people to "put in the hours" has ramifications that you won’t see: time away from family, perhaps there is a toll on morale, chores that can’t get done, maybe even an argument with their spouse. Just because you don’t see these things in the workplace doesn’t mean they don’t exist and don’t affect your business.

    But when you align business goals with personal goals, you will find employees jumping through hoops to achieve them, instead of feeling peer pressure to stay a half hour later.

  • Make it Easy to Feel A Sense of Achievement
    While business leaders may have an ultimate goal of growing revenue, many line-level employees do not have a direct affect on revenue and may not understand how their contribution has shaped it. Also – most can’t wait until the end of each quarter to know if their effort is paying off. Break down goals by function and then into smaller tasks that can be measured and rewarded.

    Yearly ‘performance reviews’ and bonuses are not enough. How does each employee know they are on track, how do they know they are appreciated? Likely, they sit in a car or on a train for 45+ minutes a day in traffic to get to the office. Let them know what all that traffic is for.

    This is not to say that financial reward is required, most people value social rewards WAY more than financial rewards.

    Don’t make the measures and rewards few and far between. Find ways to recognize people every day, week, month, quarter, and year. Find a variety of measures to focus on so that not only one group (eg: sales) feels appreciated.

  • Make It Fun
    How many offices have you been to where the C-Suite is elegant and professional and the cubes are filled with troll dolls, family photos, goofy objects, movie posters, inflatable objects and other items that employees add to make it feel more fun or familiar?

    Sure, most employees want to see that line chart with revenue going upward and to the right. But how else can you get them on board with strategic direction and the specific tactical steps needed to move forward? What makes people laugh, what inspires people, what gets people to step out of their shell? What gets them to reimagine who they are, their role, and how their contribution is measured? Hint: it’s not a chart, and not a PowerPoint.

If you feel I can help you out in your journey, give me a call: 973-981-8882. Here are some other ways you can connect with me:

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