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Best Practices

Removing the Pain from Big Organizational Change

By Deb McClanahan, BroadBandHR Consulting

As business in Silicon Valley moves through the down cycle, causing many organizations to change their internal operations, it's helpful to step back and review the top best practices related to managing major change initiatives. Change is often painful, because we don't complete the upfront planning necessary for a smooth transition. However, the primary factor impacting successful organization change is the active participation of a key executive champion. I can't overstate the importance this has on the success of your change initiative.

Successful organizational change also typically involves cross-functional teams, detailed preparation, and regular follow-through based on metrics established at the beginning of the process. These teams also know their processes cold, execute their roles in a timely manner, and learn from past attempts, building the lessons into future efforts.

In addition to these high-level philosophies, you should focus on the following four areas when managing change in your organization:

  • Common language
  • Alignment
  • Common process
  • Two-way communication

Common Language

While you might think that everyone in your organization clearly understands what's happening, that's often not the case. Frequently, a new organizational vocabulary is necessary to ensure that everyone understands the process and the outcomes. A glossary of commonly used terms is very helpful-especially when new "TLAs" (three-letter acronyms) are involved. The clearer your definitions are, the easier it is to develop metrics for measuring success. Of course, some definitions will change over time, particularly as the process moves forward. However, the earlier your organization understands-and can articulate-the change parameters, the better your chances are for moving forward.

Alignment

To ensure that the change initiative positively impacts your organization's business, the changes must align with actual business objectives. An exception to this is regulatory-driven modifications, such as Sarbanes-Oxley. Often, a clear, "line of sight" understanding of how the new organization contributes to a business' success is missing. Obtaining alignment and then maintaining it as conditions change is difficult and time-consuming. Tools for optimizing business processes claim to make this easier. However, an adaptable infrastructure like the one offered by Change Companion, a startup in Woodside, California, is often a better solution.

Common Process

The use of a common method helps keep everyone on the same page. Specify the common elements of your process up front, keeping the number small to allow for local variations that ensure a robust process for each environment. The best change-management initiatives are consistent without being restrictive-and the steps are transparent throughout the organization. This is often where global organizations experience the most pain, thinking a common approach equals a common metric. However, that's not the case. The same change initiative may include increased revenues for one region and customer satisfaction in another. Global organizations need to implement lean, lithe change processes that apply equally well throughout the operation.

In Silicon Valley, organizational change processes are often determined by consensus. However, it's best to have a process owner; one person in your organization responsible for moving the process along and resolving impasses. Ideally, this person is also the executive champion, thus having the organizational capital to push toward consensus and completion.

Two-Way Communication

Many companies embrace communication as a basic value, but it's important to remember that frequent two-way communication is essential when undertaking a major change initiative. It ensures that more people are involved and that they understand what's happening. When developing your process, consider including the following communication options:

  • Regular updates to a large portion of the organization, enabling them to observe first hand how things are changing and help solidify the changes within the organization.
  • Significant communication between the design team and champion/owner.
  • Regular milestone meetings.
  • Open feedback to the design team, ensuring that the entire population has an opportunity to give feedback. This can be an extremely potent and often reveals key success factors.

If you have a team designing or implementing the changes, it's crucial that the members behave like a team. They should treat each other and the project champion with mutual respect. The team can do everything right and then destroy the positive momentum by demonstrating a lack of respect for their champion or those affected by the change. Questions to consider when assessing the team's effectiveness include:

  • Do the team's early interactions indicate that they need training in team skills?
  • Is the team using its new common language correctly, or have they developed a "slang" approach that's less powerful?
  • Have you removed all possible and potential obstacles to the team's early success?
  • Have you introduced the change in a positive way that makes everyone feel like they're a part of the team?

Summary

Even if you've been involved in a major organizational change in the past, a regular, thoughtful review or your organization's processes will both accelerate and improve the results. Following these best practices also ensures that key personnel are actively involved. This, in turn, creates crucial marketing "stickiness" that prevents these employees from jumping ship to your competition as the market picks up.

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