When we recently conducted our “Organizational Development” Experience Workshop, it was soon evident that the operations directors and HR managers who attended were all in agreement on one key matter. The consensus was that when you are engaged in change and improvement processes in your organization, if you clearly set out the do’s and don’ts, then there won’t be any confusion about them. The key question addressed at the workshop was, “Why is it that so often in the real world, efforts to implement change and improvement fail to bring about the desired results?” It was a workshop with lively discussions and familiar dilemmas.
“Make certain that the development objectives align with the business objectives”, That was one of the first do’s addressed. Logical, everyone agreed. But as the discussion continued, it became clear that logic is not always so easy. Organizations often begin enthusiastically, only to run up against various glitches further down the line and to find that the desired results – lower absenteeism, greater efficiency, higher earnings – remain elusive. It usually turns out that the development goals were not clear enough or concrete enough from the start. Or at the very least, weren’t clear enough to some of those individuals who were responsible for carrying out the change process. In addition, from experience we’ve learned that it is quite difficult to clearly translate the improvement objectives per level into a clear message about what each person involved in the process can contribute based on his or her role.
First step back and observe
Accordingly, an important conclusion during the Experience Workshop was that the change leader should have the self-confidence to take a break and consider what is needed to prepare and organize in advance. Sketch out a concrete image of the future. Then imagine - and this is crucial - how to get there. Equally importantly, you need to regularly tweak the program to remain on course. What is working? What isn’t? And what can we learn from those conclusions as we continue on the way?
Putting all the pieces of the puzzle together
It slowly emerged during the session that organizational change is a complex puzzle that must be assembled in its entirety. No single piece can be left out. So when you are closely examining the work processes it is extremely important to reject the explanation, “that’s how we’ve always done it here”. What helps – or indeed, what detracts from – reaching the intended objectives? And what else do we need that we haven’t yet provided for? A close analysis of the required capacity should make clear what you require in terms of people and equipment.
Getting people with the right skills
Finally, it is not only vitally important to have enough people, but also to have the right people. People with the right skills to support the change and bring it to a successful conclusion. What behavior do you expect from them? What do they need in terms of their skills and their character? What do they need to know and what are the circumstances you need to create to ensure that they can excel in their roles – and in particular, their new roles? What is required in terms of training, learning new skills, coaching and – especially – learning on the job? And furthermore, these days it’s no longer enough to store knowledge in the minds of your people. All these are pieces that together make up the total puzzle you need to solve for long-term success.
Way of life
The good news is: at the conclusion of the Experience Workshop, the attendees were convinced that successful organizational change is very definitely a complicated puzzle, but that it is a puzzle that can be solved. At least it can be if you invest enough time and devote enough attention to the task and if you build into the process moments for reflection during which you can look critically at what you are doing and get an overview of the entire process and the more fundamental causes of whatever problems that may emerge or the obstacles that you encounter. This approach has to be a way of life. Including after you’ve reached your development objectives. Because as in life, an essential truth of organizational development is: every end is a new beginning.
Arianne van Tongeren (Ontwikkelingspartners)
Bartelt Blankenberg (Managing Partner @ ARV Group)