By their very nature, organizations depend on teamwork to implement changes demanded by corporate strategy. In any team, every player counts—and this must be kept top of mind in organization design. To achieve a desired outcome, a company must ensure that every employee understands the role he or she plays in the strategic plan. If this understanding is not present, the strategy likely will not live up to its potential.
A critical element of organization design is therefore to help employees understand their roles and perform them in alignment with the company’s strategy. To do this, leaders should plan to address three key elements of any change:
Explain the “why.” Most people naturally resist change, and there are proven neurophysiological reasons for this phenomenon. Knowing the reasons behind a change can help employees approach the situation in a more logical manner and more easily override the reflex to resist. Ideally, all employees should be able to articulate why they are being asked to do what they are doing, and why it is important.
Clarify scope. Uncertainty and confusion can lower morale, create delays, and interfere with productivity and profitability. Leaders must take time to establish exactly which systems, structures, processes, and policies will and will not be affected by a change, and how broadly the change will be implemented across the organization and over time. This process will help immensely in making sure the strategy gets executed smoothly and cleanly.
Give employees appropriate tools. New strategies and procedures usually require different tools; asking employees to try to adapt old tools to new work will almost always result in backsliding into old behaviors. In addition to providing any tools appropriate for the work itself, it’s helpful to give them tools to navigate the change process.
A case study in successful change
One company we worked with on a product development process upgrade did an exemplary job in fulfilling these three principles. The company’s ultimate goal was to create and deploy a process for improved transparency and faster speed to market. In addition to assisting them with organization design, we helped the company and its employees stay in alignment with strategy during the rollout of the new design.
This company used a wide variety of methods to help employees understand the changes being made and handle them successfully:
Explaining why. Some of the techniques that helped employees understand the “why” behind the changes were:
- Allowing enough time for employees to assimilate the change
- Keeping employees consistently and regularly updated about the change
- Offering them opportunities to ask questions on a regular basis
Opportunities for direct interaction and questions included both formal and informal sessions. All were designed to be time efficient to avoid information overload and allow maximum time for employees to ask questions and have their concerns addressed.
Clarifying scope. The company took the time early on to determine which processes would or would not be affected. For example, an existing resourcing and prioritization process was designated as out of scope, even though it was related to and intersected with the product development process being changed. In addition, rather than changing the company’s management system, the leadership team clarified how the new process would relate to, align with, and support the existing system.
Providing tools. Employees were given multiple tools to help them understand and adjust to their new roles and processes. These tools included accountability checklists, training guides, and process charts. They also received formal training on all aspects of the change, including processes, roles and responsibilities, procedures and policies, and the strategy behind it all.
The company’s detailed preparation paid off, resulting in one of the most successful strategic implementations we have observed. Because employees thoroughly understood the reasoning behind all they were being asked to do, and received the time and resources needed to absorb the change and properly execute their roles, they took ownership of the new process and it rolled out without a hitch.
Preparations of this kind take effort. But leaders who invest extra time in planning how to explain the “why” behind changes, define their scope, and provide the tools needed for success will achieve greater buy-in and ultimately experience a much smoother transition.
The ability to develop operational business strategies, and take those strategies from plan to action, is crucial to leadership.