Organisational Transformation: Five Traps to Avoid at all Costs

Organisational transformational or change initiatives represent a big commitment.   They take focus, energy and time.

Whilst we know organisational change is now a constant,  significant transformations take a toll on the human and emotional capital of the workforce, with many people reporting heightened anxiety as a result of the uncertainty that arises.

So the question of how to do change well is one we need to pay attention to.

In our work consulting on culture and change management, we have seen transformational initiatives that deliver on their promise and those that seemed like a lot of pain and effort, for not much return.

Here are four common traps we have witnessed, and our advice on how to avoid them.

Trap No. 1: Thinking It’s All About Structure

Many organisations expend their resources and energy on structural change, without addressing the core drivers that shape and maintain organisational culture.

Despite lots of hard work, little ultimately changes.  When this happens people feel cheated. The lived experience of your people, partners and other stakeholders doesn’t always differ enough to justify the pain.

While structural change is important, it’s not the whole story.

Even well-meaning change leaders find that they can run out of steam if they wait until ‘all of the ducks are lined up’ before addressing culture. The human objectives of any change program, i.e. the desired behaviours, need to be clarified and incorporated from the beginning.

At CLE we don’t sideline culture, we focus on it.  We bring a strong analytic lens to understanding the systemic and individual forces that shape the organisation and contribute to recurring problems and challenges. We harness the organisational strengths and address the forces that maintain stuck and undermining ways of working.  Our mantra and commitment is all about ‘getting to the heart of the matter.’’

Trap No. 2:  A Failure of Courage

A strategic perspective is  critical. It is the role of the executive to bring clear insights, which encompass knowledge of their business, their people and the unknowns of the VUCA world.

An equally important attribute is courage.  Change champions must bring the courage essential to following through, with the depth and scale of transformation needed to effect real change.  When courage fails we see enormous disruption for what amounts to deck chairs re-arranged on the Titanic.

In our experience executive coaching is invaluable in supporting leaders to understand their own visions, blindspots and fears, ensuring that real leadership happens.

Trap No. 3  Leaving Your People Behind

While the big picture is important, your people hold critical insights into what’s really needed to empower and optimise their efforts.

Whole of staff consultations build engagement and mobilise the intelligence of the whole system, so that the rationale for change is deeply understood, owned and activated, and practical.  Working with ‘a deep diagonal slice’ of the organisation can engage change champions, elicit practical information about what’s really needed to effect change and road-test ideas.

Your workforce engagement should elicit practical information about what is needed to empower, authorise and resource people to work in ways that are consistent with the strategic direction.  Big changes are often realised through relatively simple initiatives.

Trap No. 4: A Scattergun Approach

Thorough planning is a key part of effective change management.  It sounds simple but it’s not.  It relies on resourcing, discipline, accountability and realism.

While it’s tempting to tackle projects on all fronts, spreading yourself too thin will dilute your impact.  A lack of focus often spills over into lack of clarity about who is responsible for what.  Under these conditions, communication usually falls by the wayside or is confused – leaving staff frustrated and disengaged.

Trap No 5:  Beaten By Roadblocks

This topic is so big, that I just want to say up front that we won’t do it justice in this post.

The rubber hits the road when transformation efforts begin to encounter resistance.  That’s when your commitment, courage and staff engagement skills will be put to the test.

I belong to the cohort of consultants and academics who question whether the term resistance is helpful.  It is such a blunt descriptor that prevents change champions looking more deeply to what is going on.  It can be a lazy way of describing your reaction, that misses the rich information potentially available.

Covering off on the basics rigorously can prevent some of the pain of change.  Effective change planning and communication does a lot to avoid the panic and confusion that stems from employees and their managers having inadequate or inconsistent messaging.   Workforce consultation when done thoroughly and creatively can create a sense of ownership across the workforce.

And then there are those one-one and team based conversations that are worth pure gold.  While they may be confronting – avoid them at your peril.  They are the secret to minimising the damage and fatigue that organisational change can bring.  And they are absolutely fundamental to achieving culture change.

As I said, there is so much much more to be shared on this topic, so keep an eye out for more information on working with the fears, reservations and sense of loss that transformation can bring in future posts.

If you’d like to discuss the keys to effective organisational transformation further, we will be holding a Masterclass in Melbourne on August 13, 2018;  4:30pm – 7pm.  Contact us to register for this complementary event.

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