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How to Drive Organizational Change

How to Drive Organizational Change

For about the past six months, I have been involved in an organization-wide transformation project in Sri Lanka. The organization is part of one of the largest conglomerates in the country with business interests in hospitality, ports, logistics, retail, financial services and more.

But the situation was not without serious challenges despite the company’s powerful stature. It had experienced serious leadership issues that had been simmering for a year, resulting in a caustic culture and a drop off of employee engagement levels. This drove down productivity and profitability – and the time for a change had come.

My journey on this project reinforced some of my core beliefs about organizational change: Its common roadblocks, the methods to overcome obstacles, and how it ultimately can be achieved under the right conditions anywhere.

The fundamentals about change stay true in any given context, culture or complexity. I anchor my experiences around the Beckhard-Harris Change Model, which describes the conditions necessary for any change to occur. The model relies on a simple formula: DxVxF>R.

Change in any organization will happen if the Resistance (R) to Change is overcome by the multiplication factor of the following:

  • Dissatisfaction (D) with the current state of affairs
  • An Exciting and Shared Vision (V) of the envisaged future
  • The organization takes the correct First Steps (F) to show commitment to achieve the Shared Vision

If any of the above elements are missing, the product of the multiplication will be zero and change will not happen. As a result, taking stock of the situation is necessary before the start of any journey of attempted transformation.

To get started, the new CEO’s directive to us was simple: A complete turnaround of the situation and get the organization back to its productive ways. He could sense the lack of trust the organization had in its leadership team. He was worried about the experience his customers were getting.

He was also realistic. He was skeptical about how much support any initiative would get from pockets of the organization who were mired in dissatisfaction. While he was largely assured by his leadership team about their alignment around any transformation initiative, he wanted to be sure.

In my experiences in Sri Lanka, I saw the following fundamentals and universal principles at play:

Feel the pulse to decode the dynamics

During detailed organization-wide diagnostics, we sensed a huge amount of angst and dissatisfaction in the employees across the board with the then state of affairs. While everyone had a lot to say about the past, a common element we sensed was that people wanted things to change going forward. There was an innate sense of pride in the employees about working for this brand. Employees wanted the organization back to its winning ways, and were committed to do all that was necessary.

Leaders must be authentic and open to feedback

In our situation, the leadership team gathered together to share diagnostics data and discuss the way forward. The team also had some interpersonal dynamics at play which was necessary to address first in case the organization had to move forward. The discussions were hard and vulnerable. The data from the diagnostics was put on the table to absorb. After initial defensiveness, the team realized that everyone had the same goals of desiring to move forward with change.

Co-create an exciting purpose that drives action

We facilitated discussions for the team to decide what the future will be like (Vision and Mission) and how they will get there (Values and Competencies). At the end of the discussions, we saw a transformed and aligned leadership team full of energy and commitment. We then involved the entire organization through a process of alignment to the vision of the organization. The employees sensed that the leadership team was serious about the way forward. Interactions with the leadership team were weaved into the design to help build an emotional connection. People could visualize how their individual growth was linked to organizational growth. There was a palpable energy in air that was infectious.

Talk must be followed by action

Eventually the question becomes, “Now what?” It was important to address the difficult questions related to structures, job clarity, and disparity in compensations, performance management and more. Everyone in the organization needed to see these changes being implemented quickly for them to feel assured about change. They also needed to be held accountable about implanting the changes in their respective teams. As we speak, there are about four change projects that are being executed with a core team led by a member of the leadership team. Each project focuses on one aspect that is reviewed along with the CEO to track progress, provide support and mitigate any challenges. There is already a sense of assurance that the change process is irreversible.

Tough love is an important aspect of leadership

Throughout the journey, the single-minded focus, fortitude and decisiveness that the CEO of the organization demonstrated was exemplary. He approached the initiative with the determination of getting the job done. He was largely inclusive and open to suggestion from his team, and at critical junctures he was decisive and mandated steps for them. For us, he was the perfect sponsor who would take the cue, and step in at the right time to ensure no one loses focus from the larger purpose.

Today, months down the road, the mood in the organization is transformed. The warmth with which my team is met with by everyone in the organization is so different for the stiff body language and deep mistrust we encountered when we first met them during the diagnostics.

On a personal note, to have been a catalyst to this transformation has been such hugely satisfying. When you see positive change happen in an organization, it reinforces the fact that by staying true to fundamentals, culture transformation is possible.

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