Less Is More For Changing Organizations
“Nine hundred and sixty-three” was the answer after some quick mental calculations. That was followed by a thoughtful pause and concluded with “that I know about”. The person providing these facts was the Director of the Project Management Office in a regional utility company with about 4500 employees. The question I had asked was how many changes are currently underway in the organization.
Given I had expected his answer to be less than 50, clearly there was much more going on under the surface than was visible at first glance. They were struggling. Like many organizations, their appetite for change significantly exceeded their ability to digest them successfully.
Fast forward two years. I asked the same question early in another workshop on leading change to a group of managers in that same organization. One of the managers, who worked in the PMO, jumped to her feet and proudly stated “we are almost under a hundred.” Heads nodded in agreement around the room and there was a noticeable sense of progress mixed with relief. As our conversation unfolded over the next day and a half, many things became apparent. The major one was the organization was developing some discipline when it came to launching and implementing change.
The discipline required for leading change has several dimensions. Three of the most important are:
- Consistent analysis of each initiative.
- Relentless alignment to priorities and vision.
- Senior team makes the call.
Consistent analysis of each initiative means a few key parameters are used to assess each and every change to determine which changes get the green light. Three helpful parameters are Time, Complexity and Urgency.
Time simply means how long it would take for each change to be implemented. Use a 10 point scale, from 1 (long) to 10 (short) as a way to score each possible change.
Complexity can mean many things – from impact across many parts of the organization, financial cost, amount of learning required to the overall level of difficulty. Again, use a 10 point scale from 1 (hard) to 10 (easy) as a way to compare each change.
Urgency looks at the difference between changes that would be nice to do as opposed to those that are critical. Critical changes can be ones required to move the organization forward (vision driven changes) or changes required by sudden shifts in the environment that must be undertaken simply to stay in business (mission-driven changes). Again, use a 10 point scale from 1(nice to do) to 10 (critical) as a way to compare each possible change.
Using these 3 scales (Time, Complexity, Urgency), each initiative has a possible score of 30. This objective analysis of all the changes helps to eliminate the lower value changes from consideration and focus on those that must be undertaken.
Relentless alignment to priorities and vision ensures everyone can see how each change is a vital part of the overall journey the organization is undertaking. Ideally, there are never any more than 3 broad strategic priorities. Each and every change must directly support at least one of these priorities with many of them potentially supporting 2 or even all 3 of them. The priorities are those goals the organization is focusing its resources on in order to achieve the overall vision. Without clear and direct alignment, a change does not get the green light.
Senior team makes the call requires the most senior level of leadership to be directly responsible for launching each change and holding the organization accountable for the desired results. Often this works is delegated to a group of leaders too far down in the organizations structure. They struggle to see the whole system and often cannot get beyond their own competing interests. As a result too many changes get started for the wrong reasons, the important changes do not have adequate resources and the whole organization struggles.
I am often asked how many changes an organization can undertake at the same time. There is no right answer. For that utility company, 963 was certainly the wrong answer and they were getting closer to their right answer as they got nearer 100.
Building a discipline for leading change using consistent analysis, relentless alignment and senior team makes the call will help your organization find its right number of changes. Don’t be surprised when it comes to leading change successfully that less is more.
Copyright 2017 Chris Edgelow, Sundance Consulting Inc.