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10 Tactics To Ensure Organizational Renewal Is Successful

Prolonged success breeds complacency – a sense of security and comfort based on a history of achieving results that are taken for granted. Complacent organizations can not stand up to the tremendous forces at play in today’s turbulent environments. They require a unique quality of leadership if they are to renew themselves and become a responsive, focused enterprise capable of sustaining success.

Organizations don’t start out being complacent. They grow through predictable phases of development similar to the phases people experience – newborn, toddler, young child, teenager, young adult, middle age and so on through to the inevitable. The unique aspect of organizational aging is there is no biological reason the inevitable should occur. Some organizations have existed for centuries. Examples of ancient organizations still alive today are the Roman Catholic Church, which can trace its roots back to 1054 and more formally to the 16thcentury, and the Hudson’s Bay Company which was incorporated in 1670.

The vast majority of organizations never last nearly that long. They fail to navigate the trials and tribulations of the natural evolution of their life cycles and disappear at one phase of the journey or another. Some never get beyond the Dream, that first phase of the journey where little more than hope and
ambition abound. If sufficient energy exists, the initial idea takes shape by attracting people (both employees and customers) and the organization reaches the Venture phase. Here, boundless enthusiasm in a very loose, creative and fluid environment responds to customer desires while burning through enormous resources. Without the discipline that comes from the next phase of Getting Organized, the organization burns itself out. However with some proper systems, clear boundaries and well-defined purpose that clearly defines what the organization does do and what it doesn’t do, the organization achieves the Making It phase. Here the organization becomes established, yields continued results and does not take those results for granted. It maintains a precarious balance between stability and innovation.

Unfortunately, years or even decades of success tend to make people comfortable. They begin to take their success for granted. A subtle shift takes place as the organization slowly experiences Becoming an Institution. The focus turns inward; an emphasis is placed on how things are done rather than what is done; internal style takes precedent over the vital connection to customers, competition and results. Risk is minimized, controls are centralized and there is a loss of urgency to do anything different. Unless something is done to revitalize the situation, there is an inevitable downward spiral downward through the phases of Closing In and ultimately Death.

There are three typical responses when an organization is in the Institutional phase of development. The first is Denial, ignoring anyone expressing concern of the current state of affairs and continuing to stay the course. The second response is some form of Reengineering which can take the form of budget cuts, staff cuts, removing a layer of management, merging departments, merging with another organization, implementing a new workflow system to name but a few. Rarely do these attempts at salvation do anything but delay the inevitable demise.

The path forward, one that pulls an organization out of its complacency, is the path of Renewal. This involves recapturing some of the youthful energy and enthusiasm from earlier phases balanced with some hard-earned wisdom. Here are 10 things that will ensure the Renewal is successful:

  1. Consistent truth telling is required clearly spelling out the facts of why change is essential and the consequences of not changing.
  2. Hard decisions need to be made regarding what parts of the organization truly add value and which ones don’t and consequently must go.
  3. Power and authority must shift from the centralized functions of IT, Finance and HR out to those parts of the organization that are responsible for results.
  4. Energetic and passionate people are required at all levels. The good news is they are likely already in the system somewhere, having been ignored and overlooked for years.
  5. The reward system must become based on results, not tenure or position.
  6. Renewal requires exemplary leadership at all levels, focused on no more than 3 enterprise wide strategic priorities that clearly support the vision of what the organization is striving to become. Each priority must be owned by at least one but no more than two senior executives.
  7. Each function or department must have their own more focused priorities that align with the enterprise strategies.
  8. All changes, both enterprise-wide and functional / department changes must clearly support the priorities. Any changes that don’t must be excised.
  9. Excessive attention must be paid to engaging communication throughout the enterprise regarding the strategy, changes, and the accompanying transition.
  10. Transition implications, particularly what is over now and what isn’t over must be clearly spelled out from the top to the bottom of the organization.

Perhaps the two most critically required leadership attributes are a fierce focus and a profound level of patience. An organization that has taken 30 – 50 years to become an institution will not renew itself in 6 months. These renewal processes usually take many years.

Keeping the collective eye on the ball, focused on doing what is essential to serve the customer and nothing else, without being distracted by all the noise is a very difficult task. With patience, focus, truth telling and hard work, renewal efforts can be profoundly successful. It just requires leadership.

For an in-depth understanding of the integrated approach to leading change, check out our e-resource Simply Leading Change.

Copyright 2017 Chris Edgelow, Sundance Consulting Inc.

Chris Edgelow