By By Jeffrey Nygaard
Published on March 22, 2010
Driving change into an organisation can be one of the most challenging tasks the management team undertakes, particularly if it is a cultural change. As organisations mature, they develop patterns of behaviour that reinforce the current way of doing things. Those patterns become part of the company's culture and by any definition, changing culture is difficult. It requires time, energy and a consistent commitment.
Whether it's transforming the company to meet the needs of an emerging market or changing how things are done in your department, change can be managed through a process. Each step requires careful interaction with people. The duration may take several years and it is dependent on the scope of the change. However, the probability of a change being successful will increase if each of the steps below is considered.
Sense of urgency. The first and most important step in the process is to establish a strong feeling of dissatisfaction with the status quo. Change can't happen unless the broader team believes there is a problem. Two elements must close. First, a large fraction of the key leadership must firmly believe there is a problem. Second, the leadership team must convey that level of dissatisfaction to the broader team.
Guiding coalition. Change requires leadership. It's critical to assemble a group with enough power to drive the change process. Equally important is for that group to function as a team - debating issues, but in the end uniting on the path forward.
Vision. Beyond conveying a problem, the guiding coalition must also outline the vision of where they want the company or department to go. Strategies should be identified that are aligned to the vision for the future. Those strategies should be communicated across the organisation, consistently and repeatedly. As actions often speak louder than words, the guiding coalition must behave and make decisions that are consistent with the strategies for change. That includes removing systemic or structural obstacles to change.
Short-term wins. The guiding coalition shouldn't wait for the end-point results to recognise successes. Nor should they passively expect short-term wins. Change is difficult, but early and continued success builds momentum. The planning process should actively include periodic checkpoints or wins to demonstrate tangible improvement. Those wins will reinforce the positive momentum of the change. Therefore, by placing metrics on the progress of change, it reinforces the continued level of urgency.
Culture. Changing culture takes time, regardless of the best-laid plans. Beyond planning the periodic checkpoints, the management team must also think long term. Some changes will require the selection and development of new employees. Most certainly, policies and structures will need to be re-evaluated as the change matures into "normal business process". The guiding coalition will need to continually link the business or department success to the change that they are driving for. The senior management team can outline the future state and path to get there. To be effective, cultural changes must flow throughout the entire organisation.
A process-oriented approach should be used to drive change - create intense dissatisfaction with the status quo, identify a leadership team, paint a clear picture of the desired future state and why that's better, outline a clear path to move the organisation from here to there and reinforce the cultural change in daily decision-making.
Jeffrey D Nygaard is vice president and country manager of Seagate Technology. Follow his articles every fourth Monday of the month.