Organizations strive for effective change to achieve desired benchmarks of a constantly evolving vision. To establish what effective change management consists of, we need to address its polar opposite, that is, poor change management.
The Problem: A Linear Top-Down Model
Many companies disregard, or simply do not apply their understanding of the true nature of change and how that takes place in a specific domain, in this case, in the model of human interaction.
“Change is a repeating cycle of disintegration and unification that happens on various scales from micro to macro.”
Like the king cobra endures several molting cycles each year, so must an organization.
The keyword here is “cycle”, yet some of the largest organizations we know operate linear management models, namely the ‘top-down’ model, to carry out a natural, cyclical process. A one-way street of goal setting and execution, typically from the boardroom to management.
Why is this a problem?
Because using a linear strategy to manage such cycles of change is a recipe for incoherence and inefficacy. It’s like expecting a boomerang not to come back, which of course is possible, with a poor throw.
And the consequences?
The original vision from which the executive teams’ goals stems from is hindered, often lost. Great ideas are butchered by infantile forms of communication, leading to barely recognizable products in comparison to the originally desired outcome. Front-line individuals are not informed, nor given the flexibility to think and act as problem solvers.
Day and night, the life cycle of your favorite seasonal vegetables, the planets and stars, the economy, it’s a merry-go-round. Yet, most managers are still taught to think in a linear manner, ‘A to B’, is a universal game where A actually travels through the alphabet, right back around to… you guessed it -- A!
6 Organizational Blind Spots That Prevent Effective Change Management
There are many reasons why organizational change may fail. I call these blind spots since they tend to sneak by unnoticed. Leaders who become aware of such blind spots are able to see clear solutions, as opposed to terrifying bureaucratic obstacles.
We can distill these blind spots into six concrete groups that are immediately noticeable and actionable.
#1 - No Common Vision: Why isn’t everyone involved?
The delivery of a vision depends on the genuine personal investment of each contributing individual. If there is no common vision, individual ownership is lost.
For a powerful, common vision with an evolutionary potential to take root, it requires deconstruction into actionable goals throughout the hierarchy of performers. A common vision creates meaning for every individual involved, so maintaining a continuous proactive goal-feedback-action-diagnosis (GFAD) loop is key.
Key Takeaway: A common vision comes from the successful deconstruction of the key idea into malleable goals that challenge and suit each person involved in its fulfillment.
#2 - Lack of Agency: Action without empowerment?
The right kind of personal empowerment breeds unmatched initiative in organizations’ team leaders. Leaders with a restricted ability to lead are unable to do what is expected of them, which results in distress at both upper and mid-levels of management. More, restricted leaders set an example that encourages employees to be heavily co-dependent and equally restricted.
A common vision can only succeed if managing leaders have the power to influence the development of that vision. By freely empowering all leaders in managerial positions across the organization to commit to the agreed-upon scope, the avenues explored to reach the best possible end goal are maximized, and appropriate examples are set, right down to the last front-line individual.
Key Takeaway: A clear communication of the vision along with the adequate empowerment of leaders allows more paths to be explored to reach the desired outcome.
#3 - Mistrust and Negligence of Deliverables: Micro-manage the goals, not the people.
Every organization is guilty of looking past what we might call the ‘crumbs’ of the vision. The incremental goals that require the most proactive attention and receive the least of it. Micro-goals are mostly seen as fixed deliverables, but the malleability of the smallest parts defines the malleability of the whole.
Do all large organizations have a system in place to support the formation, management, and creative delivery of daily, weekly, and monthly targets in recurring re-alignment with the initial idea? Is there a system in place for each worker to self-manage their goals for each morning and afternoon? No.
Leaders need to be able to trust each individual, and for that, they need a framework for continuous engagement. Following the organization-wide empowerment of leaders, regular acts of engagement support the delivery of well-defined goals that can be further broken down into desired micro-targets at regular intervals.
Key Takeaway: Freedom of engagement across an organization encourages trust and self-propelled agency over micro deliverables at regular intervals.
#4 - Suppression of Creativity and Initiative: Innovation is the love-child of freedom.
With each rule and limitation, possibilities are jeopardized. By the time a set of goals reaches the front-line team of a company, the degree of creative freedom is often reduced to the point of passive obedience. This reduction of creative potential grows in proportion with the size of the organization, too.
When a leader deconstructs goals to match a stifling workflow, the inflexibility of ways to meet those goals reflects the leader’s uncertainty in the clarity and delivery of the goal itself.
When an individual team member is given the opportunity to own their part of the deliverable goal, a highly productive state of flow is achieved through the alignment of creativity and discipline.
Key Takeaway: For each member of the team to approach a task with personal agency, room for creativity must be created by upper management.
#5 - No Investment in Leadership Training: Don’t expect a newborn to run a marathon.
Leaders are active. The term “passive leadership” speaks for itself. No action, reflected by the vanilla pudding-esque results that make companies melt into oblivion. Even so, the number of inactive leaders who are incapable of providing feedback to further encourage proactivity across the development and execution of goals is astounding.
Can we expect leaders to lead if they haven’t been trained to lead?
The messenger will most certainly be shot if they are not taught to ride a horse nor to communicate the message. Unless of course, the message is terribly inappropriate for the desired goal in the first place. In any case, the messenger’s life is in the boardroom’s hands, whether it’s poor training or a poorly communicated vision.
Key Takeaway: The negligence of leadership training haunts all under performing companies. Leaders need the training to contribute to the creation of a proactive feedback loop.
#6 - Loss of Collective Ownership
It’s common to see deliverables arrive at a boardroom where the initial criteria and the finished product exceed the dissonance of a tritone on a ukulele.
Unless a strongly rooted, continuously evolving vision is integrated by a trusted team of creative and disciplined leaders, the likelihood of meeting the desired outcomes takes a blow.
Key Takeaway: A proactive change cycle requires the conventional top-down model of planning and execution to pair with a reverse bottom-up model to complete itself.
The Solution: Active Change Management
Passivity is a recurring theme across the aforementioned organizational blind spots. A balanced response to that is active change management.
The core principles of an active approach to change management are the following six complementary solutions that also work in a cycle:
Creating challenging and inspiring goals at a collective and individual level
Efficient communication and empowerment of leaders
Encourage engagement and trust in all departments and levels
Room for individual creativity and discipline
Active leadership training
Completing the natural change cycle by combining the top-down and bottom-up strategies
Provided that the organization at hand maintains active awareness to retain a cyclical model of change management after one such successful cycle of change implementation, the uplift in performance is self-evident.
It All Starts With Goals
Sharing the value and depth of a complex vision to a group is a feat that all organizations tackle with a low success rate.
In 2020, a giant like Bed, Bath & Beyond, AT&T, and Victoria’s Secret have all closed down more than 200 stores each. The failure rate of startups is estimated at 90%. These numbers are, by part, a product of the visions down the drain.
The success of such collaborative innovation depends on communication, in this case, the active deconstruction of a vision into flexible goals that strive to maintain the essence closest to the original, novel idea. This is what we’ll be focusing on in the next article.