In the post, “Working on a Beating Heart“, we discussed the challenge of improving culture and fixing processes while continuing to deliver value to customers. As organizations attempt to move quickly to improve their workplace and remain nimble, competitive, and viable, there is danger in introducing too much change or in introducing change too fast.
As we all know, change is important and will allow us to grow as individuals and keep us relevant as an organization but continuous change, especially extreme change, will result in “change whiplash.” I can always tell when a workforce has “change whiplash” when long-time employees say “Here we go again!” with as much cynicism as they can muster after a change has been announced.
This “wildly swinging pendulum” of change can manifest itself through:
Formal Change Initiatives. Huge moves such as organizational reporting hierarchy changes. Big moves such as moving from waterfall to an Agile methodology. Smaller moves such as culture improvement endeavors initiated after a poor employee engagement survey.
New Leadership. A new leader or manager has come on board and would like to do things “their way” without regard for how much their people have already endured. Change always seems easy when you are not directly impacted.
Process Governance. From no process oversight (the “wild west”) to excessive gating and approvals. Sadly, I am hearing more and more of this happening in “Agile” organizations. We become focused inward (the process is more valuable) instead of being focused outward on what is important (delivering frequent value to our customers).
I’m sure there are others but needless to say, change without involvement from those who will be impacted will often result in a reverse outcome from the original reason for making the change. The change will increase frustration, doubt and skepticism and quite often, people won’t publicly say anything.
To minimize the effects of a wildly swinging pendulum of change, we must include people before the change, not during or after.
If possible, release control and let the practitioners drive by establishing “guiding coalitions” or “communities of practice.” For large corporations, this may mean coordinating those coalitions through a broader oversight function such as the Organizational Development group or the like.
By building change on the foundation of those who will be most impacted we begin re-engineering the DNA of our organization. Change is no longer feared but becomes a natural part of our daily interactions and experiences. Extreme change become more rare. The energy spent hanging on to the “wildly swinging pendulum” becomes redirected towards becoming an enterprise with agility and responsiveness.