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Spring clean

Take your time reviewing, changing organizational structure

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Spring has finally sprung! While it's a time when we'll soon see evidence of budding tree leaves and the greening of our planet, it's also a time when many organizations engage in strategic planning review and renewal activities where invited participants work hard to think about and map out their future.

The result is the development of a comprehensive long-term plan that essentially will bring change into an organization.

However, in my view, these plans often totally ignore the importance of planning for the approved changes, especially when the new initiatives essentially mean changing the organization culture. That's because most people take organization culture for granted. They forget that organization culture is what binds people together and guides employees to think, feel and behave in certain ways. In other words, organization culture is all about "how we do things around here."

On the other hand, organizational culture takes a long time to build and a long time to change because it involves core values that become so natural to insiders they no longer realize or think about what they do or say. In fact, long-term employees often don't realize the nature of their organization culture until their culture is challenged by a set of new, approved changes.

How then does a leader go about changing their organization culture?

The following steps serve as a proven guideline.

Communicate your intentions -- develop multiple ways in which you can communicate the rationale for your planned culture change. Make your case for the change, avoid any negativity regarding past choices or strategies, instead celebrate the past and focus on the future. Anticipate and be prepared for criticism and communicate with the intention of building a community of early adopters who will help reduce overall employee resistance.

Gain consensus of meaning -- the next step in culture change is to ensure that everyone has the same definition of their change. For instance, if you're incorporating a new customer service philosophy, then everyone must understand exactly what this means. The most effective means of achieving consensus of understanding is to hold multiple employee discussion groups where the attributes of the new changes are shared. Discussion groups serve to create understanding and a sense of personal safety as individuals learn what the change means to them.

Motivate and inspire employees -- when individuals can envision the future, see the benefits of change and feel positive toward the change, they will more readily accept the new ways of doing things. Keeping in mind that an individual's perception is their own reality, create a picture for employees that will inspire them to see the advantages for themselves. Use a combination of facts, figures and stories of success that will help transport individuals into the new reality.

Assign a change champion -- many change initiatives fail because no one is consistently leading the charge. Assign a change champion whose job is to keep the momentum going and to ensure that supports are put in place throughout the transition process. Be sure that your change champion has the respect of the employees and can "walk the talk" regarding the change.

Create a core implementation team -- organizational change is not a one-man show, instead it requires an entire team that can reach out to every corner of an organization. Assign individuals from key departments who have the authority to make changes within their sphere of control.

Develop an implementation work plan -- management needs to conduct an in-depth assessment of what needs to be done in order to bring their change to fruition. Identify specific activities that need to be started, stopped and/or enhanced and determine the nature of organizational supports, processes and systems that need to be established.

Reach out for quick wins -- nothing succeeds like success. Identify areas that can be changed quickly and efficiently and which will represent some sense of significance to the change management process. A focus on quick wins helps to create momentum and as well, it reduces personal resistance and will influence employees to more willingly embrace the change.

Acknowledge every success -- in order to keep the momentum going, it's important to celebrate every success, no matter how small. Set up a special communication committee to ensure that positive messages are continually being sent out. Post your success on your website, on the staff bulletin board and in your staff newsletters.

Establish key success milestones -- once you've identified your overall key success indicators, identify specific interim progress indicators and determine the best means to measure them. Be cautious not to overload your team with too many measurement tasks, keep it simple.

Create new change symbols -- help employees move past the old way of doing things by physically and symbolically removing and/or exchanging a significant token that represents the old state and replacing it with a new token. This could be a new logo, new signage or some other visual representation that can help employees mentally shift to the new culture.

Train, train, train employees -- successful change is always accompanied by training that teaches employees the various elements of the new organization culture. If change is not supported by training and consistent support from managers, it will have a short lifespan and then things will go back to the way it always was.

Develop leaders -- effective change management requires effective leaders and since many managers will be experiencing their own personal resistance, it is important to train them in leadership and change management. This will help the organization to ensure consistency in applying the change throughout the organization. As well, change often results in identifying front-line individuals who have previously unrecognized leadership skills.

The change of seasons is an optimal time to think strategically about your organization and to identify where you want to go in the future. Yet, when developing comprehensive strategic plans, it's critically important to include concrete change management tactics that will help to ensure your organization culture is sufficiently adjusted to support your new strategic direction.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 6, 2013 H1

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