AMERICAN MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATION
MANAGEMENT REVIEW /JUNE 1997 21
When deep organizational change is needed but support is scarce, there are still strategies to implement it effectively. Following a gradual methodology, you can build change on solid ground, gaining and increasing the needed sponsorship by starting small.
Mariano L. Bernardez has been a consultant in
It is never easy to institute change in
an organization. It's obviously easier when there is strong support within the
organization. But one of the most difficult things to attempt-and one of the
things that they don't teach at
In many organizations, change is frequent, attempts fail and the organization suffers. In such cases, although the need for change may be acknowledged, it often encounters fierce resistance in the form of skepticism, defensiveness, and to new change proposals.
The technology gap between competitors in a global market tends to close very quickly, but each time it does, the human abilities gap between the current and the newly required skills widens. Also, there is often an attitude gap. Sometimes this is because of a lack of appropriate training, and often it is because the change negatively impacts the survivors' motivation. This survivor's syndrome has been seen many times before in large-scale downsizing or reengineering efforts. Sustainable, long-term performance improvement means increasing and maintaining ability and motivation.
Unfortunately, plans for large-scale change tend to underestimate or even ignore this crucial point, resulting in failure and skepticism.
Business change planners do often talk about the human factor in the early stages of their projects, but in practice, their plans dedicate very little effort to large-scale communications and conceptual, abstract training. This creates more confusion and skepticism. Very often, cause is that human erformance is a subtle but strategic issue, and even change experts confuse strategic thinking in HR with "thinking big"-launching large-scale, highly complex, long-term plans instead of smarter, safer ones.
Think about one of the most competitive games, chess. If you take a superficial look at what the chess players are doing, it seems the same. They move one piece at a time, apparently without clear reasons or differences. The champions win, however, because they have an underlying strategy, studying the next move and creating tactics to benefit from the small changes introduced with each move.
Like chess, change always begins by moving a small piece (a pawn, not a queen, as beginners do), and good change makers, as good chess players, apply strategic thinking step-by-step. They shape a global vision in their minds, implement small, creative tactics in the workplace and surpass expectations instead of falling behind them. Each stepbe it training, planning or consulting-is known as an intervention. And like chess, each intervention, or move if you will, has its own effect on the global scenario.
Strategy is not merely about creating vast plans that use existing power and resources. Like chess, strategic thinking is about creating power and resources from simple and already existing elements. Therefore, change need not always be done on a grand scale. Alternative new approaches show that a small project can actually create far more positive change than a larger, company wide one. A small effort can reach more employees at all levels and silently break down barriers between managers, employees and the organization. The same skeptical managers who ridicule pompous announcements of "Big Change" will often be more willing to support small change that expands.
With this strategic approach in mind, consider three powerful tactics that every manager can use to facilitate organizational change. These tactics can be used separately, but their real impact is in their underlying strategic thinking. First, begin small and gain power by improving performance in small groups and workplaces. I call this Guerrilla Warfare. Second, expand the project by gradually spreading the successful experiences from the top down; this is known as the Waterfall Effect. Finally, create a continuous improvement-reinforcing circuit: Afterburner Follow-up. Let's have a closer look at each tactic:
Guerrilla Warfare on change resembles GrecoRoman wrestling since, like that technique, it starts from the ground up. It begins a long process, starting with something small and acceptable-training. From that firm footing, you, like a good wrestler, can expand into a large-scale victory of performance improvement. Here are your key Guerrilla Warfare maneuvers:
Call it "training." The training effort is usually seen as low-risk and will be an effective motivation even for the most skeptical and die-hard enemies of change. Learning new techniques and enhancing communications are seen as positive and stimulating activities; it doesn't require a great effort to obtain sponsorship for training from the organization. Management won't see training as rocking the boat and won't be threatened by it.
Teach supervisors to be facilitators. Supervisors play key roles in any change because they usually control the daily routine in the workplace, interact directly with the employees, filter the communications through their own paradigms and rules, and form opinions and reactions. Adapting workplace leaders' attitudes toward change is essential for its success-that's why Guerrilla Warfare begins at that level.
The training should be directed to enable supervisors to enhance the performance of the small groups they direct. It should provide them a sense of real meaning through successful experiences of teaching, coaching and communicating. It is also essential that the performance-oriented training give supervisors self-assessment opportunities through tests, peer-to-peer feedback and professional counseling sessions with the trainer which will allow the supervisors to discover their own gaps.
Training will give the supervisors a direct and personal experience, reinforcing that successful change is really about changing behaviors. It will demonstrate that there is an opportunity to make at least two positive changes –on themselves and within the workplace they control.
Allow supervisors to express and resolve doubts and fears during training. Include supervisors in dialogues with higher levels of management since at the beginning not all the managers will be won over. Start with groups that are concerned with front-line reactions to their products or ideas, including managers of quality, safety or customer service. You will find them very willing to assist you because this exercise allows for them to learn more about stakeholders' reactions.
Get all supervisors to create a plan for performance improvement. Discuss and redefine the group's new mission and roles as a team in order to create a real compromise with performance goals and changes. Try to design improvement plans that can be applied in a few days without formal approval from any authority.
From the start, make it clear that there will be follow-up and that the results will be communicated to senior management. This will fuel group interest and instill meaning in the improvement challenge. Choose recognized leaders within the company to report the results. This will reinforce the group's positive expectations.
It is important to follow up and publicize the performance-improvement results. Collect statistics and testimonials and pass them on to upper echelons of the organization. Sending the good news upward will make people feel as if they play a relevant part in the change.
Keep sending data to senior management. Performance improvement is a major concern for senior management. As they have a broader and longer-term vision of the organization, they perceive clearly how difficult it is to sustain the improvements and how easily large-scale improvement programs deteriorate because of employees' low morale and compromise.
Showing management economic results, cost reductions,
process improvements, new initiatives and improved motivation generated from
training small groups will gain the attention and support of top management for
your "training project" without
This is really setting the bait to obtain support from top management for a larger performanceimprovement process later on without alerting premature fears or building expectations.
Executives communicate their enthusiasm to middle management and generate an interest in change primarily because people experience change as fun. Being able to change something with a good joke changes our mood intensely and will transform bored employees into energetic people. Having fun is invigorating: Attention grows, fatigue vanishes and the mind awakens.
Fun also changes the meaning of our everyday work-taking it from perfunctory to challenging.
Routine tasks are meaninglessly performed between nine and five. But the potential to be creative opens new doors. The combination of teamwork and caring, the ability to achieve shared goals and the changes in workplace rules to reflect these new attitudes allows employees to recover. They get to reinvent their jobs
This positive attitude is motivating. Solving problems and questions, rediscovering the importance of the employee's performance and making even the most simple plans fill the change process with fun and interest. Getting to this point only requires that the group work together and simultaneously experience success that produces
With failure and defeat so common in today's workplace, even the tiniest success can be a powerful motivator. And it has paid off in some companies. We've seen skeptical workers and supervisors who formerly complained religiously about their companies and jobs show up early and stay late to help with the project once the "training process" got started.
Performance-oriented training makes supervisors rediscover their power to obtain and sustain good performance in the workplace.
Supervisors' jobs have been losing their appeal, transforming the leaders into mere administrators of status quo.
But when Guerrilla Warfare begins, they feel as if they are leading their own battle units, recovering their power and influence with their groups, and achieving small victories against such standard performance obstacles as bureaucracy, ill-designed work and the dread status quo.
Moreover the employees will respond because they feel a sense of ownership created by their ability to choose and implement micro-changes.
When Guerrilla Warfare is applied in bigger and more bureaucratic organizations, there are greater opportunities for these groups to make micro-changes in their own environment.
Even moderate failure is not as frustrating if it is followed up with an attempt to learn from the mistake.
Obviously, the project will not be without failure, but it will become a stimulus, a challenge to overcome the difficulty by themselves.
A well-managed Guerrilla Warfare effort can actually go so far as to create an experimental spirit within the group, akin to Thomas Edison's "Menlo Park," his original laboratories where collaborators slept under their desks so they could start the experiments earlier the next day.
At this point, management should support the initiatives, and the initial group should be motivated. The next step is to permeate the change through the organization, from the top to the bottom-a Waterfall Effect. Each time the measured results of a successful, low-budget microexperience of real performance improvement reach senior management, a waterfall of contagious interest is put into motion, empowering further projects.
The right moment for this comes when performance improvement has been achieved and measured on a small but reliable scale and top management expresses its concern about employees' low motivation. If you have communicated efficiently the results obtained at this point, organizational leaders will want you to tell them how to clone the successes.
This gives you the opportunity to discuss the possibility of gradually expanding the "training project" and offering others a chance to more openly endorse the process.
Ø Start the cascade. In order to stimulate a Waterfall Effect, you should informally publicize the performance results achieved by disseminating real-life testimonies (video, small meetings, visits, and so forth). Your purpose is to work from the top of the organization down, disseminating new role models and experiences.
Ø Keep these rules in mind as you work your way down the organization in order to attract lower-level employees into the change
Ø Make the performance-improvement process look easy, relevant and motivating.
Ø Bring other middle managers in to spread and lead the experience. (By now, many might be asking for training on how to lead their own performance-improvement projects.)
Ø Continue recruiting new middle managers and make them lead diffusion activities as well as offer testimonials.
These efforts will be successful because once put into motion, the Waterfall Effect comes alive by itself with enormous strength, expanding and pushing all the way down the new models. One of the reasons the Waterfall Effect works is that it is positive; it is based upon the power of emulating success rather than the fear of not following an enforced change.
Finally, workable, viable, down-to-earth performance-improvement processes allow top and middle managers to surf the wave of change, taking advantage of the learning curve created by previously successful experiences, instead of swimming against resistant currents.
Managers are practical people eager to use proven and reliable ways to solve problems, and the Waterfall Effect will occur whenever they discover some performance-improvement process that meets these criteria.
Large-scale change (which at this point is being silently created) requires time, but over time new approaches left alone tend to deteriorate. Even when everything is running smoothly, you need to re-energize your project in order for it to take off to a higher level.
Performance improvement requires not only energy but constant upgrading, following-even anticipating-the demands of change (many of which are more evident to those at the lower levels working daily with clients).
Then it's time to start the Afterburner Follow-up.
There's actually a management lesson to be learned by watching aircraft carriers. In order to take off on shorter runways, airplanes employed afterburning, a re-use of combustion gases, to increase their momentum.We can take this example as a way to re-energize our already expanded change project.
The Afterburner Follow-up can be applied to the change project by publicizing successes, stimulating internal benchmarking among middle management, exchanging successful models, which triggers friendly competition within the organization, using change makers (supervisors) as co-instructors in seminars for other middle managers and supervisors, and keeping track records visible throughout the company.
The last but crucial step of the Afterburner Follow-up tactic is to provide top managers with additional seminars on how to monitor and take the helm of the entire change process.
The results of this third tack have been amazing. Publicizing results of performance, profit, productivity and motivation gets managers excited and keeps them interested in performance issues. A plant maintenance manager, with his engineer associates, developed an evaluation model based on shared values and used it to determine compensation.
Supervisors in a large bank obtained a 102 percent performance increase in their cashiers' performance over more than one year using both on-the-job training and coaching methods. Workers and supervisors obtained a $3.5 million cost reduction in a petrochemical plant after six seminars were presented under the guise of "training" and the ideas implemented by the employees.
The diffusion of such successes brought wider and stronger management support. (All of the bank's branches adopted the new ideas, and the other petrochemical plant-and even oil fields and refineries of the industrial conglomerate-did the same with seminars.)
The success of this tactic for sustaining high performance reveals some forces that drive the changes on the long run but are frequently underused: Success energizes and reinforces change processes, making them self-sustaining because instead of feeling menaced by unknown risks, managers find a powerful tool to reach their goals.
As a result, the entire organization raised its minimum standards and created an environment of excellence without actually calling it that.
In this age full of big-plan pushers overselling change, the reality is that success usually tiptoes in and is received better in small doses.