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Five non-negotiables for effective organization design change

Five non-negotiables for effective organization design change

5 Minute Read

You’re about to invest a lot of time, money, and social capital in an organizational design change. These five actions are essential to ensure it delivers the intended result.

Organizational design change can be an effective strategy to increase employee engagement, improve profitability, and help your businesses achieve its full potential. However, many redesigns fall short of expectations, and in some cases, even drive the organization further from the intended outcome.

Executing effective and lasting change is a delicate process that requires clarity on the end result, buy-in from all stakeholders, skilled and constant leadership, and perseverance from everyone involved. Following are five key actions that leaders can take to support and be successful in organizational structure change.

1. Mobilize your team

The first step is to mobilize a trusted group of people who will assist you in leading the change. This should include your leadership team and executive assistant at the very least. Depending on the size and nature of the change, you may also include a communication specialist, organizational design consultant, and/or an organizational change consultant. In some situations, it may also be beneficial to create a change network throughout your organization who can support your efforts from a grassroots perspective.

2. Align your team's understanding

Leadership alignment is about clearly defining what’s changing, the rationale behind the change, and the desired result. This enhances your team’s awareness and understanding of the changes, helps to secure buy-in, and ensures consistency as changes are implemented throughout your organization.

Although the overarching reasons for change may be obvious, the deeper whys are just as important for alignment and communication, including: 

  • Why this way?
  • Why now?
  • Why me?

Celebrate what’s staying and eliminate uncertainty

The alignment phase is also an opportunity to describe what is not changing. There are likely a lot of great things happening in your organization that you want to preserve. Make a point to highlight, celebrate, and include these in your path forward.

Minimize and address as many unknowns as possible. Be transparent about negotiables, non-negotiables, and what is open for discussion and/or adjustment. Clear guidance helps keep people on track and can minimize drops in productivity which are typical during times of change.

Address your own challenges and uncertainties

As an effective change leader, staying the course and persevering through the challenges of aligning your team is imperative. You’re not immune to doubts, and, like many people, may have your own reservations or aversions to change. Check in with yourself regularly, and ask: 

  • How am I reacting to the change? 
  • How will I be affected by the change? 
  • What behaviors do I need to model for my team to help ensure the change is successful?

Your team is counting on you to be a consistent leader during this time of uncertainty and disruption. Keeping on top of your own challenges and uncertainties will ensure you’re prepared and able to show up for your team and assure them you’re moving in the right direction. 

3. Prepare your team

Now that you and your team are clear on what is changing and why, you need to determine how you will roll the change out across the organization. As a team, identify who the changes will impact and what those impacts will be. Decide how these changes will occur and develop key messages, communication plans, and tactics for the change management team to follow. This shared leadership approach to organizational structure change will enhance the overall success of your initiative.

Ensure an effective flow of information

A structured flow of communication ensures your team understands what is being communicated, when, and by whom. Everyone should feel prepared and empowered to carry out your communications plan in the agreed upon way. 

Research indicates employees prefer to receive personal impact messaging from their supervisor and hear communications about organizational direction from their general manager, executive manager, CEO, or managing director. The announcement of an organizational structure change should therefore come initially from the highest level of the organization and be clearly aligned to the direction of the organization. Subsequent communications regarding the personal impacts to employees should come directly from a supervisor or manager who has a more intimate relationship can discuss these matters with greater context and empathy.

Unknowns are okay, if you handle them appropriately

It’s likely there will be aspects of the organizational structure change you do not have the answer to or are not yet in a position to share. That’s normal and it’s okay to let employees know more information will be forthcoming when the time is right. However, you must also be prepared to field employee feedback and listen to their concerns. Providing employees with a forum to discuss issues and ask questions is essential to embed organizational structure change in the right way.

4. Hold your team accountable

Leadership teams sometimes disengage after announcing organizational structure changes and initiating the change management process. They may get distracted with other work, or sometimes even decide to take a vacation. However, this is when employees need support and leadership the most — and when you need to be most present, available, and responsive.

Holding your leaders accountable and ensuring they’re available is key to executing your changes the right way and ensuring they’re setting the right example for the rest of your organization. Follow these four leadership accountability principles throughout the organizational structure change:

  • Accountability is a two- way street. Make sure your team is doing what has been asked of them and ask they hold you to the same standard. 
  • Focus on short-range objectives and clearly defined goals. Each objective you meet helps to build momentum and demonstrates to the team that change is progressing. 
  • Make sure your actions match your words. Trust thrives when your behaviour and your words align.
  • Be a role model. Embrace the new mindsets, behaviours, and processes you’re introducing. Your team will follow your lead. 

Frameworks need structure

Don’t rely on tools and frameworks like RACI charts to drive organizational behaviour. This may seem like a simple and straightforward way to outline each team member’s responsibilities and accountabilities, but it can easily fall short if accountabilities are unclear or if leaders need to make spur of the moment decisions.

Leaders must have clear decision rights and be accountable for the decisions they make. The RAPID (Recommend, Agree, Perform, Input and Decide) decision rights model can be very helpful in this regard. Or try the role clarity exercise which encourages teams to collaborate and clarify their accountabilities and what they need from each other to deliver.

5. Be intentional about what you want to change and preserve culturally

Organizational structure change is a critical mechanism for driving and developing culture throughout your organization or department. It is not like implementing a new system or process — it will drive a change in your culture, whether deliberate or not.

Being intentional in your approach will ensure the organizational restructuring and resulting culture change will have the intended results. Consider your current culture when making structure changes and include both what you wish to maintain and which culture attributes you wish to see in your delivery. 

Build leadership tolerance and support models into your change management plan — and apply consistent leadership and management operating practices, and ongoing reinforcement — to ensure an easy, inevitable, and relatively expedient organizational structure change. This will allow the organizational culture shift to occur naturally and allow for the intended culture to develop at the right pace. Getting this type of change done well sets the tone for the cultural change and performance growth you want to achieve.

Embrace the process

A lack of planning and preparation is one of the most common reasons organizational design changes fall short of their potential. Other common challenges include a lack of buy-in throughout the organization, a lack of follow through on the part of leaders, and/or failing to anticipate the knock-on effects the change will have on mindsets, habits, and behaviours throughout the organization.

Understanding these obstacles reveals a clear roadmap to help you to skillfully navigate organizational design change — or indeed any change in strategic or operational direction. Get key leaders and advisors on board and in agreement with the change early. Be transparent about the change with all stakeholders, especially regarding how it will impact them. Build accountability into the process. And keep an eye to knock on effects to culture, brand, and other less tangible aspects of the organization. The path ahead will still be long and challenging, but you’ll undoubtedly feel more certain and supported in your direction and what to expect when you reach the destination.

For more information, please contact Len Nanjad at 587-441-5480 or [email protected].


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