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Change: An Organization-Wide Effort

Saturday, August 27, 2011 by Robby Slaughter

Robby Slaughter

Transforming an organization to be more productive shouldn’t just be a top-down effort. A blogger explains why increasing efficiency should include everyone.

The message comes from April Weatherston at HNI. Let me just allow her blog post to speak for itself. She writes:

Leadership has a choice to make [regarding organizational change]. They can follow an exclusive model, where the executive team excludes all stakeholders except a select few to determine what needs to be changed. Or, they can embrace an inclusive model, which give will give stakeholders a voice - from mutual diagnosis to action planning and implementation.

In my view, Ms. Weatherson’s phrasing is perhaps unintentionally hilarious. It’s almost as if she is making a discovery: company leaders get to make a choice about excluding or including people. Wow! Ask people their opinion? What a concept!

In all seriousness, Weatherson is absolutely correct. Effective organizational change is inclusive. But I think she misses the mark when providing the rationale for this approach:

The big benefit to including the stakeholders in the process is employee motivation. Employees that are part of the change efforts from the very beginning are much more motivated to adopt and sustain any new behaviors required for change. Continued implementation of new processes and procedures are more likely to be successful and sustainable.

Sure, it’s true that asking people for feedback will be motivating. This is the Hawthorne Effect that everyone has been talking about for sixty years now. However, the major advantage to talking with others is not merely a boost in morale. Rather, the upside in being inclusive is the quality, diversity and accuracy of information you get from people actually doing the work.

This is the kind of “aha” moment that almost deserves another stock photo. Guess who probably has some pretty interesting ideas about how to improve manufacturing procedures, how to change corporate IT systems or how to offer better customer service? That’s right, the stakeholders who do this stuff every day.

The real question about organizational change is one that April Weatherstone does not cover: if being inclusive is so effective, why do so many leaders fail to engage their staff?

The answer is much tougher than one can begin to answer in a blog post. Companies and non-profits across the world are built on authority and hierarchy. Decisions are made at the top and handed down. Changing a culture from one based on giving orders to one based on seeking feedback is no small feat. Yet, making this transformation is essential. Institutions that wish to survive must learn to truly engage their stakeholders.

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Like this post? Here are some related entries from The Methodology Blog you might enjoy:

Berkun on Change - According to noted author Scott Berkun, change has nothing to do with the latest technology. Rather, innovation comes from taking risks and embracing new ideas.
Read on »
Replacing Chainj for Change? - Though it consists of merely six letters, one of the most straightforward words in the English language is C-H-A-N-G-E.  Yet two prominent groups see a need for further simplification of this term. Read on »

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