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Organizational Change is Like a Wet Diaper

Marty StanleyToday’s post is by Marty Stanley, author of Get Out of B.E.D. and the newest member of the thoughtLEADERS team.

The question: “What do organizational change and wet diapers have in common?” may not be a question that organizational leaders would consider asking themselves or their teams. But it is a question that could truly provide a thought provoking discussion and result in some changed behaviors, if they are willing to think differently.

So what do they have in common? (insert drum roll): both organizational change and wet diapers are uncomfortable! The difference is that most people in organizations hate change and babies love it… and babies like to be changed frequently!

But most good organizational leaders and corporate soldiers will say they “embrace change,” “foster change and innovation,” or “champion change.” Unfortunately, their day-to-day behaviors, operational processes and reward structures often times support the status quo. I’m going to suggest that organizations need to remember the wet diaper and act like an adult and take action to change things especially when it’s uncomfortable.

Thinking inside the box, following long standing, established organizational protocol and chains of command are often what gets rewarded. And in some organizations, the mere mention of change can be a career limiting move. So why would someone rock the boat? Why would anyone willingly champion change that will most likely, be met with overt or passive resistance or good old fashioned lip-service?

Survival

Since 2008 the world as we know it has changed dramatically. We are living in what is being referred to as the “post-trust era.” Politically, socially, technologically the world has changed, and the national and global economies have been impacted in unprecedented ways.

People generally feel they can no longer trust those in key decision making roles because of the egregious actions by some industry leaders that contributed to the worst recession ever. These actions led to a massive trickle down effect that crippled or eliminated many organizations across the country.

Any organization that thinks it can operate the way it did before 2008 and survive in the future is destined for failure or a rude awakening at best. Most organizations, not-for-profits and associations have had to significantly change their ways of doing business to adapt to the realities of the new economy.

Reasons for Organizational Change

What type types of organizational changes are needed to compete in this “post trust era?” At the risk of sounding like Bubba Blue in Forrest Gump, when talking about shrimp: (“Shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. There’s shrimp kebabs, shrimp creole…”) there are almost as many reasons for, and ways to address organizational change.

Some of the reasons that organizations may need to change include:
– Change in leadership due to performance, merger or acquisition, retirement, or replacement.
– Change in strategic direction, vision or mission due to market conditions, competition, global strategies, obsolescence, or new technology.

Other Considerations Related to Organizational Change

These kinds of changes lead to changes in organizational cultures, changes in organizational structures, operational and human resource policies, practices and procedural changes. And of course, effective communication about any and all of these kinds and reasons for change can make or break any organization.

Organizations need to consider who is accountable for organizational change. There are many facets to be considered along the way. Who will plan, lead, and manage the changes? How will changes be implemented and who will be accountable at each stage? How will people deal with the changes?

Since many people in an organization aren’t responsible for planning leading or managing changes, they still have to live with and deal with the impact of change. What’s being done to assure a smooth transition where the rubber meets the road at the line level?

Organizational changes, whether rolling out new products, technology or shift in direction requires planning. What policies, practices and infrastructures need to be in place to support and implement the changes effectively and assure its success an ongoing basis?

No One Grew Up Saying “I Want To Be a Theatre Manager”

I was Vice President of Human Resources at AMC Entertainment during the time the company changed its strategic direction from building multi-plexes, with 6, 8 or 10 screens, to mega-plexes that had between 18 – 30 screens in one building. The change in the physical structures had a significant impact on every human resource function. Over 500 managers and several thousand staff workers would need to be hired over a 3 year period.

Managers of these new buildings had over 150 employees, multi-million dollar budgets and required knowledge of facilities management, inventory control, customer relations and marketing. At the same time, recruiting on college campuses and competing at job fairs with the big accounting firms, high tech darlings or Fortune 500 management development programs was a challenge because no one grew up saying “I want to be a theatre manager.”

Changing Organizational Practices

As a result, all hiring, compensation, benefits and training processes had to be totally revamped. Job design, accountabilities and organizational structures had to change to accommodate the new environment. The previous ways of hiring, training and compensating people would never have worked. For example, the old hiring process could take 2- 3 months to approve hiring one manager. With the new strategic direction, we needed to hire several hundred managers a year.

Despite the new realities, there was resistance to changing many of the HR processes. Fear of letting go of familiar ways, uncertainty of what could happen, not trusting capabilities of others… giving up tight controls and establishing other methods for monitoring key performance indicators was downright scary.

Fortunately, we were able to work through the discomfort of all the changes and transition to the new model and implement the strategic plan successfully.

But, organizational leaders need to remember that just like when a baby sits in a wet diaper too long, organizations that do not address change quickly enough will be forced to deal with a lot of irritants, rashes and outbreaks as a result of not taking action soon enough.

There will be a lot of whining, complaining and crabby people – namely employees, customers, and shareholders, unless things are changed. Don’t be surprised by having to deal with whining and complaining during the changes! That just goes with the change-management territory.

While being accountable for organizational change may seem overwhelming at first, there are systematic steps and processes that can make it easier to do and to gain support and acceptance for the process. No one person can implement organizational change alone – and recognizing and building a team to plan and implement change is the first step to taking action for change.

Marty is a Senior Instructor with thoughtLEADERS. She assists companies, associations and not-for-profit organizations successfully plan and implement change. Marty also is proud to say that she has never changed a diaper and that is another record she intends to maintain!

3 Responses to “Organizational Change is Like a Wet Diaper”

  1. Brad Williams says:

    Great read. But she is proud to have never changed a diaper? Seems odd to be proud of that. Should we assume she won’t be espousing the virtues of servant leadership or humility?

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      I think you’re reading a little too much into a snarky comment Brad. Granted, I have the benefit of personally knowing Marty so I get her sense of humor. Trust me – there isn’t some deeper or more sinister intent behind the statement…

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