Creating a culture that embraces change

June 6, 2006 at 2:56 pm Leave a comment

Michael is responding to one of my comments:

MPOW is in the process of implementing a new telephony system that will include all employees — not just call center agents. This software adds VOIP, headsets, presence awareness and messaging for all employees. These are disruptive features that will require quite a bit of training. I know that if it could have been done incrementally — it would be better accepted. Yet — how can one do this in this example?

Michael posts: Great question and one that, in my opinion, illustrates that no matter how hard we try to integrate change into our regular organizational structure we will at some point always face moments of disruptive change. Disruptive change is not always bad! The situation you describe, moving to VOIP telephony, will be good in the long run. There may be growing pains, certainly, but the end result should prove the effort worthwhile.

But moving to a VOIP system is not something that is planned overnight, and it is this sort of big move that can benefit from having a structure already in place that allows an organization to implement change smoothly and with as little stress placed upon customers and staff as possible.

Read the full text, I'm only including snippets!

There are many ways to integrate change into an organization’s structure, but my favorite way to is to create an environment where customers and staff are involved in facilitating change and maintaining the ability to change at all levels.

Michael makes a good point that even a large project does not come "out of the blue" and will generate a better rate of change if multiple levels of stakeholders are involved in the process.  In this case, it comes down to the work environment and leadership style.  If the environment is not open and transparent, it is more difficult to implement Michael's very good suggestions.

It seems to be that the key to developing a culture that incorporates constant change is to encourage a participatory culture. This is where the older style hierarchical structures fall on their face.  It seems the older an organization is, the more likely there are embedded politics and individual agendas over-ruling movement toward new processes. All too often old style organizations  are unable to be nimble as stakeholders clamor to participate only to sabatoge or delay the project that does not enhance their deparment's function. I have seen change management meetings that created additional barriers rather than supplying coordination to enable a smooth transition.

I know that this is horribly cynical, but it is based upon past experiences. The trick is how to work around employees who are politically motivated. How do we convince them to let go of control and become more transparent? I have read a number of business advice columns highlighting this difficulty. However, I've yet to see one that proposes a solution citing a successful case example.

One approach that has been intermittently successful is to appeal to these employee's egos by directly involving them and and highlighting how the various changes will benefit them (and/or their subordinates).  This has mixed results as noted above. Some things are not obviously and immediately beneficial to them and they balk at sharing resources with these endeavors. This seems to be the preferred method of undermining the organizational commitment to constant change, learning and growth.

In addition, this approach does not seem to lead to their acceptance of ideas from "lesser employees". After all, that means that others have information about happenings — and knowledge is power! This organizational change issue really overlaps into some of the same issues these kinds of organizations run into when implementing KM and knowledge sharing.

If anyone knows of any cases where a closed, hierarchical organization was able to transition to a more open and transparent one — I would love to read them! It does seem that organizational culture is the key to being able to implement a constant level of change that is seen throughout the organization. If the culture does not permit this — then we are limited in what we can do to improve our processes.

Libraries (especially those that exist within a state or political subdivision structure) seem like ideal places where this could be attempted. Often individual branches have management latitude that special libraries (particularly those that are internal resources) do not.

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Entry filed under: Library Science, Organizational Culture.

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