Disruption, recovery and space

While completing my Masters degree I was vicariously introduced to Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School and his many works (a sample) concerning disruptive innovation.   Greatly interesting stuff and

Disruption

Disruption (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

required reading for anyone in business or those who are creative and wish to understand the business world’s take on how this is perceived and understood, as well as the potential effects thereof.

That said, disruption and innovation as buzzwords have become less exciting through overuse and misunderstanding by some technologists and businesses, particularly as they apply to their organizations.  While, as Bill Gates has said, today’s business goes “at the speed of thought”, and agility is critical, there seems to be a lack of understanding concerning the fragility of organizations consisting of people executing on previous editions of goals, commitments, hierarchies and business models.  There are degrees of change that can be accomplished that help alter the direction of a business, a ‘mid-course correction’ on company strategy, if you will.  There are also methods and timings of rolling out these changes, or more radical degrees or types of change that will break an organization.
When considering disruptive change within a company, several areas should be considered. Along side the change, whether to strategy, execution or model, leadership should realistically assess:
(A) How long has it been since the last disruptive change to the organization?
(B) How long it will take to affect the change completely?
(C) How long will the ‘after change stabilization’ take?
(D) How much lost productivity can the organization withstand while the stabilization takes place and the company can begin executing effectively on the new direction?
(E) How clearly do the members of the organization understand the reasoning driving the disruption and can they clearly see the value of the strategy?
(F) What is the degree of ambiguity this will create for all interested parties – customers, partners, shareholders, communities…..everyone….and what is required to manage it through the disruption?
(A) How long has it been since the last disruptive change to the organization? – This is an important question.  Companies should obviously not change radically for the sake of change, yet many seem to. A new Director or CXO comes onboard and they are under pressure to instigate improving, disruptive change rapidly, with correspondingly rapid (and positive) results. Sadly, many of these end up being complete “train wrecks”. Some time and effort on analysis and fact-finding expended by the new leader upfront would pay off handsomely, especially if the history of the organization shows a number of major shifts in direction and organization over a short period (granted ‘short’ can mean many things, especially as it is dependent on the size of the organization, but the new leader can wisely assess this period).  Were these changes equally disruptive? What were the goals? Did they work?  Were they given a chance to work?  What drove the change, really (not just a dynamic market, but politics, ambiguity, desperation or something else)?  What were the perceptions of the success of the change by those who lived through the change? Ask all these questions several times, and don’t be satisfied with the answers until you gone through numerous iterations (that sounds obvious and redundant, but many miss it…the existence of ‘an answer’ doesn’t mean it’s a good, right or valid one).
(B) How long it will take to affect the change completely? – While a lot of changes have a ‘long tail’ to them, they eventually achieve some kind of completion.  This, however, is generally MUCH LONGER than most organizational change management plans take into account.  I have worked for a number of organizations that instituted significant organizational change, expecting it to be completed, settled in and executing on a massive scale in a matter of 3-6 months.  Perhaps (and likely) that’s relatively possible with a start-up or small business, but when you’re talking about a business unit with several thousand global team members within a corporation of close to 100,000 members and decades of corporate culture, I think that’s a bit unrealistic.  Again, assessment of the history of the unit or organization, perhaps with change management completion reports from previous disruptions to help asses just how flexible and agile the unit is, would help set realistic expectations and goals.  Be willing to go outside the company to find out about other’s experiences, timelines, things to avoid and best practices. This will also allow you to better define when the change is ‘complete’ as a goal.
(C) How long will the ‘after change stabilization’ take? – There is a nautical term that describes this well: the shakedown cruise. After a ship enters service or after major changes, a shakedown cruise takes place during which the performance of the ship is tested.  After disruptive change within an organization, there will be a period of stabilization that is required….the shakedown cruise.  New groups may have been formed, new goals and commitments assigned, new reporting lines, new products and services, new leaders, new (or missing) team members…all have come into (or winked out of) existence simultaneously with the requirement to keep the business moving forward.  This means that your teams and units have had to do one of the most difficult things possible – continue to perform well on a model and in a role that doesn’t actually exist any more.  Does your change management plan take this instability and shakedown into account, to include a timeline and resources to assist through it?  Or is there the assumption that, now the change has taken place, so all is well…..?  Do not call the change complete, effective or successful until there has been a positive shakedown cruise.
(D) How much lost productivity can the organization withstand while the stabilization takes place and the company can begin executing effectively on the new direction? – Most organizations must continue to execute on the business while change is implemented.  No one can afford to shut down and then start back up again!  However, during the disruption and the stabilization, execution and productivity are both likely to stall if not drop.  While there are kinds of mitigation that can take place, like succinct and forward-looking communications plan for all involved (why this change, what to expect, what it will look like afterwards, what you can do to help, clear descriptions of new or altered teams, reporting lines, etc.), it is a better strategy to assume that there will be a slowing down and unforeseen roadblocks, and these will impact the business and the timeline.  Using previous change management completion reports and research on the best practices from your size of organization and industry, make your estimates and include them.  Be sure that the right resources are readily available to your teams to assist in mitigating this challenge.  Your teams, while probably apprehensive of change, want to get through it as cleanly as possible and get to “the new normal” as quickly as you do.
(E) How clearly do the members of the organization understand the reasoning driving the disruption and can they clearly see the value of the strategy? – Never spring disruption on your organization.  Doing that will have predictable negative consequences.  A clearly communicated vision, delivered very early in the process, will help the team members catch on as to the reasoning.  Provide abundant Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) documentation, plenty of additional info for directors, supervisors and managers, both for their own understanding and that of their direct reports, and a place for internal discussion to take place (like an online forum) which will also serve as a repository of further questions as well as a way for the leadership to understand the depth of concern and the outlook of many team members.  Again, the is all prior to the initiation of the actual change….the better informed and prepared the teams, the smoother it will go.
(F) What is the degree of ambiguity this will create for all interested parties – customers, partners, shareholders, communities…..everyone….and what is required to manage it through the disruption? – Despite the ubiquity of “must thrive on ambiguity” in job descriptions, I have yet to meet anyone who will honestly testify to find comfort, peace and stability in the gray fog of professional or organizational ambiguity.  If team members have a hard time with it, other people and organizations with “skin in the game” may as well.  Once again, the clarity of communication and the lead time (and consistency over time) given to the parties will help.  True, sometimes an organization cannot provide any prior information (e.g. – quarterly results on the financial analyst call), but leveraging the best and most direct communications and conversations you can will calm most parties and may actually build up the needed confidence for the new vision…..you know where you are going and what you are doing.  Staying in conversation with these parties will allow you the chance to manage expectations through the change and build to the desired end…..but do more than listen.  Listen actively and be willing to act on what you hear.  Keep the channels open.
Recovering through disruption is not guaranteed.  Much more thought, preparation, planning, humility and space is needed than is normally given to this kind of organizational growth today.
Consider how you answer these 6 questions and your chances of success and a smoother ride during the change improve.
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One thought on “Disruption, recovery and space

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who and Abrupt Change | Authentic Voice

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