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Building Organizational Change Capacity

5aa5c142 b2e0 47cf bf72 7eef5206f5f9 1781458 28029 gfqg3jym3k79Over the past two weeks, we have started conversation into four major postures involved in leading organizational change. Last week, we talked about identifying the different types of change involved in an organization: technical and adaptive. This week, we're looking at  how to build capacity to handle change your organization.

As we discussed in the introductory article to this series,

"Building change capacity means that the organization's ability to manage and integrate changes increases and improves over time. Instead of just having the capacity to manage this current change, the organization is empowered to manage the change after that, and the one after that, and so on. Given the complexity facing most organizations, change capacity is essential to both long-term stability and overall return on investment."

There are six general aspects to building change capacity. Each interacts with the others to help an organization grow as it experiences change. 

  • Process Capacity
  • People Capacity
  • Leadership Capacity
  • Clear Measurement
  • Feedback Loops
  • Productive Disequilibrium

Let's unpack each one of these and see how it impacts change capacity. In each, we will highlight the impact on change capacity in bold italic.

Process Capacity measures the degree to which organizational processes clearly connect to why-who-what-when-how, and how the different processes connect to one another. Increased process capacity improves change capacity not only because processes become more efficient: as change builds through an organization, process capacity also improves people's ability to make decisions about changing processes, since the purpose and goals are more explicitly stated. This helps people move from rote action and disorganization to putting process into its proper perspective.

People Capacity measures the major human components involved in individuals and teams getting things done well. These measurements all are founded on trust - which must be in place for people to interact positively with one another. Change is inherently risky, so trust is a strong prerequisite to any change process. Of course, People Capacity has other components as well - such as competencies, accountability, relationships, availability, alignment, and incentive. These are all built on trust, and that trust can grow as change takes place and people continue to feel valued and successful. People capacity builds change capacity by helping people feel secure in the midst of change, and making sure an organization has the right people in the right place at the right time doing the right things for the right reasons and being rewarded for them.

Leadership Capacity measures the ability of members of an organization to lean in beyond authority and inspire others to follow. Leadership capacity is assumed as a major component of successful change, but the emphasis is often only on a few people in positions of authority. Leadership capacity builds true change capacity when the leadership capacity of people in non-authority positions (and unrecognized authority positions) is present and growing.

Clear Measurement means tracking what matters (not just what might be easy to count), that will help people make decisions, build relationships, make wise choices, and deepen knowledge. When measurement is clear, consistent, and connected to purpose, it helps people track progress - which can often seem elusive in large-scale or pervasive change scenarios. Clear Measurement builds change capacity because it gives orientation when people are in uncharted territory. Without this orientation, alignment tends to break down as change takes hold.

Using Feedback loops measures what balance there is between talking and listening in key organizational relationships. Organizational change means moving from pure authority ("I'm your boss, so you're going to do it") to leadership ("Let's do this! You coming?"). The more feedback loops exist, the greater the change capacity. Feedback loops make the impact of change (small and large) more immediately apparent and can give leaders the ability to respond sooner and more constructively.

Productive Disequilibrium measures how much change is putting people off-balance, but in ways that drive positive direction. The human body requires productive disequilibrium to walk or run. If a human body isn't off-balance even a little, it will not move forward. Same with organizations. How much is an organization's sense of being off-balance creating flailing about trying to regain stability, and how much of it is helping to create forward motion? The more disequilibrium can be focused on forward motion, and less on flailing around, the greater change capacity the organization has. Productive disequilibrium improves change capacity by sustaining the energy needed to keep things enough off-balance to change, but not so off-balance as to make things fall over.

Building these six things into any organization will help with its change capacity. Which of these impacts do you need to see in your change processes? What areas are you strong in? What areas would you like to grow in? How have you seen these at work?

Let's start a conversation.

Matthew M. Thomas

Matthew M. Thomas, EPC, is the President of the L M Thomas Group.

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