Friday, March 27, 2009

Leveraging Lean Times: Beating Organizational Inertia

Most organizations face cultural and organizational challenges that cause significant deployments or practices to fail or be stalled. Any new systems beyond an isolated, specific, project-oriented deployment will require adoption from multiple groups.

I reckon that uncertain periods such as the current tormenting recession may be an excellent time to forge agreements across multiple business units and win partnerships with stakeholders to implement key organizational practices or systems.

Resisting and Embracing Change: Time and Tide matters

Change is difficult. Period! It is hard for us to step out of our comfort zone and subscribe to something we know little about or consciously change our patterns of behavior for the purpose of an organizational initiative. Learning to adapt to a new system is often cumbersome and more often than not, viewed as unnecessary for the normal functioning of activities.

There are several reasons people resist adopting a new initiative, system or process. I’d like to call them
objective and non-objective reasons. Objective reasons are when we do not subscribe to a change initiative because we doubt the functionality of the initiative or when we believe the new initiative is actually detrimental in some ways to the organization. For example, “the new standardized reporting template does not capture some elements or data that is critical to the business unit”.

Non-objective reasons could be our preference to maintain individual identity (“ We don’t want the same template as the rest of these units of the company. They sell shoe laces, we sell lingerie; we’d like our own identity”) or simple unwillingness to step outside our comfort zone and do something extra or different.

Nevertheless, we will embrace new initiative and lend ourselves to change with certain incentives or change in external realities; especially if the resistance was primarily due to non-objective reasons. For instance:

Normally, we’d rather get our shirts laundered than spend the time pressing it, unless our wallet is shrinking and there are more essential needs we are fighting to maintain.

Normally, we may not like switching our air conditioning off and lowering our windows in the car to reduce fuel consumption, unless we are anxious the battery might die out sometime during the ride.

Anxiety due to change in present realities could often instigate us to embrace or experiment with actions or systems that will help assuage the uneasiness, prevent further pain or bolster the current situation.

Leveraging Lean Times:

Jeanie Daniel in “Change Monster” indicates that for a change initiative to succeed the emotional and behavioral aspects must be considered along side the operational issues. The emotions and behavioral sensitivity of the people are highly critical to their adoption to any initiative. She states “A crisis can be a very useful tool for leaders who recognize that their company is in stagnation, but need proof of it to convince their stakeholders to change.”.

I suppose with the recession and ubiquitous downsizing, employees might be more understanding of the pains of the organization to reduce costs by certain standardization requirements or participate in systems or processes that will help bolster the performance of the company. The willingness could stem from an understanding of the financial woes of the company or from anxiety of uncertain employment conditions or job security.

Also, during times likes these, the financial woes of the companies are taken much more seriously and the struggle trickles down to every employee in the firm; rather than sticking to the board room or the senior managers.

Organizations should capitalize on change in the external realities that affect the anxiety and keenness of employees and revive or initiate positive change initiatives (like identifying avenues to reduce wasteful spending or look for standardization opportunities). Such periods of anxiety and uncertainty help shake-out organizational inertia and propel wider participation on new initiatives that are transparently significant to development. Employees would be much more attentive and willing to see the thinking that goes into significant decisions and participate in important change initiatives, if the change is clearly communicated and the resistance is non-objective.

Leonard George

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