A New Way To Think About Organizational Change

a cartoon man lies on his front lawn with the caption, "He tried to hold back the blades of change."

We all resist change to a certain degree. That’s because it is unfamiliar, the results are uncertain, and it takes extra effort. The more massive the change, the more difficult it is to effect…in our personal as well as our professional lives. That is why there is a new way to think about organizational change—as a continuous series of small improvements rather than a radical, swift organizational transformation.

Change need not be catastrophic. In fact, huge change can be counterproductive and does not jibe with what we now know about human behavior. Organizations would be wise to consider how habits are truly broken and how behavior is effectively changed for the long-term.

The slower process should be well-known to anyone who has tried to break a bad habit or improve their health. Behavioral experts advise setting small goals…tackle little incremental improvements, one at a time.

Consider the Weight Watchers diet program. It ranked #1 in Best Weight-Loss Diets by U.S. News in 2016. Based on solid nutrition, Weight Watchers does not promise rapid loss. Instead, their plan promises steady weight loss over time. Their dieters develop healthier eating habits for long-term success. The food plan guides program participants step-by-step on a regime that is satisfying, energizing and nutritious. They do not provide a list of taboos. In fact you can eat whatever you want as long as you adhere to the daily “points” target. It works. Sure, you might be able to lose weight faster on a fad diet but how long will it stay off and what did you learn about maintaining better health and don’t you still crave the forbidden treats?

If you apply the same principles to organizational change, it would look something like this:

  1. Envision the overall goal
    Let’s say your business strategy relies in large part upon delighting your customers. Your visual goal, then, is a stream of happy, loyal customers who value your outstanding service so much that they are immune to attempts by the competition to steal them away.
  2. Outline the steps that will get you there
    You will probably have a plan that includes a review of the systems and procedures that reward good customer service and a re-training of your service staff in the customer service soft skills so they know how to understand customer needs, communicate in a positive and helpful manner, and see that customers are well satisfied with the results. In effect, you will be changing the organizational culture to focus on the customer in a way that works for your unique situation.
  3. Break the steps down into smaller improvements
    Perhaps you can begin by teaching your reps how to greet customers in a friendly, sincere manner as if they are the first call received. Encourage your customer service reps when they shift from their standard, indifferent greeting to a more personal, helpful one. Most customers will respond in a favorable way. Reps will notice the difference and make the cheerful “hello” part of their regular behavior.

Then you might train them in how to listen for the underlying problem and ask discovery questions that show real interest in finding a solution. A third improvement might be in their “close”…checking to see that the problem was solved to the customer’s satisfaction. Bit by bit, your reps will link the experience of their behavior changes to a real sense of satisfaction with each customer interaction. Their new manners will, over time, become a habit.

The key is to make even the big overall changes easier to effect by making small organizational changes over time.

Benchmark your organizational change effort now.

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