Challenge 15. Barren soil

Nut to crack: You have doubts about the chance of success of your transformation because of factors outside your control. How do you make these change risks visible and address them?

Whatever change you want to land, whether it concerns an operating mo- del change, introducing a new meeting structure or implementing a new it system, will have a greater or lesser chance of success depending on the “health” of the organisation at that time. If, when your change journey starts, the top team happens to be at odds with each other or many projects have stalled, you can be well prepared at the start as a change leader or supervi- sor, but your chances of success have already been minimised beforehand. How do you test in advance how fertile the soil is for acceptance and absorp- tion of change so you also address risks that lie outside your direct sphere of influence?

Nutcracker: Before you start, measure the baseline of the organisational change readiness

To estimate the chance of success of a change initiative and to determine risks in advance, it helps to take a baseline measurement of your organisa- tion’s change readiness. With a baseline measurement, you investigate the following:

  • Is the organisational energy flowing?
  • What are the current energy gainers and drainers?
  • What could derail any change being implemented?

For example, if the strategic direction is unclear, the organisation is typically incompetent at assigning resources to change initiatives. Or if a culture of fear and distrust reigns, you know for sure that the organisational readiness for change is low. By transparently identifying these risks upfront, it becomes possible to manage them proactively. There are good measurement instru- ments to support you in this change readiness assessment. In the support tool, you can see more information about the Six Batteries of Change scan, a change instrument used for this purpose.

In the example, you can see how the measurement helps to make the right choices in the change agenda and in formulating the change approach.

Support tool: Six Batteries of Change scan

According to De Prins, Letens and Verweire, there are six batteries with which you can charge an organisation for success. These consist of three rational batteries; a clear strategic direction, powerful management infrastructure, and action planning and implementation. And three emotional batteries; an am- bitious top team, a healthy culture, and a strong connection with employees. Companies that have charged all these batteries increase their change suc- cess rate to 95 per cent. The scan associated with this concept quickly maps how a company or business unit is doing on each of the six change batteries. If the organisation is entirely in the red on all six batteries, then you know there is work to do on managing the risks of the transformation failing. On the other hand, if the batteries are green, you can work from a healthy foundation supporting the change you lead or enable.

Real-life example: Perhaps postponing is better…

The management of a construction company is faced with a challenge. The company has not been making any profits for several years, and this year it is actually heading for a loss. The team plans a workshop to define new strategic projects, to turn the tide. Before they start, they carry out a Six Batteries of Change scan. This shows that they need help bringing large projects to a successful conclusion and that the foundation needs to be more adequate. Where the scan indicates that the clarity of the strategic direction could be improved (orange score), it also shows serious energy drainers in the culture, infrastructure and action planning & implementation batteries (all coloured deep red).

The interpretation is harsh but clear: this organisation cannot turn a plan into reality. It does not assign priorities and capacity to initiatives, which makes building and running the organisation at the same time almost impossible, and a culture of cross­functional collaboration is lacking.

The strategic workshop is therefore overhauled. After a brief discussion to define the burning platform and the strategic orientation, the focus is on selecting five initiatives for the next three months. Three of these initiatives, which are already ongoing, are now given the necessary priority to implement, instead of stating on paper that they are ready when they are not. The other two initiatives are cross­functional projects that should provide more control of the primary construction process, from first customer contact to completion of the building. To this end, a cross­functional team is set up comprising key people from top and middle management. The team meets weekly to share their pro­ gress. After three months, a more ambitious plan for the next six months is drawn up, still focused on a more optimal execution of the current business agenda. After a year, the fruits of the labour are visible: for the first time in many years, a 2 per cent profit is made. The middle and top management gap has narrowed, and the batteries of infrastructure, culture and action planning are turning orange and green. It is now time to formulate and tackle more in­depth strategic projects together.

Tip for change leader

Be aware of the organisational climate in which you act and its impact on the organi­ sational change you lead or enable. Although not all things can be influenced by you, recognising the risks and making them transparent helps you to create realistic expec­ tations about the success rate of the change initiative. At the same time, you and your team also produce a micro­climate that you can test using the six batteries; do so from time to time to check that you are creating a fertile soil for change.

Tip for change enabler

The success of an organisation is not determined by one change initiative but by a set of initiatives that affect the functioning of the entire organisation. However, the success of any change initiative depends on the organisational context in which it takes place. Make sure you use tools to sharpen the organisation’s awareness of the foundation’s quality. This way, you ensure that your team and the organisation, in a broader sense, become more robust and can change continuously. I will elaborate on this in Challenge 50.

Kernel: Make the quality of the foundation transparent

Use a baseline measurement to determine what condition the organisation is in when it comes to the current ability to implement changes. For example, use an instrument such as the Six Batteries of Change scan. Build support to strengthen the missing capability so the change you are now leading or supervising and other change initiatives have a greater chance of success.

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