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Making changes in pursuit of enhanced organizational quality

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Image: Making changes in the pursuit of enhanced organizational qualityGood is no longer good enough. To survive in today's competitive environment, you need to excel. To excel, an organization needs to focus on all parts of the organization, optimizing the use and effectiveness of all of its resources.

Interest in organizational quality is widespread. Organizations adopting a quality enhancement focus are concerned with continually improving organizational performance and effectiveness – working actively to review, asses, enhance and maintain any and all aspects of organizational performance.

Work to review, assess, and plan actions to improve any and all aspects of organizational performance will typically include organizational structures, systems, policies, work practices, modes of operation and performance outcomes. Organizations adopting a commitment to quality typically focus on identifying good standards of performance and performance targets, working to meet the identified and desired standards of practice and then assessing performance against the standards and targets.

Comparison and benchmarking with others, evidence based analysis and decision making, and the application of process and/or systems based analysis are all frequent characteristics of organizations pursuing a quality agenda. Quality initiatives focus both at the macro level and through all organizational levels down to the work of teams and individuals.

Change management

Against a backdrop of increasing globalization, deregulation, the rapid pace of technological innovation, a growing knowledge workforce and shifting social and demographic trends, few would dispute that the primary task for management today is the leadership of organizational change.

Change in organizations may be continuous and incremental or rapid and discontinuous with abrupt shifts from the patterns of the past. Change may be planned or it may be emergent. The scale of change may range from fine-tuning through incremental and or modular adjustment to wide scale corporate transformation. The dynamics of organizational change may be seen as an essentially linear series of planned events. Change may be open ended, ongoing and adaptive responding to changing circumstances. Alternatively, the character of change may sit somewhere between these two extremes of planned or loose and open ended.

The reported success rate of change efforts is not good. Between 50 and 70 per cent of change efforts are reported as failing – either fully or partly – to achieve their objectives. This statistic makes worrying reading for any manager undertaking or considering a change initiative. While embarking on change initiatives may achieve transformational results there appears to be an equally strong likelihood of outright failure or, at best, only moderate result for effort. What then can assist in getting change right and leading and managing change successfully?

Models for understanding and approaching change

There are many approaches, tools and methods proposed for managing change. There is no one “right” approach. That said conceptual models of the process of change are useful in understanding the dynamics of change and how change management might best be approached.

Two models will be briefly considered here. John Kotter's eight-step approach to achieving change is widely known and applied. Bob Doppelt's “wheel of change” model is newer and less widely known. Both provide useful perspectives on the nature of organizational change, ways to approach that work and pointers to where pitfalls may lay.

Kotter's “eight step” change model

Kotter's prescription for success is to recognize the importance of a staged and sequential approach, not to rush and/or to fall victim to the illusion of speed, and to look out for and correct the pitfalls that accompany each of these stages of change:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency – about the need to make changes.

  2. Form a powerful high level coalition to guide and lead the changes – a group with enough power and influence in the organization to lead the promote the change effort.
  3. Create a vision of the organization's future – to help focus and direct the change.
  4. Communicate that vision widely, repeatedly and consistently – from the leadership level down through all organizational levels, in language and in actions and behaviours.
  5. Empower people in the organization to act on the vision – remove obstacles to change, improve processes and systems, encourage and enable people to take risks, engage in non traditional thinking and activities.
  6. Plan for visible short-term performance improvements – enable these to occur and recognize their achievement and the work of those who have enabled that achievement.
  7. Consolidate improvements and produce more change – as change takes effect build on the credibility and confidence that results, extending the reform or structures, systems and processes and encouraging and growing change agents in the organization.
  8. Institutionalize new approaches – clearly articulate the connections between the new ways of working and organizational successes, encourage and develop ongoing leadership of change and anchor the changes into the organizational culture.

A key thread of Kotter's analysis and prescription for approaching change is the importance of viewing organizational transformational as a long-term process – not a simple and short-term event. Further, it is a process which builds on itself. Skipping stages will not, in Kotter's view, accelerate the process. Rather, it will, while giving the illusion of speed, slow the process, or even derail it completely.

Doppelt's “wheel of change” model

By contrast Doppelt's analysis provides a newer and less widely known approach to understanding and approaching organizational change. This analysis of the dynamics of organizational change is drawn from wide ranging and long -term analysis of, in particular, public sector organizations.

"Effective organizational change can help to enhance quality and the pursuit of enhanced organizational quality can form a key impetus for making changes."

Doppelt views the process of change as being a cycle or a wheel. He articulates seven points at which interventions may be made or leverage applied to effect change. Doppelt acknowledges change as a messy and far from linear process and suggests that, while implementation of all seven components or leverage points is essential for achieving organizational effectiveness, it is possible to enter the change cycle at any point and to work with any of the leverage points and with varying degrees of attention to each. This process of (potentially) multiple and non sequential interventions and actions builds momentum for change.

The seven elements in Doppelt's “wheel of change” are:

  1. Disrupt and change the dominant mindset and establish a compelling need for achieving change. Disrupting an organization's controlling mental models is, in Doppelt's view, the first and most important, step toward developing new ways of operating. Little change will occur if this step is unsuccessful.

  2. Rearrange the parts of the system by organizing transition teams. Having challenged and disrupted “business-as-usual” thinking, rearrange the parts of the current system. Involve – in analysis, planning, and implementation – people from as many functions, departments, and levels of the organization as possible, along with key external stakeholders. This shaking-up of the organization is important in achieving change as people may tend to handle problems in the same way time after time.
  3. Alter the goals of the system and create an ideal vision. Changing organizational goals, and clearly articulating a clear vision of the ends which the organization seeks to achieve, can significantly change first order principles that guide decision making. Different kinds of decisions and outcomes/achievements can flow from this.
  4. Restructure the rules of engagement – adopt new strategies. After the organization has adopted and articulated revised and/or clarified purposes and goals the rules determining how work gets done must be altered. This may, for example, be done by developing new strategies, tactics, and implementation plans.
  5. Shift the flows of information – communicate vision, strategies, actions. This is important in order to ensure understanding and buy in by staff and other stakeholders for achieving change. Even when all other interventions have been successful, progress may stall without consistent exchange of clear information about the purpose, strategies, and benefits of the change effort.
  6. Correct feedback loops in the organization – encourage and reward learning and innovation. A key element in overcoming barriers to change involves improving feedback and learning mechanisms so that employees and stakeholders are encouraged and enabled to continually expand their skills, knowledge, and understanding.
  7. Adjust and align the parameters of the system. Align internal systems, structures, policies, and procedures with organizational goals in order to constantly reaffirm the required actions and behaviours.

Change and quality – hand-in-hand

The cycle of quality enhancement is concerned with continually improving organizational performance and effectiveness, by active review assessment and planning for actions to improve operations and outcomes.

There are common elements between an organizational quality cycle and an organizational change cycle. The latter typically involves:

  • agreeing on objectives which the organization aims for;
  • assessing the current state – by self assessment and/or external review – or a combination of both;
  • prioritizing – identify the most important things;
  • deciding on actions required, setting and implementing action plans; and
  • reviewing and assessing.

Basic principles are common to both quality enhancement and change management. Both are typically concerned with improving ways of working – changing both broad organizational cultures and attitudes and reworking specific infrastructure, systems process and procedures. Both assume that a finite and static state is not desirable – rather that organizations will benefit from continual review, adaptation and improvement. Both are concerned with striving for optimal organizational performance. Quality initiatives focus primarily on measures and outcomes. Change initiatives focus primarily on managing the processes to achieve those outcomes. Effective organizational change can help to enhance quality and the pursuit of enhanced organizational quality can form a key impetus for making changes.

Quality enhancement is concerned with achieving organizational fitness for purpose. A change from the status quo is assumed. Managing change is thus inherent in organizational quality enhancement – change and quality go hand-in-hand.

September 2011.

This is a shortened version of “Organisational quality and organisational change: Interconnecting paths to effectiveness”, which originally appeared in Library Management, Volume 32 Number 1/2, 2011.

The author is Ian Smith.