The Change Compass: How to Effectively Plan and Control Change Processes

November 17, 2020 | Leadership and Organizational Development, Leadership und Organisationsentwicklung

Every company and every department will experience it at least once: Change. Whether of a strategic or operational nature, organizational development usually poses a challenge for executives and employees and involves many often unexpected pitfalls. For Staufen change management experts, Dr. Dirk Bayas-Linke and Ulrich Beck, the change architecture plays a decisive role in the design of change projects. In the following article, they offer leaders an effective method and describe the necessary stages that you can go through step by step to implement your change projects successfully and sustainably.

The compass as a method for change:

1. Facing reality. Where do we currently stand?

Dirk Bayas-Linke: “We often observe that changes are seen primarily and often exclusively on the basis of individuals’ changed behavior. In doing so, companies usually neglect the structural framework in which people “can” behave. For this reason, it is important to always keep an eye on all three system levels “organization,” “person, function and role” and “teams” when implementing changes. People behave within the framework set by organizations; however, the framework is often overlooked.

The first step in managing impending change is to obtain an as comprehensive and clear a picture as possible of the current situation within the organization in order to develop a consensus on the initial situation. The initial situation is the impetus for change and is therefore also a source of meaning. Comprehensive means here including as many different (relevant) perspectives as possible – employees, suppliers, customers, peers in the organization, “important representatives” of the organization, etc. Because transformation begins with the question: “What should new changes be the answer to? As soon as those involved have grasped the reason, it is more likely that a collective “awareness-raising process” regarding the need for change will lead to uniform problem awareness. In this first phase, everyone involved should understand the urgency of change and grasp its inevitability. It must become clear to everyone that “business as usual” is no longer possible under the new context conditions. Understanding the urgency forms the basis for “away-from energy.”

It is not enough for just the upper management to recognize the need for action. This “punctual” energy level is important, but for successful and sustainable change, a certain degree of “energy density” is required throughout the organization. This also includes discourse and negotiation processes within the organization. The group involved in developing the initial situation will not always agree on the necessity and the “forecasts” for the organization. Bayas-Linke points out the importance of making hard decisions together and not being satisfied with consensus: “The middle ground is not severe and uncomfortable enough to generate the necessary ‘away-from energy’. Facing reality is not cozy. The current reality must be jointly negotiated.”

2. Attractive target image, ambition & mission. What do we want to achieve?

After the cause (and thus the reason) of the necessary change has entered the consciousness of those involved, the next step is to answer the question of what exactly should be different after the change, but also the question of what can be retained. This consideration is important and ensures an appreciation of what was already good and worked in the past. Nevertheless: In which direction should we head? What are “our” target images? How does the (new) target image fit into the context of our (hopefully) existing vision? What is your mission and exactly what added value do you want to generate for society in the future? The more attractive the target image is for everyone, the stronger the “towards energy” is. This important type of energy will be the source of energy for a longer period of change and the driving force for challenging paths. Later, when employees experience uncertainty and resignation, a common target image provides support and orientation. As a leader you have the not always easy task in this phase of accompanying your team through their uncertainty and providing orientation. As a leader, you are a source of trust for your staff throughout the change process – and thus in times of uncertainty and instability.

3. Configuration of the transformation & strands of action. What are our fields of action?

Once the initial situation and thus the reason for change is clear and the workforce has a better picture of where the journey will take them, it will be easier to find ways to move from “here and now” to “then and there.” In doing so, you arrive at specific fields of action (“strands”) that will lead you to your target image and thus allow you to achieve your vision and mission. These could be, for example, strategic initiatives, reorientation or changes in the organizational structure. At this point, it should once again be emphasized how important the “operation” and thus joint consideration of all three system levels “organization,” “person, function and role” and “teams” is with regard to sustainable change.

In addition to the purely technical aspects, each strand of action also has a cultural-systemic dimension that is often underestimated. For each strand of action, however, it is crucial to effectively address this dimension as well.

The step of identifying suitable fields of action is called the implementation energy. For the first time “roads” are developed, which are later used to create a roadmap. It then becomes clear what we often experience in our day-to-day work as consultants: Organizations approach us with individual projects (fields of action) without having the answer to the question of what this project will be the answer to. This “break” in the project’s plausibility and lack of meaning, costs considerable acceptance and is thus the ideal breeding ground for destructive resistance. Resistance, when considering its positive core, is a part of each change project, completely normal and also a form of participation, although a critical one. Resistance is a form of preservation and protection and is therefore an important perspective to deal with. Rather the absence of resistance should be cause for concern. Destructive resistance, on the other hand, is often a behavior that can be quite harmful, but in case of doubt does not entail any consequences. This indicates organizational space in which it is currently possible to behave in this manner.

The more comprehensible the defined fields of action are for your organization, the broader the agreement, and the more successful the implementation will be. This is especially the case if it reflexively accesses the three system levels.

4. Development lines supported by milestones. How do we build the development path?

The goal of the fifth step is to create the development path towards your goal and set milestones. When defining the milestones, we also distinguish between the strategic-structural, technical aspects and cultural-systemic aspects. The focus is on creating measurable steps, hard figures, data and facts that should be defined, e.g., as concrete annual or growth targets. But not everything that counts is countable! The cultural-systemic aspects refer to softer activities that are necessary to achieve goals at this level, e.g. increased collaboration between departments or a more uniform understanding of leadership.

The more clearly you have negotiated, defined and communicated your development paths and milestones, the better the forecast for your implementation energy.

5. The change architecture

By defining the fields of action and stages, you have determined the “big picture” of your change project. But how do you manage such a project? The framework is provided by change architecture that is specifically developed for your project. In addition to the individual activities in the context of the strands of action, “spaces for reflection” are created in which the organization can reflect on and examine the effects of change at different hierarchical and cross-hierarchical levels. By doing so, quick reactions through additional or adapted interventions are possible if irritations, concerns or new findings arise during the project. We are part of a social system and thus in a complex context in which the effect of what we do cannot be predicted with certainty. For this reason, project management requires an iterative process in which we hold an “ear to the tracks” at all times and can react quickly. Creating room for reflection ensures that your organization remains actively involved. This significantly increases the chance of successfully shaping your change process.

The three energy types of the change process, away-from energy, towards energy and implementation energy make up the targeted force of change. Each individual factor must be greater than one in order to create an appropriate, directed force of change for success. If this is not the case, we will analyze the reason together with you. We call the connection between the energy forms the change formula.

Our Experts

Dr. Dirk Bayas-Linke | Principal Staufen.AG

After studying pedagogy, Dr. Dirk Bayas-Linke began working as a consultant in qualitative market research with international clients. At the same time, he completed his doctoral thesis on organization and leadership. Through many years as a freelance consultant, he gained experience in a wide range of industries (including insurance, IT, defense, automotive) and worked with all levels in organizations on the topics of change, strategy, leadership systems, organizational design from conception to implementation. He took on his position as Principal at Staufen.AG in 2018 and is responsible for the area of change.

Ulrich Beck | Senior Expert Staufen.AG

Ulrich Beck has with his vocational training as a machinist technical roots and worked for many years as a design engineer. After training as a Kaizen coach, he was entrusted with the Lean transformation and the development of the RAFI production system. Here, Ulrich Beck gained experience in the implementation of change projects in addition to Lean management methods. As a freelance trainer for project management, he also has great knowledge in terms of various PM standards and knows the business from project practice. Since January 2015 he is working for Staufen AG as Project Manager.

Contact the Experts

Do you have questions, or would you like a consultation with our expert? Schedule a non-binding conversation with Dr. Dirk Bayas-Linke or Ulrich Beck.

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