How to Implement Change Efficiently

Organization design is a bit like remodeling your kitchen. At the beginning you’re optimistic it will be a short, painless experience only taking a few months, and then a year and a half later you’re still waiting for the contractor to finish. For as much as organization leaders want to effect a new organization design, transformation, or realignment with speed and minimal disruption, the reality is change tends to be a long and laborious process. In short, it’s a slog that can take multiple years of time and energy. And often by the time it’s done, the results might not quite meet the loftiest expectations because the market has changed in the interim.

Still, that doesn’t mean that organizations shouldn’t embrace redesign from time to time. But what it does mean is that rather than trying to do everything at once, it’s more effective and efficient to break the work down into smaller chunks. In addition to breaking down a redesign into more manageable sprints, organizations also benefit when they use a high involvement approach. Instead of having consultants do all the work implementing change, find a way to get people in the organization involved in the process. Making your employees an integral part of the realignment helps the rank and file buy into the changes being made and improves their understanding of why it’s happening, so they are better able to implement the changes.

When you combine the strategies of smaller projects and employee involvement, the benefits are varied and deep. Seeing results sooner than later boosts morale and gives everyone a sense of shared achievement and accomplishment. It enables leaders and employees alike the opportunity to make sure the changes are functioning as intended before moving to the next phase. And it instills the sense of forward progress and momentum.

Another practical reasons for planning a series of small projects rather than trying to do it all simultaneously is that if a project is too big and onerous; nothing gets done because resources are too spread out. Don’t over-complicate your transformation by trying to make it cover everything. Overly ambitious projects make coordination difficult and often results in extra features or functions being added. which are nice but not essential at launch.

That’s a phenomenon big-city commuters often see with major freeway construction projects. The two years it’s supposed to take ends up being years longer, and during that time they decide to add extra lanes or a new exit ramp, and it becomes a never-ending construction project that adds to the congestion it’s supposed to be alleviating. If they had added a new ramp first and then expanded one short section at a time so the work zone was only a quarter mile in length instead of multiple miles, the project would likely have gone faster with less cost because they were more focused with their resources.

I’ve seen a few organizations undertake some large, dramatic organizational transformations, and in the end, it was so unwieldy they sort of lost sight of performance and business results. The intended goal of organization transformation was to make them more efficient and competitive, but the redesign ended up taking so long that the organization missed earnings or sales went down, so suddenly the transformation itself became jeopardized. Then leaders wondered: Why didn’t we start with keeping our eye on what we’re trying to accomplish here?

So don’t bite off more of a realignment than your organization can chew. By dividing a large redesign and conquering it in small sections with the participation of informed employees, you’ll be amazed at how quickly and smoothly a reorganization can go.