Organizational Change: Why Isn’t it Working?

Recently, a colleague was discouraged and a little perplexed with some challenges of implementing a consolidation of multiple billing systems. A slick new system was introduced with new processes and policies. Training went smoothly, and the overall change plan was solid. They just weren’t getting the lift they expected. After a little probing, I asked what seemed to be the next logical question:

Did you drop a Ford engine into a Honda?

I got the expected blank stare.

Full disclosure: I’m not a mechanic, but my dad is. When I was growing up, we had a modest graveyard of vehicles in various stages of usefulness to a young teenager. One day, I had a brilliant idea and asked what I thought was a simple question. I wanted to know if I could put an engine from an old Ford that I didn’t particularly care for into a Honda body that I liked.

My dad, after what seemed like a good fifteen-minute pause, explained that dropping an entirely different engine into a vehicle isn’t an easy job. It would require a lot of modifications—body structure, cooling system, drive train, wiring, etc. I quickly learned that my idea was not as simple as I had thought. The engine swap would require major structural work and adjustments to so many interconnected components that I didn’t even know existed.

So, what does this have to do with a billing system?

Introducing complex organizational change (like a billing system) is similar to swapping out an engine. In an organization, complex change usually requires significant modifications, not just a simple switch, to achieve desired results. Unfortunately, we often focus our energy on making minor tweaks to roles and treat preparedness as a training issue when we should actively explore impacts to organizational structure and key linking mechanisms critical for successful implementation.

In our book, Mastering the Cube, we address the importance of aligning organizational systems when introducing transformational change. If you think you’re dropping a Ford engine into a Honda with your change, consider the following dimensions as you align your systems:

Processes: Does the change impact key processes across the organization? Think systematically. Although new processes may be defined specific to the change, consider the impact to key handoffs and organizational links to other organizational functions. Lack of attention could lead to dropped handoffs, role conflict, and other unanticipated consequences.

Structure: Does the organizational structure need to be adjusted to support the change? Consider this dimension if you are hearing, “Let’s just implement now and we’ll figure out if we need to make changes to our organization structure later; our people will adjust.” A new process that requires autonomous decision making, for example, will likely fail in a traditional hierarchical structure. Rather than leave this to chance, take the time to align structure as a prerequisite to implementation.

Metrics: Are performance measures aligned to the change being introduced? Again, it is important to think systematically. Conflicting performance objectives of interdependent organizations can quickly undermine newly-introduced changes if they are not appropriately aligned.

People: Have jobs been significantly changed or new jobs added? A common outcome of a complex change initiative is the identification of new roles, responsibilities, and accompanying training plans. This often leads to simply adding responsibilities to existing jobs rather than taking a step back and re-evaluating entire job definitions and the capabilities needed to staff key roles.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, Organizations are complex.  An inherent challenge of introducing organizational change is understanding and accounting for impacts to this complexity.  Before you drop in that engine, make sure you’ve considered all the moving parts.