When written in Chinese the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.2
John F. Kennedy made this trope popular in his presidential speeches. How an organisation responds to crisis will determine its outcome. Often it takes a critical event or crisis for an organisation to decide to change. It can come in the form of eroding margins, losing market share, or plummeting customer satisfaction in the private-sector markets. In a public-sector environment, a rapid change of policy, agency rearrangements, and public policy implementation failure are some potential sources of crises. No sector or organisation is immune.
Crisis reveals the need to change.
In analysing the history of a crisis, we might often find that the underlying difficulty had existed for some time, but was allowed to fester. Perhaps this was due to the problem lacking visibility, disagreement within management, or an inclination to maintain the status quo. Perhaps this continued until it became too obvious to ignore, and management had little option but to accept that the issue must be addressed quickly, or risk serious damage to the organisation.
A typical response to crisis is to set up a dedicated taskforce to look into the situation. Consultants are brought in to analyse the state of affairs and provide their assessment and recommendations. Much cost, effort and time might be spent to implement new systems or structures to solve the issues. Yet, after implementation, it is found that nobody uses or understands the system or structure, and nobody believes in it. Everyone just complains about it, blames those who came up with the idea, and reverts to the old ways of doing things. So, what has gone wrong?
Even the best-laid plans can fail as a result of poor execution. This is where change management comes in, to provide a repeatable, systematic approach for successful change.
It is hard to discuss change management without mentioning Professor John P. Kotter, the internationally recognised thought leader on change and leadership. He summarises the change management process in eight critical steps.3 Every change project goes through each step, even if only briefly. The steps should be completed in the correct order. Mismanaging any one of them can undermine an otherwise well-conceived vision for change. The following table summarises the Kotter model for change management.
Eight Steps To Transform Your Organisation
1. Establish a sense of urgency
- Examine the market and competitive realities
- Identify and discuss crises, potential crises, or major opportunities
2. Form a guiding coalition
- Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change
- Get the group to work together as a team
3. Develop a vision and strategy
- Create a vision to help direct the change effort
- Develop strategies for achieving that vision
4. Communicate the vision
- Use every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies
- Have the guiding coalition role model the behaviour expected of employees
5. Empower others to act on the vision
- Get rid of obstacles to change
- Change systems or structures that undermine the change vision
- Encourage risk-taking and non-traditional ideas, activities and actions
6. Generate short-term wins
- Plan for visible performance improvements or ‘wins’
- Create those wins
- Visibly recognise and reward people who make the wins possible
7. Consolidate gains and produce more change
- Use increased credibility to change systems, structures and policies that do not fit the vision
- Hire, promote and develop people who can implement the vision
- Reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes and change agents
8. Institutionalise new approaches in the culture
- Articulate the connections between new behaviour and organisational success
- Develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession
Adapted from John P. Kotter, 1996, Leading Change, Harvard Business Review Press.
So, how does this apply to managing process change?
First, why change? What is the compelling need for change? How do we go from where we are right now to where we want to be? No process change should be initiated without answering these fundamental questions. Through a thorough analysis of the business and markets, or policies and environment, these questions must be answered concretely before any change can take place. Internal experts or external consultants can do this. (In some situations, it takes the independent review of a third-party consultant to break the internal departmental deadlock.) A vision and a strategy for change need to be communicated throughout the organisation. This is the ideal time to lay the right foundation for process view or process management in the organisation.
Before diving straight into process modelling and changing the process, start as early as possible to understand the impact the change may have on stakeholders, and how they are involved in the process(es). To effect change, all key stakeholders must be on board, and their concerns and needs must be understood. To fully participate, people need to feel they are part of the change, or have contributed to it. Communicate as much as possible, as early as possible. Changing processes requires changing minds.4
Any change initiative needs the unequivocal support of top management for it to work. In addition, a strong team needs to be put in place to oversee and drive the change, preferably one made up of stakeholders from the different departments. Two reasons for this: they are the representation or voice of their departments; they will be the advocates for change within their departments.
There are many Business Process Management (BPM) tools in the market that can support an organisation in its process change initiatives: documenting methodologies, modelling processes, automating workflows, and reporting on performance. However, having a good BPM system is just part of the solution. The work of the change management team does not stop at implementation. Ongoing education and support are critical to ensure people know how to work with the changed processes and systems, and see their benefits.
Kotter speaks about the need to generate visible wins early, to build the change momentum within the organisation for more or larger wins. Organisations need to actively seek opportunities to reward the positive change behaviours, and recognise and develop the people who best absorb the new reality. The change management objective is that the new way of doing things becomes part of the organisational norm and culture.
Finally, process change must be monitored and reviewed on a regular basis. Is the changed environment living up to its intended outcomes? If not, what can be done to achieve the targeted objectives? Are the initial circumstances and assumptions still valid as the change progresses? If not, what adjustments need to be made? In dynamic systems, change causes change. Flexible and thoughtful responses are required to deal with unintended consequences.
What we can be certain of is that change is here to stay. The question that organisations must answer is how they can be better prepared to manage it.
1 Wikiquote, Heraclitus, retrieved 12 Feb 2012, <http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Heraclitus>
2 Wikipedia, Chinese word for "crisis", retrieved 12 Feb 2012,<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_word_for_%22crisis%22>
3 John P. Kotter, 1996, Leading Change, Harvard Business Review Press.
4 Roger Tregear, 2008, Achieving Change, Leonardo Consulting.