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Making it Stick

Optimize Blog - September 18, 2014 - 0 comments

Coming up with your organizational strategy is one thing but making organizational change stick is potentially far more difficult. Operations for example typically account for the largest number of a company’s employees and the widest variation in skill levels. Units often are scattered across dozens or even hundreds of sites and even in different countries throughout the world. They function independently, and have distinct corporate cultures. Each facility may specialize in different products or services and face unique pressures from customers, competitors, and regulators. These factors complicate efforts to implement the corporate strategy.
Consequently, many companies emphasize the technical and parochial aspects of their role over the organizational ones. That approach is understandable. Technical solutions are objective and, in relative terms, straightforward. Focusing on what you know is preferable to most people in the organization.
Overlooking the leadership factor, however, drastically lowers any organization’s odds of success. Some companies, for example, rush to implement the strategy without ensuring that their employees—including managers—are prepared to work and lead in new and different ways. In such cases distrust sets in, confusion abounds and the strategy stalls.
If the strategic priorities are not adequately defined or communicated by the leadership, the company will simply fail in creating a sustainable shift in priorities.
The key to success here is to attend to the leadership elements of the strategy throughout its whole course, starting with the earliest, aspiration-setting phases, when senior leaders identify the key goals and start to communicate them. That helps companies to establish a stronger foundation for change and to set more achievable, and often much higher, ambitions than they otherwise could. A better understanding of the cultural starting point enables top companies to determine where they should focus at the beginning of a program, when to implement its various elements, and how to achieve their goals.
After accounting for the way culture and other organizational factors will affect the success of the strategy implementation, leading companies reap bigger, more sustainable benefits by investing in their line managers’ leadership skills.
But that is just part of the equation for success. Large-scale change requires all employees—from the C-suite to the shop floor—to think and work differently. Companies that use only external experts to orchestrate change programs may be fairly successful in the short term. Still, by outsourcing the responsibility for initiatives (and, by extension, the underlying ideas) to experts, these companies often miss significant opportunities and a company should never outsource a core competence. Moreover, once the initial inertia is gone, such efforts often lose steam as employees slip into old habits.
External experts may convey the new language or technical tools but rarely the desire to change behavior permanently, nor can these experts build the organizational capabilities that permanent change requires. So choosing a partner is critical and the choice should be a partner willing to work in concert with the client to transfer skills in-house. The external helpers should work themselves out of a job.
When a company shifts the attention of its line managers away from firefighting, develops their leadership capabilities and expects more from them, the gains are bigger and longer lasting.
Complementing the development of technical skills with a focus on the organizational capabilities that make strategy implementation possible and picking the right experts to partner with will help companies to achieve more substantial, sustainable, and scalable results.

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