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How to Successfully Implement Organizational Change

By August 20, 2012Article

Technology is introducing a lot of change in the business world. Companies are struggling with security and cost strategies for BYOD (bring your own device) and mobile applications, deciding which applications and processes to move to the cloud, ensuring effectiveness in business intelligence and Big Data solutions, incorporating social media data for a holistic customer view and implementing a collaborative environment. Whatever the change, there is one question on every executive’s mind: “How do I ensure that this change gets the return that I need?”

If your change program does not deliver the intended return, there are three possible causal factors:

  • Your employees weren’t engaged in implementing or accepting the change introduced by your business strategy
  • Your leaders weren’t successful in connecting employees to the change
  • Your business system didn’t adequately support the change

How to recognize whether employees are engaged in implementing change

An Employee Engagement Report published by Blessing White in 2011 found that globally only 31 percent of employees were engaged and 17 percent were disengaged at their company. You need employees to engage in the implementation of your business strategy and to accept the subsequent change. How do you know if employees are engaged?

One way is to recognize employee behavior patterns. The following behaviors describe employees who are not engaged:

  • Passive behaviors: They do the bare minimum to implement your strategy and barely use what has changed after implementation.
  • Passive-aggressive behaviors: They support the change in front of you, then undermine the change behind your back.
  • Dominant behaviors: They are openly defiant about the change.
  • Independent behaviors: They continue to do things their own way regardless of what the change requires.

The desired behavior from employees is interdependent behavior — where they collaborate with each other and their managers on how to best implement the change and how to continually improve results after the change.

Knowing that your employees are not engaged is the first step to getting their support for your change program.

How leaders can ensure employees help fulfill the success of the change

Leaders need to ensure that employees understand and connect to the change. There are three ways to do this, but some have unintended negative outcomes.

1. Authoritarian leadership behaviors

Some leaders dictate the change to employees. They micro-manage implementation and threaten employees if they don’t accept the change. Often the best result that can be obtained by authoritarian leadership behaviors is that employees do as they are told, but often not much more.

If leaders micromanage, motivate through negative consequences, criticize employees and talk more than listen to their team on a regular basis, they will more than likely have employees who are less responsible and uncommitted, which impacts the workgroup’s productivity.

Authoritarian leadership behaviors encourage employees’ passive behaviors and often passive-aggressive behaviors. Employees may do as they are told, but they won’t give 100 percent. Employees who use passive behaviors don’t contribute as much effort to business change programs as employees who use the other behavior preferences. They may produce the required business results, but the results will be limited compared to what they could be if employees’ hearts and minds were really into their work.

The reduced effort also impacts others who are dependent on passively behaving employees to do their part. When an employee fails to fulfill personal potential, it drags down coworkers.

2. Laissez-faire leadership behaviors

Leaders using laissez-faire behaviors allow employees to figure out the change on their own. They empower employees to do as they see fit with the change effort.

This works with some employees who have the capability to understand and accept the change on their own. But most employees will resist change even if the change is positive. It’s much easier to continue doing what is known — even if it is somewhat painful — than to try something unknown.

Laissez-faire behaviors typically aren’t very effective in getting employees to accept or implement change, which is bad for business strategies.

3. Connective leadership behaviors

The most effective leadership behaviors are connective behaviors such as:

  • Working with the team to define the change
  • Providing support during the change
  • Coaching and mentoring employees through the change
  • Rewarding team accomplishments

Both employees and the organization benefit when leaders use connective behaviors. Collaborating with and involving employees makes it easier for employees to accept business change. Consequently, employees’ actions will be more on target to deliver the desired business results.

The success rate of change programs improves when leaders provide a compelling reason for accomplishing something, provide measurable objectives to track progress, celebrate successes, and recognize/reward teamwork.

The impact of combined employee and leadership behaviors

The combination of certain employee and leadership behavior patterns forms an organizational culture for the workgroups within your company.

For example, when a workgroup leader prefers authoritarian behaviors, employees often respond with passive behaviors, which forms an authoritarian/passive culture for that workgroup.

A different workgroup leader may prefer laissez-faire behaviors encouraging independent employee behaviors and forming a laissez-faire/independent culture.

Typically the most effective organizational culture is a connective/interdependent culture because it ensures that everyone understands what needs to be done and why. This prevents daily decisions from unintentionally undermining change programs. Interdependent/connective cultures further support business change since teamwork creates synergy.

How the business system and culture impacts the success of change

Business systems are another reason that change efforts fail or aren’t as successful as they could be. Your business system comprises your organizational structure, management systems, processes and information technology. Change programs often address only some of the business system components, but success requires addressing all of them.

For example, a company may acquire another company and only focus on how the acquired company fits into its organizational structure. Its acquisition business strategy does not consider needed changes to management systems, processes and information systems. The acquired company may be brought in as a separate business unit and, for the most part, allowed to operate autonomously. And then the executives wonder why the synergies that they hoped to gain were not achieved.

Executives need to look at the whole business system to ensure that all needed changes are implemented to support the business strategy. With any system, if three things are broken, the system won’t run properly if you only fix one or two of the problems.

Additionally, business systems have certain characteristics built into them that don’t encourage the right behaviors from employees and leaders, thereby negatively impacting change programs.

For example, hierarchical organization structures with strict chains of command and bureaucratic processes that require frequent management approvals encourage leaders to use more authoritarian behaviors and employees to use more passive behaviors.

These business system characteristics usually don’t support change programs well since they don’t provide the flexibility necessary for successful implementation.

Other examples of business system characteristics that don’t encourage the right employee and leadership behaviors are decentralized management plans, unclear roles and responsibilities and flexible and unenforced processes. These characteristics encourage a laissez-faire/independent culture. This makes it difficult for employees to meet business objectives and leverage the teamwork that is often required to successfully implement today’s business change program.

Business systems that include characteristics such as supportive organization structures, aligned management plans, shared data and end-to-end processes encourage leaders to use more connective behaviors and employees to use more interdependent behaviors.

These characteristics provide employees the freedom and support to complete change implementation tasks and to solve problems in a timely and accurate manner. These characteristics also provide a collaborative environment for employees to work together and to see how their efforts impact others.

Most change programs would benefit from the following three critical success factors:

  1. Engaged employees — Encouraging employees to use interdependent behaviors will help them get engaged in your change effort.
  2. Effective leadership — Coaching and mentoring your leaders on connective behaviors will help them encourage interdependent behaviors from employees.
  3. Business system characteristics that are right for the change — Improving your business system characteristics to encourage the right leadership and employee behaviors will give your change program a higher chance of succeeding.

Together, these three critical success factors are a holistic approach to creating business success through change and, at the same time, improving happiness among employees and managers.

Mary Vaughn is a consultant with North Highland. She is also the author of “The Gruntled Employee” With over 30 years of management and consulting experience, Mary has applied her award-winning, holistic approach to successfully implement business strategies, improve performance-based business results and increase employee morale while working with numerous Fortune 500 clients, U.S. federal government agencies, and a variety of other businesses. Several of her workgroups have won industry excellence awards and have been featured as outstanding examples at three industry research analyst symposiums. Contact her at 


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