It used to be said that there are only two certainties in this world – death and taxes. These days we can add a third certainty to that list and that is change. The world appears to be in a constant state of flux in terms of technological advances, economic fluctuations, social and cultural upheaval and political turmoil.
This may leave leaders and managers feeling that if they are not in an almost constant state of business change then they will not be able to keep pace.
Competitive pressures cause leaders to look for any advantage in the market they can find and new structures and business processes are often where they turn to achieve this.
Change management can be a great thing for an organisation and, no doubt, it is often necessary to ensure efficiencies in a rapidly changing world. But is it always the best solution?
The reason that change is needed, especially significant structural change, must be crystal clear from the outset.
Organisations need to identify the objectives they are trying to achieve by the change, how it will be better than the current model and then explain with absolute clarity to those affected why the change will be a better way of going about things and lead to profitable business outcomes.
A little anecdote here…
The executive team in an organisation I once worked for had decided that the organisational structure needed changing to increase efficiencies at the administrative assistant level. The current structure had an admin assistant in each department that dealt with staff, clients and scheduling.
The new model proposed to locate all the admin assistants in one hub to get better coverage for leave across the departments – in short, it meant that if someone was away then the department would be covered by the other admin assistants.
Sounds great in theory, right? The problem was, especially in my department, that the admin assistant that worked with us had intimate product knowledge across a wide suite of products and was excellent with the clients. She could very often answer the questions clients posed without having to refer to those in more senior positions. She also knew who dealt with which clients most often and who to refer queries to that she was not qualified, or didn’t have the knowledge, to answer.
When the new model was proposed, we argued strongly against it. We were the best-performed department in the organisation, so our first question was why? The response, basically, was that all the other departments were doing this so, in order to keep a synergy across the organisation, we needed to change too. And that, folks, was the entire reasoning behind making this significant change.
We were the best performing department and they were going to change us to fit the model that underperforming sections of the organisation were using. Que?
Job satisfaction plummeted among the admin assistants as they were all lumped together and, in some cases, given jobs outside their original job descriptions. They were removed from the team they had established good working relationships with and their specialised knowledge was now no longer as highly valued as previously – they were now all just allrounders who took calls and referred these on to a more senior member of staff.
Customer satisfaction dropped as clients could no longer access information in as timely a manner nor deal with someone who they already had a good relationship with – they had to deal with whoever was free.
The senior staff that had previously relied on their admin specialist became frustrated and were increasingly bogged down with trivial enquiries that were previously dealt with by the admin assistant. It also took much longer to get simple admin tasks performed so many resorted to doing these themselves and were therefore spending time on lower level duties and not on the duties that brought in the revenue.
So, the system that had been designed to significantly increase efficiencies actually caused inefficiencies, lowered job satisfaction and impacted heavily on productivity. Not to mention the costs incurred during the implementation phase of the new structure.
Moral of the story?
Change is often needed to ensure that organisations remain competitive and keep pace with changes in their external environment. You need to be sure, however, that the change is needed and it is going to achieve better results than the structure that is already in place.
If it doesn’t then you have just wasted a heap of time and money as well as potentially destroying the very thing that made you successful in the first place – staff trust and loyalty. Don’t make changes for change’s sake!