Build Work Processes that Successfully Execute Strategic Change
We all know that work processes are the means by which an organisation executes its strategy. It follow that when a strategy changes, the new strategy will only be executed successfully if the work processes that execute it are changed accordingly. However, it is widely recognised that when an organisation fails to achieve strategic change, the most likely cause is poor execution of the new strategy. So how can we ensure that our work processes do achieve strategic change?
We need to understand the conditions that support successful execution of strategic change and create these conditions in our organisation. Conditions that support successful execution of strategic change are:
- Executives and senior managers fully understand the intent of the change and the rationale for choosing the new strategy and use this understanding to lead execution
- Accountability for achieving strategic change is delegated down through the organisation to processes charged with its implementation
- These processes effectively and efficiently achieve the outcomes delegated to them.
Let’s look at these conditions in more detail.
Executives/senior managers use their understanding of the intent of the change to lead execution
Resistance to organisational change is primarily caused by fear of the unknown. During the first stage of change, employees look to their leaders to resolve this fear by providing‘ clear consistent messages’ about the intent of the change and the impact it will have on their work.
In most organisations, The Corporate Plan (or organisational strategic plan) is developed by locking executive and senior managers away for several days in order to reach agreement on strategies that will be implemented across the whole organisation and to allocate budgets for their execution. This is good practice because it provides opportunities for clarification of the intent of new strategies and consideration of the impact of strategic change on current work processes.
However, in organisations that manage change badly, when the Corporate Plan is finally documented it contains only a tiny fraction of the tacit knowledge generated by discussion during strategy development process. The plan is then presented to large groups of employees with little reference given to the tacit knowledge gained. This frequently leaves process managers and their staff with very little direction as to the how, if at all, their process should change to contribute to execution of the new strategy and very often causes resistance to change.
By contrast, organisations that manage strategic change well recognise this need for leadership. Their strategic plans often contain supporting material which provides the rational for strategic change and the expected impact it will have within the organisation. In communicating the plan, employees in divisions or branches in which strategic change is likely to require major change to work processes get special attention. Both Executive and Senior Managers lead change by presenting to these people in smaller groups to explain both the rationale for the change, the expected impact it will have on their processes and the support available to help them through this change. These sessions also include opportunities for employees to ask questions and express their concerns about the change.
Accountability for executing strategic change is delegated down through the organisation to processes
If the first stage of organisational change is about leadership, the second stage is about consolidating the change into the organisation’s systems and processes. This has traditionally been achieved by a business planning and reporting cycle which delegates accountability for achieving the new corporate plan to divisional, branch and unit plans and extends into individual performance plans and allocates budgets for its execution. The business planning process should also provide opportunities for leadership of change by senior and middle managers and for engaging middle and lower level managers in the success of the business. I recommend that this is done by:
Use of planning workshops which enable these managers to participate in decisions as to how the strategy will be executed in their branch or unit. A short address by a senior manager at the start of the workshop expressing the intent of the strategy and its relevance to this particular business
As organisations have become more complex, it has become clear that processes critical for executing strategic change often extend across organisational boundaries and that when this happens barriers (or silos) between divisions and branches often limit both the success of the business planning and reporting cycle and the customer focus of the process.
This can be avoided by using a Business Planning and Reporting Cycle only down to level at which processes cross organisational boundaries. Managers and staff (from each division or branch) directly involved in running the process then form a team and identify outcomes that the overall process must achieve and delegate accountability for achieving contributing outcomes to team members.
However, delegating accountability for achievement for process outcomes can cause problems because when these processes cross organisational boundaries, they are seen to countermand authority delegated by the organisation’s structure. These problems can be overcome by:
- Coaching leaders to become role-models of behaviours that support accountability and cooperation and coordination across organisational boundaries
- Encouraging all team members to participate in developing the required process outcomes and performance measures and indicators at critical steps the process
- Aligning performance development systems within each contributing division or branch with the achievement of process outcomes
Processes efficiently and effectively achieve Process Outcomes
The process will be able to achieve Process Outcomes delegated to it, if the process is correctly designed, employees are able to implement it and any change management issues are effectively dealt with. This is achieved by either Process Redesign and Continuous Improvement of existing processes
The need for Process Redesign is indicated by dissatisfied customers and stakeholders and/or delegated process outcomes that are radically different from those the process is currently achieving. It often, but not always, includes introduction of, or changes to, information technology systems and automation of manual processes.Very briefly, it involves first detailed mapping of processes exactly as they are being executed now. These maps are then reviewed and process steps are removed, modified or added to enable the process to efficiently achieve delegated Process Outcomes and satisfy stakeholder needs. Redesigned processes are often radically different from the processes they replace and may require a corresponding difference in the skill set of employees, or in fewer employees. This has major implications for HRM policies and practice. Decisions need to be made to either re-train current staff or recruit replacements and, if recruitment is chosen how to maintain morale amongst people you need to keep.For this reason, once the process has been re-designed, a detailed plan is developed to implement the change.
Running alongside of this plan is a Change Plan which deals with change management issues. As well as plans for training in new skills, it will include the following change management strategies:
- Leadership strategies for use by senior, line and process managers (most importantly leading by example)
- Strategies for helping employees understand and accept change by enabling them to participate in decisions as to how it is implemented, and,
- A communication and consultation plan to keep people informed of progress, allow them to express their concerns and reassure them of the support they will receive during the change process. opportunities to celebrate success as important milestones in the change process are achieved.
If customers and stakeholders of the process are reasonably satisfied with its performance to date and the process outcomes delegated to it are not radically different from those it is currently achieving it is unlikely that the process will need to be re-designed. Necessary change can then be achieved by Continuous Improvement. This is a much gentler, but nevertheless very effective approach to change. It involves establishing ongoing relationships with customers and stakeholders which enable process owners to understand and sometimes anticipate their needs of the process. The process teams then collaboratively and continuously make small adjustments to the process to satisfy these needs. Learning and Development similarly occurs gradually as the need for new skills emerge. A formal change plan is not always necessary because process staff have been involved in the identification of required process outcomes and are accustomed to both working collaboratively and consulting closely with customers and stakeholders. However managers and staff do appreciate recognition as they achieve milestones
Strategic Change can only be achieved if work processes execute the new strategy effectively and efficiently. This will happen if:
- Senior Managers lead execution of the change by sharing their understanding of strategic intent and the impact it will have on work processes
- Accountability for Strategic Change is delegated down through the organisation to the process level by a sound Business Planning and Reporting Cycle
- Where processes cross organisational boundaries, the required process outcomes are determined collaboratively by a process management team selected from contributing organisational units
- These outcomes will be achieved by either Process Redesign (when radical change is required) or Continuous Improvement (for non-radical change).
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