Lance B. Eliot, Feature Editor, Eliot & Associates
Achieving Enterprisewide Change Integration
Lance B. Eliot, Feature Editor, Eliot & Associates
Large-scale change is the norm for most businesses today. Organizations are radically restructuring to meet marketplace demands. For example, organizations are revamping their internal processes to streamline their actions and produce more goods and services at a lower cost. And, organizations are implementing whole new technologies and using computing to conduct enterprisewide resource planning.
The list of existing change initiatives and potential change initiatives is lengthy and somewhat daunting. How can organizations cope with such massive and simultaneous change? Employees are often overwhelmed by each successive change initiative, and must wear their reengineering hat for one moment, then their TQM hat for another, and switch to many other hats as they confront multiple change efforts blitzing through their firm.
Sadly, some firms fail to recognize the fact that each of these major initiatives are all commonly rooted in the same basic elements, namely, the need to identify, adopt, and embed large-scale change in their organizations. Thus, though TQM and BPR may not seem immediately related, they are at least related via the underlying theme that the business needs to be changed in a significant fashion.
Fortunately, large-scale organizational change is actually a predictable phenomenon that can be managed. Rather than randomly throwing one change initiative after another at an organization, wise executives are careful to plan for change and seek to bring about change in a relatively orderly manner. Executives taking such a systematic approach are likely to find that the changes made "stick" and therefore become a permanent part of the organization's way of doing business.
Ways of Managing Change
Various experts on the topic of change offer particular approaches to managing change. I have found the approach used by the management consulting arm of Price Waterhouse to be especially insightful. Their methodology emphasizes the importance of viewing change as an integrative activity that must involve six key levers of change, namely (1) customer and markets, (2) products and services, (3) organizational structure, (4) people and culture, (5) business processes, and (6) systems and technology.
I find this approach refreshing in that the notion of integration is crucial to their methodology. A change effort that does not take into account the interdependencies between each of the levers is likely to find that their change initiative will fail. For example, a firm that is adopting the now popular package SAP (an enterprisewide suite of accounting, manufacturing, distribution, and related software components), might at first glance assume that they need only be concerned with change related to the systems and technology area. Questions usually asked include what client/server architecture will be needed, how will legacy systems integrate to SAP, what bottlenecks might surface related to the network topology, and so on.
Of course, the proper set of questions that should be asked include issues of how the adoption of SAP will allow the firm to address new markets or reach their customers in better ways. And, how will SAP enable the organization to produce products and services more rapidly or at lower cost. And, how will the introduction of SAP impact the processes used within the business and their interaction with outside suppliers. And, how will the organizational structure be best revised to match to the new enterprisewide suite of tools. And, how will people be impacted in terms of work practices, careers. And so on.
The six levers of change act as a reminder that any major change initiative will have an impact in all major aspects of the firm. Thus, planning of change must take into account each respective lever and the interaction between each of the levers. Notably, I have observed SAP failures that were clearly attributed to the lack of awareness that the systems changes taking place were pushing all other aspects of the organization to their limits, and yet no formal thought had been given to the corresponding changes that needed to be made in the other levers of the organization.
Making Change an Enterprise-wide Norm
Smart organizations realize that change must be managed. Such savvy organizations carefully contemplate the nature of change that will be required for each major change initiative. How will the TQM change initiative be brought about and made to stick? How will the reengineering change initiative be brought about and made permanent? How will a forthcoming outsourcing effort (another kind of change initiative) be accomplished and made permanent?
In addition to viewing each change initiative as an effort requiring the techniques and tools of change integration, even smarter organizations realize that the various "islands of change" need to be collectively managed. In other words, not only should individual change initiatives be managed, but all major change initiatives should be viewed as a common set of change efforts that can be managed with a common set of change techniques and tools.
An analogy might be made to building a home. The first important realization about building a home is to adopt a management framework for dealing with the home creation and construction activity. The next important realization is that if you are really building an entire tract of homes, you should not merely think of the effort as building dozens of separate homes, but instead as an effort involving a collection of homes that are all in need of an integrative approach.
I call this notion of collective organizational change "Enterprisewide Change Integration" (ECI). By viewing change initiatives in a collective sense, organizations can gain certain economies of scale related to their change efforts. The enterprisewide adoption of standardized methods, tools, and training to bring about change can infuse a change mindset into the organization. Then, when a new change initiative comes along, the organization is prepared to handle the change.
Effectively, modern organizations need to be learning organizations, and one of the most valuable skills that an organization can possess is the skill of change management. ECI helps organizations to become change masters. The entire organization becomes poised to grasp the need for change and understands how to implement change.
From a competitive posture, an organization that can more readily deal with change, either by being speedy in adopting change or making change at a lower cost and with less disruption to the business, can outmaneuver its competition. In addition, a change master type of organization can accrue the benefits of the change sooner than its competition, and can already be contemplating the next change while their competition is still baffled by making the prior change.
In future columns, I will offer additional details about how Enterprisewide Change Integration can become an organizational skill. And, I will provide various examples from an information technology perspective about the value of technology as both a supporter of ECI and an element of ECI. If your organization is currently confronting multiple change initiatives, it's time to bring them together under the umbrella of ECI.
Remember that your input is welcomed. If you have projects addressing the information technology area, and you would like to share this with the readers of this column, please contact me.