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Changing an Organization’s Goals

After goals are crisply defined for an organizational transformation there are some crucial elements of a group that have to be evaluated. A leader has to look at the existing team and assess the gaps between the articulated goals and what is being delivered today. This analysis should include potential system and process requirements as well as organizational structure changes needed perform new roles and create new deliverables. Once this picture is created then an assessment can be made about the competencies required for achieving goals in the new model. It is important to include as many members of the team as possible in the gap analyses and future needs analysis. People in the organization must be committed to mapping out their own future. This exercise helps to break the likely inertia in the organization and ease some of the staff over the disruption that the change will cause them. If the organization is in bad shape, bringing them together can also “drain the swamp” by sharing fears and concerns about the change but also set expectations very clearly for those that might be resistant.

Before a larger team is brought together to do the gap analysis the leadership team should put together the messaging and a skeleton model to propose to the larger team. This will allow them to help craft the message and to understand what customers and/or stakeholders are asking and will provide creative approaches that you might not think about. They will also gain a level of ownership in the new direction and be able to inspire their teams to embrace the changes.

When I started my current role there were different ideas about the organization’s goals. Once I established the expectations of our stakeholders and customers the management team worked hard to put together a succinct summary of those expectations. The people within the organization weren’t clear on the perceptions outside of the group but sensed that there was something wrong. We scheduled an offsite 30 days after I took the role and had people come from all over the world to work on our vision. But, before we did that we did a “get to know the new leader session”. I opened it up with an autobiography so that they would understand my background, both professionally and personally, and then shared what I had learned the interviews I’d done with our stakeholders throughout the company. The team then got together in sub groups and brainstormed what they wanted to know about me personally, about my perceptions of the group, about my thoughts about our direction, and whatever else that they wanted to know. The questions that they asked were insightful, well thought out, and expressed the uncertainty that was going through the group but most importantly it was very honest. There was some shock expressed when I explained the negative perceptions of the group from other organizations. There were concerns over whether I would stay for the long haul as we sort things out. In the end it was an honest discussion. What was most important was that I answered every question directly and honestly, even some of the tough ones that made me uncomfortable. I had to earn their trust with nothing more than openness and integrity. They would have known if I was B.S.ing them.

The first session set the stage for the important work of putting together a plan to achieve our goals. Those goals were defined by the interviews with the stakeholders and the team’s job was to identify how to achieve them. I made it clear that we needed their help to message our strategic mission and to define how we achieve it. The team separated out into subgroups again and brainstormed on different aspects of the organizational change. One group worked on a high-level mission statement that crisply described what we were supposed to do from the summaries that the management team put together and several other teams defined how we would accomplish the mission. At first blush, this sounds like we needed to define the mission before the other teams could work on the deliverables but we had enough of the groundwork completed by the management team that we could comfortably work on both.

The outcome of this offsite was outstanding. Everyone in the organization participated in the crafting of our organization direction and deliverables. After the offsite we took the brainstorming summaries and put together a crisp single line for our mission (avoiding corporate-speak so that anyone could understand it) and one-page descriptions for each role within the team. Now we knew how to explain what the organization’s value was to the company and how we would accomplish it. I believe that this is the most important step in change. You, as a leader, must be able to describe what you do in such clear terms that a typical high school kid can understand it, and then repeat that within the company and to your customers so often that you’re sick of hearing yourself say it. Your people will begin to internalize it if you continue to repeat the message and if it is consistently delivered. When you start hearing people repeat it in the same words that you use then you know you’re successful.

The “drain the swamp” exercise isn’t always necessary during change but if the group has enough ambiguity and fear you need to provide a forum for everyone to express their concerns. If possible, as in my example, have the individual contributors and managers participate in the organizational definition. People feel ownership when they create something and it removes a great deal of resistance. One caution I have is that you have to tell the team exactly what your intention is regarding their work. If you plan to use it as “advice” that you will make a decision on then tell them. If you tell them that they’re making the decision then plan to follow their direction.

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