How To Scale Up Your Organisation Change Program

How To Scale Up Your Organisation Change Program

Susan Rosina Whittle                         2018

Investment in the design and development of organisation change strategies tends to be front loaded. Often, the focus is on selecting the right change model and setting up project management structures. The design and sequencing of interventions and activities for growing and embedding change can be after-thoughts, if thought of at all. To deliver value, investment in organisation change needs to have impact, and that’s desired impact, not the cynicism and low participation that can undermine  change efforts.

Change programs can become stuck; in consultants,  in project teams, in some departments or sites, in the top management layers or specialist areas. These programs fail to scale up; to enlist those throughout the organisation who can make changes happen. Scalability is where the planned deployment of additional resources delivers increasing returns. Scalability is well recognised as a business model problem but scalability is not recognised so much as a change model problem.

A recent MIT paper ‘Building Scalable Business Models’ 1  outlines five ways organisations can scale up their businesses:

  1. by adding new distribution channels;
  2. by looking for ways to overcome capacity constraints;
  3. by outsourcing some investments to partners who become participants in the business model;
  4. by customers and other stakeholders take up multiple roles in the business model;
  5. by establishing industry level platforms whereby competitors may become customers

Can we apply these scalability methods to organisation change?

1. Add new distribution channels

All change programs are targeted at some locations, some processes, some types of people and not others. When the impact of your talent development or waste reduction program is slowing down, identify at those locations, those processes, those people not targeted  and redirect some resources to these new channels. One way to do this is by drawing a schematic plan of the whole system you want to change (by locations, processes, people or whatever your targets are) .

Indicate where you have already intervened in blue, or if it’s easier, indicate those locations, processes, people, etc, that have not been included in your intervention design in red. These signal your potential new distribution channels. Those not included might be people working night shifts or those not office-based; locations perceived as non-core business or too far to travel; processes that are highly political or unglamorous. Redesign your interventions to widen access: run workshops at different shift times; use remote and virtual technologies; get help to address political dynamics; look at how your culture excludes and make that the next change agenda.

2. Look for ways to overcome capacity constraints

The pace and scope of change can be dictated by an organisation’s intervention capacity and the consultants’ work capacity, whether consultants are internal or external. Capacity to change and capacity to work on change can be constrained if:

  • there are too few people with the skills, knowledge and ability to take up change agent roles;
  • there are too many people that need training/ developing in the time available.
  • there is low capacity in the organisation to make people available for training/ development
  • technological capacity is low, making communication and performance management problematic, for example.
  • there is little consultant experience in or organisational history of the sorts of interventions required.

Capacity constraints can be overcome:  by piloting your intervention design to see where the bottle necks might be; by incorporating ‘train the trainer’ elements into your design to build change knowhow capacity; by standardising those interventions that can be standardised and making them available virtually;  by cascading interventions through organisation hierarchies to build experience and grow shared narratives of change.

3. Outsource some investments to partners who become participants in the change model

Change models developed in hot house conditions can produce fragile and high maintenance intervention designs.  Investment and policing is needed to ensure consistency of message and compliance by internal and external suppliers. Hot house models, developed in the rarified atmosphere of the Board or Executive Away Day, have a tendency to divide organisation members into thinkers and doers. This is expensive; does not build change capacity; and works against scalability. Inviting suppliers and organisation members to collaborate in the design, development and delivery of organisation change immediately increases capacity, reduces costs, and enhances the viability of the model(s)

4. Have customers and other stakeholders take up multiple roles in the model

Organisation members and change leaders sometimes become very attached to the way things are done.  The change program, as depicted in Gantt charts, workshop handouts, improvement slogans, and performance awards,  can become an object of love … and hate. To be robust, intervention designs need to be able to work with those infatuated with a change program and with those who avoid and resist  the program.  This work is made more difficult, and hence scalability is challenged, where roles for participation in change are prescribed and mutually exclusive. In this context, fantasies about the love/hate object can be projected onto those in other roles.

This is countered if stakeholders can take up  multiple roles in the change program, for example, sometimes as leaders and communicators; at other times critics and performance assessors. The challenge is make sure organisation hierarchies are NOT reproduced in organisation change project structures.

5. Establish industry level platforms whereby competitors may become customers

Declining returns to scale are a common feature of organisation change strategies.  Finding ways to challenge taken-for-granted rules and recipes is critical to scaling-up. A perennial problem is how to ensure that boundaries set up initially to help focus organisation change do not hinder scalability later on. Benchmarking helps.

Shifting from internal benchmarking (where comparisons  are made against own historic indices) to external benchmarking ( where comparisons are made against competitors’ performance and then against performance from other sectors) can raise new challenges. Find out how long this or that type of change takes to achieve measurable and meaningful impact. What return on investment can be expected? What investment is reasonable? Who leads and how?  Join a research  or networking group to hear the warts and all versions of organisation change and develop a macro model.

Thinking macro, at industry and sector levels, rather than keeping to micro level organisation boundaries helps to recast competitors as collaborators and possible customers.  Putting together benchmarking data about organisation change in your industry can present new opportunities, both to sell your know how  and to shape the whole industry. That’s scaling up.

  1. Building Scalable Business Models: MIT Sloan Management Review & Report January 10, 2018


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