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Six Enablers to Building Organizational Change Adaptability

August 9, 2020

Businesswoman Change Dry Season To Spring


Have you had enough?

Of change that is.

As 86 year-old American poet and author Maya Angelou once said, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

Angelou’s comment concisely sums up this post, where I’ll suggest six enablers to help those working within organizations navigate the unrelenting onslaught of new events that hit us each and every day. However, you don’t have to work in an organization to get something out of this post. It’s also relevant to personal change adaptability.

Russian writer Leo Tolstoy once said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” It brings to mind the notion that we have little or no control over the vast majority of events that we face in our lifetimes. But what we do have control over is how we respond to them.

At an organizational level, however, the dynamics of how humans, as a collective, address change can be very challenging. This, in turn, places extraordinary demands on leadership, whether you’re a big shot CEO of a large company, senior bureaucrat, or the owner of a small business. There are some practical ways to position how your organization, large or small, can not only weather change but actually prepare itself to deal effectively with whatever comes your way. At the time of writing, the world is in the clutches of the worst pandemic since the 1918 Influenza. Adaptability has never been more important.

Enabler #1: It’s About Interdependence of Effort

One of the cornerstones of strong teamwork is interdependency among the team’s members. Without it, it’s impossible to have a team. Interdependency of effort is a necessary condition.

You may work in a call centre, where you’re required frequently to hand off a customer caller to a co-worker who has either more detailed information or knowledge (perhaps technical knowledge) on a specific issue. To ensure that each and every customer who calls is fully served and leaves the call feeling happy about his or her experience requires everyone at the call centre needs to pull their weight and to stay focused on why the organization exists.

Or you may work in healthcare. Maybe you’re a nurse, lab technician, or administrator. The same applies as in the above call centre example: you work towards the hospital’s vision (should it have a clearly articulated one) through the daily practice of focusing on patient needs through.

Enabler #2: Reward the Integrators

In any organization undergoing upheaval, whether due to a merger, layoffs or a new major competitor, managers often become pre-occupied with dealing with the negative. This can be employees who are bucking the changes, others who aren’t pulling their weight or some who want life to be as it was–viewing change in the rearview mirror. These employees are morale killers, helping to suck productivity out of the organization.

When it comes to change, one chunk of an organization’s employee complement resists change. Another is sitting on the fence, watching carefully with a moistened finger in the air to assess the organization’s direction. A third group are the change agents who get it, seeing and understanding where senior management wants to lead the organization. This group needs not only to be appreciated by management but also employed effectively to help bring their co-workers over the fence.

Along a similar track, every organization has employees who thrive on linking people together and who strive to connect the dots when it comes to what may appear as disconnected work functions but which in reality form a coherent puzzle when integrated. Again, management’s role is to identify these individuals who too often toil away daily but who have not been fully used for their skills.

Take time to identify, recognize and fully employ these employees.

Change 2

Enabler #3: Share Power–Responsibly

President Abraham Lincoln once remarked: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Of course, in a modern context that message applies to women as well.

One of the misconceptions about leadership and management is that leaders are appointed to their position. In reality, managers are appointed; leadership must be earned. You may be a vice president, assistant deputy minister or general manager, with all the authorities that accompany the role. However, you’re not necessarily a leader. You must earn that on a daily basis, responsibly exercising your authorities and delegated responsibilities, building a sustained followership through a shared vision where each and every employee under you clearly understands where they fit in the organization and how their work contributes to its mission and priorities.

And so, too, does the method with which you share power with your team: being clear in your expectations, recognizing those are seen as leaders among their peers and immediately correcting situations where power is abused.

Power is a double-edged axe. It can be extremely effectively at achieving results quickly and eliminating obstacles so that new opportunities present themselves. Yet it can be devastating to an organization when used irresponsibly. It takes time to build one’s following through the responsible use of power; a leader’s following can be wiped out overnight by a poorly thought out decision. As the late management guru Peter Drucker put it: “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.”

Work daily on your leadership muscle.

Enabler #4: Help Employees Understand Why Change is Essential

This Enabler is closely intertwined with #2 and #3. Too often, we see change efforts imposed top-down on confused and fearful employees. The steadily changing nature of the workplace, driven by intense global competition, government deficits and technology are only adding to this pressure.

A critical role of management, from the CEO to frontline manager, is to ensure that every employee in the organization is clear on why change is happening. And the only way to do this is to communicate regularly; daily if need be, during periods of particular turmoil. Management must never assume that employees understand why things are changing and why they must enrol in the change effort.

Take the time to communicate through a variety of media. Ensure that frontline and operational managers are especially clear on what is taking place, since they are an employee’s first point of contact.

Change 3

Enabler #5: Eliminate Obstacles to Collaboration

Red tape is a productivity killer and will strangle your business, especially in the brutally competitive street-fight for the consumer’s wallet. Red tape makes your business lazy, unfocused and indifferent to the needs and wants of customers and clients.

Reduce excessive management layers to improve your organization’s responsiveness to changing events, including anticipated ones. Better yet, do it because it’s the right thing to do in a turbulent economy. And this includes nuking duplication of effort, one of the worst morale sappers and productivity killers of all time.

Leave red tape and its poisonous cousin–duplication–to the public sector.

Okay, public servants. This is a special challenge for you.

Enabler #6: Get the CEO Out of the Ivory Tower

If you don’t have an ivory tower where top management hides out in all its splendid glory, you still need to get out of your office and regularly meet customers, clients, suppliers, vendors, and all the people on whom your business depends. It will revitalize you and ensure that both your feet remain on the ground.

Do you have a 7th Enabler?

It’s not what we don’t know that hurts, it’s what we know that ain’t so.
Will Rogers

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