Change does not happen in a vacuum. It has a ripple effect, and where it encounters resistance or inhospitable areas it will slow and eventually stop. Consider the organization as a system in balance. When changing one part of the system, it is critical to understand how other parts will need to shift to reinforce the change and maintain congruence and harmony in the system.
Richard H. Thaler’s book, Nudge, explores the concept of choice architecture, where a choice architect is anyone who "has the responsibility for organizing the context in which people make decisions"– but that means all of us! Whether or not we are designing with careful intent, Thaler shows us that there is no neutral choice: all choices have consequences both seen and unseen, intended and unintended.
Identifying, anticipating, or even locating these ripple effects can be difficult in the abstraction of an organization, but these frameworks can help.
The 8 Dimensions of an Organization
This simple framework is an incredibly effective tool in helping locate and articulate change within an organization. It provides greater granularity then just People,Process, Technology, and can be applied or re-applied as a gap analysis tool at any point in the process.
- Starting Point - assess the current state of the organization by asking: where across these dimensions are we strong, and where do we have weaknesses or risk? Be specific about how.
- Planning for Change - based on a planned future state, use the dimensions of this framework to identify 1) what will change as a result of the future state and 2) what must change in response in order to find balance and re-establish harmony.
- In Process or Post-Change - assess the state of an ongoing or completed change by using the dimensions to describe where change has happened successfully and where it still needs focus or effort.
Force Field Analysis
Identifying barriers before they are encountered informs planning and aligns teams around the challenges ahead. Ask two simple questions: in this effort, 1) what forces will hinder us from achieving success? and 2) what forces will help us? This framework allows teams to articulate these elements, and then rank, prioritize and sequence them as needed. A Force Field Analysis is also incredibly useful serving as a catchall for naysayers' negativity for all the reasons a change won't work — and harnessing that negativity into useful insights and eventually solutions.
Test Case Prototyping
Software programmers use test cases to both plan and test their work. The same can be done when identifying organizational impact and change. Imagine you have a new customer service process planned, designed, and ready to deploy to associates across the country. Before launching it, it should be tested "in the lab" with core use cases, as well as fringe use cases designed to stress the process and reveal points of weakness. Prototyping enables teams to check their plans using fewer resources — in every sense of the word: time, money, people, social capital, and so on. Fail fast, fail inexpensively. It is the best way to learn.
Ensuring the organization reaches new equilibrium in the wake of change is critical to the adoption and sustaining of change. Organizations behave far more like organisms than they do machines, and a body will always reject that which is acting out of harmony with the rest of what is in balance.
Dave King is the Vice President of Client Services in Amsterdam.