Friday, May 25, 2007

How big an impact do you think that structural and organization changes have on working relationships and the dynamic of an office?

Q (cont.) In my working career, I have been through my share of process redesigns, departmental shuffles and realignments. Sometimes the changes influence the direction of people's careers, the importance of their positions and the level of people who are their customers and/or vendors. I have seen new working relationships created, old one's slowly fade away, I have seen people everyone thought of as friends become rivals. I have seen people who were highly trusted by their department heads relegated down two or three levels on the managmental run in terms of who they dealt with. These changes often influenced the outlook of people, confirmed their own confidence in themselves or stripped them of their sense of strength and ownership. The biggest of these events occurred early in my working career and at large scale companies that had been entrenched in their industries for significant time. As the late eighties and nineties have washed away into history, I wonder if maybe these events are less monumental now.

A. Your description of the impact of structural changes resonates strongly with my own experience which has led to a transition in my perspective on the workplace including my own role in change. Although the success of the TV show, The Office, suggest our experiences are widespread and that comic relief from them is welcome, I believe more is possible.

Changes to organizational structure reflect the changes in values propagated by the organization's leaders. Members of the organization relate to the organization according to their own values, self-selecting to a large extent their roles and relationships for a best fit. If the organization's values shift the foundation or framework for almost any personal behavior changes and, as we have seen, some of us thrive on change, others ride the waves and yet others can be terrified.

I've drawn a couple of lessons from this. The first is that life is about constant change. What we have come to call "change management" is a dangerous idea. It assumes that stability is the desirable condition, that change is not chaotic and that change can be managed as if it were predictable. I now find it more useful to accept change as normal, inevitable and how organizations and I myself grow.

The other lesson is that the pervasive effects of change you describe can be accommodated only if everyone who is impacted is allowed to contribute. For example, the complexities of social networks can only "managed" by the participants who must be brought into the process if their value added is to be retained or even enhanced. (This suggests how important it is that change be seen as an opportunity.)

Good leaders show up as people who shape an organization's culture in ways that not only support its mission but simultaneously support the intentions of its members. Members become leaders when their intentions become embedded in the values of the culture.

I suppose change will always bring collateral damage. The lesson's of Iraq apply everywhere - change impacts all stakeholders. If stakeholders are to be accountable to themselves and others, they must also be permitted to be responsible.

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