Setting The Stage For An Easier Change Effort

January 25, 2011

By Michael B. Tatham, President, The Tatham Group

This past December I was working with a small business to help them build a strong infrastructure for growth.  The projected volume of business they are anticipating over the next three to five years necessitates flawless execution of operations in order to succeed.  The President of this firm was set with his vision and strategy, however he quickly recognized that the current team dynamics and overall way of operating would make that growth more difficult than it needed to be.

There are two common responses we have seen leaders of large organizations take to such a problem.  Either they rush to ‘lean things’ out – do more with less – or they hire more people to deal with the additional volume – do more with more.  Most small and medium size businesses don’t have the expertise for the first or the budget for the second.  Leaders of these companies are left to look for a different way of approaching this issue.  A constraint that will lead to quicker results in the end.

As with most organizations there are bound to be areas that can be improved and run more efficiently.  I’m not suggesting this will not be needed at some point however I am recommending that you stop to look at the forest before you start pruning the trees.  You cannot start making operations more efficient until you are sure that your organization and people are being effective.

So before you launch into a whole lot of activity, first follow the three steps outlined below on the road to effectiveness:

1. Make sure everyone on the team has a clear understanding what the company’s long and short-term goals are.

  • A vision statement on a sharepoint site or office wall isn’t good enough.  Those statements become mere words without meaning or context.  People within an organization need to have the same understanding of what the words mean and how they are expected to help achieve them.  When we talk about good customer experience, what does that mean to you?  What is perfect quality?  Is being responsive to customers answering their call within ten minutes, returning their call in 24 hours, resolving their change or issue in a week?
  • Check if everyone who is rowing in the boat is rowing in the same direction with the same end point in mind.

2. Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of everyone on the team.

  • Now that the goals of the organization are clear, it is time to make sure that the right people are working on the right things.  Determine what roles are needed and match the strengths of people to those positions.  Especially in small businesses, roles overlap a lot and cause frustration, confusion, rework and duplication of work.
  • If you can’t separate out tasks, which you likely will not be able to do, then have clear responsibilities for functions, processes, products, etc.  At the end of the day, who is responsible for success?
  • Determine resistors early and deal with them quickly.  You may coach them, move them or remove them.  Use your judgment however don’t let them continue distracting the organization from its goals.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate and when you think it’s clear communicate some more.

  • It’s better to over communicate then under communicate.
  • Never assume that everyone understands what you mean.  We once facilitated a three hour discussion on the difference between accountability, responsibility and ownership.  No two people had the same thing in mind.  Get a dictionary and put it down in the office kitchen or conference room. Sometimes it’s amazing how you can be speaking the same language but be using words incorrectly.  Effective communication only happens when there is mutual understanding not once it’s been given.
  • Don’t hide behind email and the office grapevine professionally confront your peers and move forward.  Conflict should not be seen as negative, it’s what will help clear the air, push to better ideas, etc.

In Tatham’s diagnosis stage we have seen many companies attempt to leap right into initiating the change effort without considering the above three points.  It’s not that change and bettering your organization are impossible without first executing these steps however it is far more difficult than it needs to be and usually requires heroics to rescue the initiative.  Fight your intuitive response to quickly put out the fire and as Michael J. Tatham said in the early defense industry days “go slow to go fast”.