Once upon a time, an engineering consulting company hit a speed bump. Revenue was falling so fast that staff attrition couldn't keep up with the contraction. So management leapt into action, declaring a salary freeze.
But there was a carrot — if the company met its revenue target, everyone would get a bonus. In consulting, revenue equates roughly to billable hours, so the engineers did their best to help Marketing find business. Trouble was, there wasn't enough business.
With less than a month to go before the CEO's annual state-of-the-company address, Management announced a buy-out for people close to retirement. After his address, in Q&A, a bright engineer asked him, "Since so many are taking the buy-out, we won't have enough billable hours left to meet the bonus target. Does this mean there's no bonus?"
Jacques, the CEO, was blind-sided, but he was no dummy. He knew that if he said yes, he could expect an exodus of his best engineers. So he replied, "I'll have to get back to you on that." Back in the calm of his office, Jacques and his team worked out the right answer: "We'll lower the bonus target proportionately."
So they issued a memo, and everyone relaxed some. But Jacques had been embarrassed at a time when he needed to show strong leadership. He probably wasn't ready for that question because it involved an intersection of two unrelated policies. Since there are so many policies in any company of even moderate size, the number of such intersections is large, and it's difficult to anticipate which intersections cause problems.
The executive team goofed, as most do now and then. Yet, even though we test our products thoroughly, we rarely test organizational changes before we "roll them out." It's a high-risk practice, because we end up testing our change plans using the company itself. To limit that risk, we must discover defects in change efforts before we execute them, and one approach that works well is the simulation.
Even though we test
our products thoroughly,
we rarely test organizational
changes before we
"roll them out"Simulations — sometimes called "games" — parallel reality. They're especially valuable when the event being simulated is high-risk. That's why the military runs war games, and why US presidential candidates run mock debates.
Simulations do require planning to ensure that they're faithful to reality, and you do need a skilled facilitator. But you can use simulations to test almost any organizational effort — process designs, project plans, test plans, reorganizations, mergers and acquisitions, marriage proposals — anything. Simulations can be off-site and small-scale, and you can use stand-ins for the actual players if security is an issue.
Next time you have that queasy feeling about your plans, look before you leap — simulate. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- On Beginnings
- A new year has begun, and I'm contemplating beginnings. Beginnings can inspire, and sometimes lead to
letdown when our hopes or expectations aren't met. How can we handle beginnings more powerfully?
- The Restructuring-Fear Cycle: II
- When enterprises restructure, reorganize, downsize, outsource, lay off, or make other organizational
adjustments, they usually focus on financial health. Here's Part II of an exploration of how the fear
induced by these changes can lead to the need for further restructuring.
- How to Find Lessons to Learn
- When we conduct Lessons Learned sessions, how can we ensure that we find all the important lessons to
be learned? Here's one method.
- The Passion-Professionalism Paradox
- Changing the direction of a group or a company requires passion and professionalism, two attributes
often in tension. Here's one possible way to resolve that tension.
- Learning-Averse Organizations
- A learning-averse organization is one that seems constitutionally unwilling, if not unable, to learn
new and better ways of conducting its operations. Given the rapid pace of change in modern markets,
one wonders how they survive. Here's how.
See also Organizational Change for more related articles.
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- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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