In 1929, the automotive industry was as hot as the Internet was in the 90's. The people who led the major companies then were as well known as Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates are today. One of them was Walter Chrysler, who wanted to build the tallest building in the world, to be named — of course — the Chrysler Building. He found himself in a race with The Bank of Manhattan Trust Company, and he won.
The Chrysler Building, at a respectable height of 1,046 feet, won't stand forever. But nobody has ever deconstructed a skyscraper that tall, and we don't have any idea how to do it.
One thing is certain: the cost will be (ahem) sky-high. Since we've given so little thought to minimizing "deconstruction" cost, we now have an installed base of buildings that are stable and safe, but expensive to demolish.
So it is with organizational processes. We've designed them to effect management control — to ensure that people follow procedures and to enable management to control cost and quality. But they weren't designed for change, and that's one reason why change is so difficult.
How do organizational processes defend themselves against change? Here are three things to do to design processes that are easier to change.
- Break the performance connection
- We often tie performance evaluation to proficiency in organizational processes, which ties career advancement — and self-esteem — to a detailed knowledge of organizational processes. Once self-esteem is tied to the status quo, changing the status quo can create a threat to self-esteem. No wonder we have trouble.
- Tie performance to the ability to adapt to changing processes, rather than to skill in following processes of long standing. Reward flexibility, not compliance.
- Keep interfaces compact
- Most organizational processes
weren't designed for change,
and that's one reason
why change is so difficult
- Processes have interfaces consisting of forms, contacts, documentation, and so on. To use a process, people interact with it through its interface. When the interface is complex and diffuse, and linked to many other processes, we have more difficulty changing the process.
- Make process interfaces compact. To avoid reconfiguring the rest of the company when you change a process, keep as much of the process as possible behind the interface.
- Eliminate gatekeepers
- A gatekeeper is someone whose signature you need. For example, most organizations require a supervisor's signature for certain purchases, or for time cards. Some gatekeepers exist because of legal requirements, but many are created for political reasons. Since being a gatekeeper is often a badge of status, gatekeepers tend to resist attempts the change the processes they gate-keep.
- Avoid creating new gatekeepers. Empower staff to simply sign the forms themselves.
Once you master these techniques, you can move on to a bigger project — to learning how not to rebuild the Empire State Building. Top Next Issue
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For more information about the Chrysler Building, visit the PBS Web site.
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- Workplace Taboos and Change
- In the workplace, some things can't be discussed — they are taboo. When we're aware of taboos,
we can choose when to obey them, and when to be more flexible. When we're unaware of them, they can
limit our ability to change.
- Training Bounceback
- Within a week after we've learned some new tool or technique, sometimes even less, we're back to doing
things the old way. It's as if the training never even happened. Why? And what can we do to change this?
- Kinds of Organizational Authority: the Formal
- A clear understanding of Power, Authority, and Influence depends on familiarity with the kinds of authority
found in organizations. Here's Part I of a little catalog of authority classes.
- 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.
- What Keeps Things the Way They Are
- Changing processes can be challenging. Sometimes the difficulty arises from our tendency to overlook
other processes that work to keep things the way they are. If we begin by changing those "regulator
processes" the difficulty can sometimes vanish.
See also Organizational Change for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- 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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