Did you drive to work yesterday? If you drove, did you have to think about the route you took – which corner to turn at, whether to go right or left? Probably not. You know the way.
You are comfortable with that way because it doesn’t take a lot of effort. It may not be the best route to work, or the shortest, or the most efficient, or the fastest. But because it’s so comfortable, you keep using it.
The same applies in business. An organization is structured around core processes that operate to achieve an overall business strategy. The current state of the organization is the way things are now. The trouble is the way things are now may be historical – retained long after they cease to be the most efficient or the fastest ways simply because no one has bothered to update them. Everyone may be aware that the current state isn’t the best it could be. They just follow the established process that they know and understand – they have no wish to disturb the status quo. It’s only when, say, customers begin to take away their business because of the organization’s lack of efficiency (i.e. when problems meeting delivery dates occur) that someone takes notice.
At some point – perhaps when the directors start complaining because profitability is shrinking and costs are going up – someone with enough authority to do something about it says, “Find out what’s going wrong. Figure out what our situation is.” Then the people who are assigned this job, the change agents, start to do an analysis of the way things are. They would find it helpful to look at the current state from the following four angles, which we will consider in turn.
- Structure: Is the structure of the organization at the heart of the problem? For example, does the difficulty lie in the chain of command up through the organization – who reports to whom? Or is the structure too centralized (or decentralized)? The technology used by the organization is also part of its structure. Does the problem lie here? For example, has the telephone system kept pace with the organization’s growing needs? Are the computers (and their software) outdated? Is other essential equipment, such as machine tools, constantly breaking down and affecting productivity levels?
- Process: Is the way in which work flows through the organization efficient? Do bottlenecks occur anywhere and slow down the workflow? If one item on a customer’s order is out of stock, does it delay the delivery of the whole order?
- People: Do people in the workforce currently have the competence, experience, skills and knowledge that they need in order to carry out their tasks properly?
- Culture: Is the culture of the organization, the beliefs of the workers regarding the work, the customers and the business in general, determined to succeed? Do these beliefs cause people to behave in ways that hamper success?
A close analysis of the structure, process, people and culture will tell you a lot about the current state of the organization. When you pass this information on to the employees it will make it much easier for the people who will be most affected by the change to understand why things need to change. Then they will also appreciate the possible consequences of not changing and the reasons why the current situation cannot be allowed to continue.
If you’re able to give people a clear picture of where the problem lies and how bad it is, you will help them make an informed decision whether or not to support the change or resist it.