Danger: Beware the 6 Traps of Global Organizational Change

If you’re involved in organizational change [who isn’t these days?] it’s tempting to rush into a huge change effort.

But fast change, especially without involvement, is wrought with traps.

Here are 6 Traps you absolutely have to avoid if you want your change initiative to succeed.

Unknown-3 [I wrote a longer article about this for the Organizational Development Network that you can read here. I’ve changed some of my ideas since then.]

Trap 1. The Trap of Planning  Only At HQ.  Get out in the field and get local people involved in the change.  No one is as smart as all of us.  At a Japanese company I work with, the executives were planning the implementation of a new policy for Korea.  One young member of the team spoke up and asked “where are the Koreans [on this team]?  There weren’t any.

Trap 2:  The Trap of Acting Like  Cultural Doesn’t Matter.  Bangkok is not the same as Bakersfield.  It’s going to require a different change strategy.  Why, I wonder do people recognize that culture matters in marketing while they  ignore culture in human resource planning?  Companies  know that each country must have a unique advertising approach. Why not also the approach to change?  I suspect it has to do with  the obvious connection between marketing and money that is not so apparent in human resources planning.

Trap 3:  The Trap of Launching Global  Changes On The Same Day.  Avoid making a big deal out of the launch date.  How many times is there a lot of hoopla around the change and it turns out to be a big flop.

I recommend a region by region or country by country launch.  Test the change, tweak it, play with it, get the bugs out and then go to the next country or region.  Sound too slow for you?  Better to avoid failure, hanging your head in shame  and driving others crazy to implement something that is bound to fail.

Trap 4. The Trap of Talking About Change.  I rarely meet a leader who doesn’t talk about change.  It’s even rarer for a leader who knows how to make it happen.  Better not to use the word.  Organizations that thrive don’t talk about change.  They just change, without talking about it.  That’s what I heard Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, talk about years ago. Let’s face it.  Change scares the living daylights out of most people.  I don’t care how many times they hear “change is good.”  Better to not use that word.

IMG_1740Trap 5. The Trap of Focusing Only On Sessions.  It takes more than an engaging speaker and a cool exercise to make change happen.  So when you fly in to a new city and run a program or give a speech, don’t be in a rush to leave or run to your hotel room in between sessions.

Change really happens in the 1:1 conversations you have with people.  It happens in the bars, in the breaks and around the lunch table.  Be part of those conversations too.  In one conference I attended, a vp planned to cancel the cocktail hour because of cost.  When I suggested we have people pay for their own drinks instead of canceling, she agreed. It was a good move.  Many people stuck around to talk with her about the changes.

I heard people say, “she really listens, she gave me some good ideas, I never talked with anyone that high up in the company before”.

“The “in-between sessions” add something memorable and personal to the actual sessions.

Trap 6. The Trap of the Written Word.  I personally hate those long emails announcing new change initiatives.   No matter how many times you read it, there are some thing that are going to be ambiguous.  And there are always people who will be surprised if not shocked.

These two words can make a big difference

These two words can make a big difference

People will spend countless hours trying to figure out what you really mean.  If English is not their first language, it’s even tougher. Think of all the time that is wasted trying to figure out the meaning of the new policy.  Yes, you need to think it through and write it down but not everyone  needs to read it, never mind want to read it.

Conference calls are a better way to go if you’re doing something globally.  Even better are face to face conversations and large group meetings.  Not long ones. Those are dreadful.  Short ones with Q and A.  Just make sure you know what you are talking about before the meeting. There’s nothing worse than faltering while explaining a policy that is not fully thought through.

One consulting firm I worked for in the Boston area,  held weekly Monday morning meetings [with coffee, juice, and donuts]. They were optional, but the  President of the firm always ran these meetings when he was in town. And when he wasn’t, the meeting would be run by one of his lieutenants. We learned what was going on in the company and felt connected.  These meetings gave everyone a voice.  People feel powerless when they are on the receiving end of a long memo.  They can’t comment, they can’t get clarification and   they can’t give work their full attention or effort.

Global change is tough. Everyone knows that.  Avoid these traps and the job of change becomes a little bit easier.


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  1. mcjilton says:

    I agree that organizations that change rarely spend time navel gazing about the process they just get on with it. The same can be said for long memos/emails announcing change. The longer they are, the greater the distance between the author and those carrying out the mission.