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Transform the Workplace

February 10, 2014

By David Bowman, SBAM Approved Partner Kushner & Company

Congratulations, you’ve survived the economic downturn! Now you’re ready to prepare your organization for long awaited growth and prosperity.  The challenge may be that you’ve had to slash headcount and infrastructural expenses.  You’re alive but potentially badly battered.  How do you rebuild in a way that doesn’t recreate the issues that you’ve had to overcome?

Well, you’re not alone and we’re hearing a lot these days about the need for cultural or transformational change in order to maximize the effectiveness and performance of organizations.  How and where does one begin and how do you know you’re changing the right things and not “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”?  The need and types of transformation varies widely depending on the industry and internal and/or external conditions that your organization faces.

The following provides a framework for things to consider.  First, it might be helpful to define what transformation is:

The Webster definition for “transformation” is to change (something) completely and usually in a good way.

Full Definition of TRANSFORM

a :  to change in composition or structure

b :  to change the outward form or appearance of

c :  to change in character or condition

As the definition implies transformation is not for the faint of heart.  We have a lot invested and a lot of ownership in the way we think about and run our organizations.  One has to be very motivated and committed to take on true transformational change in their organization. 

The quote “people (organizations) don’t change until the fear of staying the same is greater than their fear of the change” is a reminder of the challenges associated with attempting a transformational undertaking.  It’s very difficult to accomplish major change proactively before the next threat.

The management guru and author of The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge, developed a concept that he termed “the ladder of inference” which essentially explains that the human condition takes data or information and filters them through preconceived ideas about the level of threat that is represented.  The challenge as he explains is that we mostly interpret data through the lens of those indicators that support previously held conclusions.  Each rung on the ladder represents different steps in analyzing the data through the process of either changing or reinforcing our beliefs.  We generally skip the middle rungs that require selecting contradictory data then challenging the assumptions about what such data represent and thus our beliefs regarding what the data are saying.

The Ladder of Inference is a great visual for overcoming the pride and investment in developing the current operating system and provides a way to challenge the current set of assumptions that created the current level of organizational performance. 

Transformation requires challenging everything at the most fundamental aspects of your organization’s development.  Including:

A review of corporate governance to include:

  • Market constraints
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Funding models
  • The core values or operating conditions

A review of the corporate strategy to include:

  • Resource planning
  • Competitive/SWOT positioning
  • Product/Service offerings
  • The fundamental vision of the organization

A review of the business plan:

  • Competitive analysis
  • Product/Service lines
  • Resource Planning
  • The fundamental mission of the organization

After challenging these high level assumptions other things to consider have to do with challenging the structure of the organization.  This line of inquiry has to do with the idea of getting rid of all assumptions and create the mindset of starting the organization from scratch.  It questions; how would you organize from big picture to small?  This includes the questioning of:

Top management and formal leadership of strategic oversight

M/V/V integration/oversight
Strategic metrics implementation
Budget Development/Operational performance
Structural/Cultural integration/oversight
Middle management and formal leadership of systems oversight

Value-stream integration
Strategy integration
Budget execution
Team/departmental management
Day-to-day outputs or operational oversight

Process integration
Outcome targeting
Continuous improvement
Outcome feedback/metrics

The last consideration (though these are really not linear as much as interdependent) in challenging assumptions has to do with the human and talent needs of the organization.  This line of inquiry has to do with whether the objective performance needs required to execute to the new level of needed performance is represented for each position.  This includes the questioning of:

HR strategy

  • Talent acquisition
  • Talent management
  • Talent engagement
  • Communication

HR systems

  • Talent deployment
  • Performance feedback/coaching
  • Team development
  • Communication

HR operations

  • Performance outcome attainment
  • Continuous improvement/learning
  • Career development
  • Communication

The bottom line is that transformation requires a comprehensive and painful approach to change.  It’s not for the faint of heart, nor is it the right solution for every organization.  It also requires a tremendous level of commitment, dedication, thoughtfulness, risk taking and action.  It can also be a bold and extremely rewarding effort in terms of financial performance, professional relationships, and personal growth.

Kushner & Company provides Section 125 Plan, FSA, HSA and HRA administration for SBAM members. Their integrated claim system allows participants the ability to submit their claims using a web portal, benefit debit cards, email submission or the US Postal Service. Kushner & Company’s Client Services Team is intensely trained to follow the exact provisions set forth by the Internal Revenue Service Code and each client’s individual plan document. Click here to learn more.

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