How to get OCM Right: Questions and Steps to Lasting Change

How to get OCM Right: Questions and Steps to Lasting Change

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By Jon Thorne, Daniel Penn Associates

Is your organization contemplating major changes in structure, operations, business practices? Unless the change is something minor, like a process adjustment or a new role, making lasting change through an organizational change management (OCM) program requires understanding, discipline, consistency, and commitment.

Why Most OCM Programs Fail

They don’t take thoughts and emotions into account
Most OCM approaches are ineffective in bringing about meaningful and sustainable changes because they focus only on behavior. This produces a kind of Pavlovian Operant Conditioning — e.g., the employee follows the new protocol because that’s what’s expected – but it makes no change to the internal life of the employee.

Human behavior is one of three aspects that make up the whole person. The others are thoughts and emotions, which are, of course, what gives rise to observable behavior. Truly sustainable change comes from the inside. Any OCM engagement must take the time to understand and facilitate change in the whole person.

They don’t address work culture
Work culture is made up of all the observable behaviors in an organization. Cultural forces are powerful because they operate outside of our awareness. Culture is all around us, but most of all, it is IN us. Cultures are stable states and will always revert to the lowest established state. Each state has a predictable set of behaviors.

Even in the face of overwhelming challenges and information to the contrary, people will continue to act according to their cultural assumptions.

They don’t cultivate buy-in
Since thoughts and feelings drive behavior, acceptance of the change and buy-in to new tools and processes is required. This is a difficult task, but one made easier when you can demonstrate the benefits to the individual by answering the question, “What’s in it for me?”

Changing behavior does not change the culture and no one person or small group can work above their culture for long. Instead, changing culture is what changes behavior. Any organization that wants to make a lasting change must understand the culture and the out-of-sync conditions which have given rise to the gaps and shortcoming management wants to “correct”.

Getting OCM Right

Ask these three questions, then incorporate these three essential steps into your organizational change program.

Three questions
1. Is leadership aligned? Leadership alignment is fundamental to any change initiative. No initiative should be undertaken before your management team is on the same page. Identifying problem(s) is the first task for management. Without an accurate definition of the problem, any improvement initiatives are likely to fall short of even minimal expectations. It’s like beating down the door to the wrong room. Alignment means:

  • Understanding gaps and/or shortcomings, such as market position and economics.
  • Agreement on what to do and how to do it.
  • A shared vision of what better looks like.
  • Agreement on how to measure economic results (not just OCM activities like training).
  • Forming an executive steering committee, compete with behavioral expectations and a charter with milestones.

2. What results and outcomes are we aiming for? Too often organizations focus on the activity instead of results. They are confusing motion with progress.

  • It’s pointless to train for team building, problem-solving, and group facilitation unless that training is tied to one or more specific goals.
  • Don’t confuse motion and activity with progress – that is a common decision misstep. Don’t assume that real results will follow if a critical mass of employees is trained in improvement techniques.
  • Training should happen at the appropriate time and focus on the effective use of new tools (e.g., software) and accompanying business processes.
  • The appropriate time to communicate broad-based organizational change is after new tools and business processes have been set up and people understand how to use them.

3. Are we analyzing how our OCM program should be set up at the same time we’re assessing what needs to change)?

Getting one’s OCM ducks in order means taking baseline measurements of current business processes, assessing whether leadership is in fact aligned on goals, gathering information to build an estimated timeline and developing a plan for the OCM part of the initiative.

  • These steps will provide your OCM team with initial insights into how people will be affected by the change.
  • The assessment is also the time to take the organization’s cultural temperature and other vital signs using tools such as a cultural baseline analysis and focus interviews.
  • During the assessment, develop your stakeholder management and organizational communication plans.

Three Steps to Success

1. Using both the shared vision of what changes will look like and their expected economic benefits, begin development of a plan to communicate how they will benefit customers, the organization and its employees.

  • This should include sources and time-phasing of benefits, magnitude or ranges of expected benefits and the rationale behind why these elements of the business will improve (based, for example, on a Value Proposition or Efficiency and Effectiveness models).
  • The benefits plan should be reviewed with senior management frequently at first until the estimate passes what is commonly referred to as ‘the management smell test”.

2. Determine the short-term intervals at which employees will be receiving information about upcoming changes.

  • This should start with a management announcement letter about the purpose of the initiative and information about what to expect, such as interviews, questions, requests for data, etc. This can go a long way to reduce employee apprehension.
  • The general communication should focus on the planned activities and schedule. It may include answers to frequently asked questions that have arisen in conversations with employees.
    Detailed communication that provides specifics to key stakeholders should be based on the overall stakeholder management plan.

3. Once an improvement plan is in place, track the organization’s progress against that plan.

  • Your vision of “better” has informed the expected/forecasted results of the improvement initiative. The improvement plan has established how the organization will reach that level of performance. Since this doesn’t occur all at once, tracking progress is how we know whether we’re moving to the ultimate goal.
  • Performance tracking has two paths. The first is to track the activity and implementation of processes and tools, focusing on areas or elements lagging behind the plan. The second is to continue to work with the impacted individuals and address their concerns and confusion with coaching and reinforcement.

The questions and steps I’ve outlined form a set of interlocking elements, each dependent on the others to be successful. They must proceed in a logical order, building on the steps previously taken.

One final truth: Change Management does not bring about change. Leadership does.

Jon Thorne is a senior consultant & associate of Daniel Penn Associates. He has conducted maintenance and operations process consulting for a wide variety of industries in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. He holds an MBA in operations analysis from the University of Minnesota and a BS/BA degree in communications and industrial engineering from the University of Wisconsin.

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