Do you suspect that the growth of your organization is being hampered by a mismatch between the philosophies (operational and personnel) and the environment it is placed into? Is it that innovation in your organization is being held back by change fatigue? If so, my advice could help you. I’ll tell you here how it is possible to maximize stability even in a storm but only that much stability that does not hold back the momentum of growth. I’ll make the main point here, leaving out the details.
The techniques used to manage change can not, obviously, be the same for all types of organization or all situations in the same organization. But before we get down to the typical few ways in which organizations differ, let me tell you one rule that applies to ALL organization, in ALL situation. And that rule is – don’t focus on the periods and events of the change, the turmoil. That’ll happen in any case. But don’t let it be a free-fall. People look for moments of sanity, amidst chaos – the occasional dose of refreshing oxygen during the huffing and puffing. So, you should focus on maximizing the periods of stability during the madness of change.
And what is the one rule to provide stability? No, there is no one rule. Here is where the differences come in.
Two different dimensions which create differing situations are the frequency of disruptions and the severity of disruptions. In some organization, the frequency of disruptions is high but the severity is low. For e.g. an organization where the operational philosophy is incremental innovation or TQM and Kaizan. Here, real changes take occur every now and then but none is too severe or sudden. People can see them coming.
On the other hand, we can have an organization which is in a situation where the frequency of disruption is low – only one of two may happen in 15 years. But the severity would be high. The change will shake up the foundations and , what is worse, can’t be anticipated much ahead of time.
That gives us four types of working environments, each being illustrated by one example.
These four have totally different needs in terms of strategy. What is useful in one, will be a total disaster in another.
Organization facing a low freq, low severity type situation will benefit from a Pyramid type of management strategy.
What is a Pyramid strategy?
What does the shape of a pyramid signify? It signifies stability. You know how stable a pyramid is on its base. It’s not easy to topple over easily. With some effort, it can be toppled but is becomes stable again and certainly does not keep moving all the time. That’s stability amidst chaos.
So, what are the operational philosophies of the Pyramid? We’ll take just three aspects here.
One way is to create buffers – sort of shock absorbers. Companies set up ‘skunk-works’ which insulate the main organization from the shock. These are micro-organisations which are loosely tied to the main organization but are not constrained by the rules and culture of the main organization.
The second way is to reduce the impact of the disruptive influence. One way to do so is to use the distribution channels smartly. Microsoft which is in the game of incremental innovation has ensured that the disruption of technologies does not affect the whole organization. They use the bundling system of Microsoft software – which ensure that whatever be the software – different versions of Windows 10 or just the Magic Schoolbus – the distribution channels remain the same.
The third way to maintain stability is such an atmosphere of incremental innovation is to create a more appropriate Pyramid next to the existing organization. This is an improvement over the skunk-works strategy. Here you set up a new company altogether, not a mere temporary skunkwork. When GM was faced with stiff competition from agile Jap companies producing one sub-compact after another, GM set up another company, Saturn, to deal with it. It allowed it to retain stability in the main GM, but still being able to deal with fast moving Jap competition.
And what about the personnel philosophies for the Pyramid?
Well, in incrementalism, we’re not anticipating sudden changes, none too deep and the changes are coming from proposals from within, not from outside. So the personnel policies of a Pyramid are that career progression and reward systems are based on continuity in performing clearly described tasks. Risk taking is discouraged. The culture is reinforced by formal rules, further cementing the stability of the Pyramid.
But, as I said earlier all working environments are not made alike. While an organization in the low level, low frequency window of change calls for a Pyramid, what are the needs of an organization in the high level, high frequency window? The R&D department of Sony and the emergency room of a large hospital are good examples. Will a Pyramid be able to cope with the needs? Or, will the inherent stability of the Pyramid work to stop the organization from being able to move in any direction, take quick decisions and still survive in hard to predict futures. No, the Pyramid will be too clankity-clank here. What we need here is a Sphere with its ability to roll along in any direction and still be stable while all else is quiet.
Like the Pyramid, the Sphere has its one set of operational and personnel philosophies ideally suited for it.
Like the Pyramid and the Sphere, there are two more shapes which signify special sets of policies of operations and personnel. These are the Cylinder and the Cube. All these shapes have their own distinct responses to change and turmoil.
Considering all the four working environments, we get this-
1. This concept is as in book – The End of Change- By Peter Scott-Mrogan, Erik Hoving, Henk Smit & Arnoud Van Der Slot – A McGraw Hill Publication.
2. My other work on managing change here –
See more on https://innovatorsandleaders.com/