Strategic & Operating Reviews: A Checklist to Understand Your Capacity for Change

As the rate of change that our people and our organizations face continues to accelerate, many are undoubtedly in the process of preparing for some form of transformational change.

For public servants, most of you are preparing to face the fallout of the current SOR, while private sector companies wrestle with increasing intrusion from global competition or the market disintermediation of online players.  In either case, your organization is undoubtedly in the process of or preparing to undergo a “transformation”.

Against this backdrop, I felt that it would be useful for managers to have a tool that would allow them to evaluate the current state of their organization—the capacity of the organization to engage in real change right now.

Ask Everyone

The opinions of employees and other stakeholders are an important indicator of where you should focus your efforts.

Completion of a questionnaire based on these materials should take less than 20 minutes to complete, and can provide you with valuable insight. Of course, you will still need to put the answers into context;

  • what is their position/job type,
  • where are they located—central or regional,
  • do they supervise others,
  • how long have they been part of the organization, etc.

Your Vision Statement

If your organization has a strong change capability, most of your employees and colleagues will agree with these statements.  If they disagree with any of the statements, then you have pinpointed a weakness in your change capability that you will need to mitigate.

I agree/disagree that:

  1. Our vision statement represents the future vision for my organization.
  2. Achievement of this vision will require a transformational change.
  3. I have a clear role in achieving this vision.
  4. This vision is likely to be achieved by the year X.
  5. I can list the top 3 most important barriers to achieving this vision.

Elements of Strategic Change

As with any other project that an organization takes up, the planning and development of a change initiative should have a clear strategic plan, i.e., there are deliberate and coordinated actions.  Throwing some things against the wall to “see what sticks” rarely works when executing a marketing plan, and are about as likely to work with a change management initiative.

Different elements need to be in place, in varying degrees, for successful strategic change to take place. However, some requirements may be more important than others for your organization.  Are these elements present in your organization? How do you, your employees and your colleagues rank the relative importance of each element? Which is most important? Which is least important?

Yes/No – strategic change requires:

  1. Flexible Management Policiesthat permit employees to decide how best to carry them out, depending on the circumstances.
  2. Commitment of senior managers and leaders.
  3. Planning and prioritizing– along with ongoing operations, as an integral part of the regular business planning process.
  4. Progress to be measured and monitored.
  5. Calculated risk-taking– a certain amount of it.
  6. Audit and evaluation functionthat play a role in encouraging improvement.
  7. Accountability mechanismsthat encourage all employees to take ownership of results as appropriate to their roles.
  8. Some positive incentivesfor employees to participate.
  9. Important messages be shared and understood by all stakeholders.
  10. Information sharing – a positive attitude toward it.
  11. Innovation to compensate for the absence of sufficient financial resources to achieve business objectives.
  12. Talent, skills and dedication of employees– be recognized as the most valuable resource available to an organization.
  13. Communication and accountabilitythat cuts horizontally across the vertical chain of command.Small fishbowl-270x327
  14. Ability (best practices supported by technology) to successfully transfer critical knowledge from person to person or role to role.

Some of the following statements reflect commonly held stereotypes. Based on your own knowledge and experience, do you agree or disagree with them? Do your employees and colleagues agree or disagree with them? What do your answers reveal about weaknesses in your organization in the areas of working climate, employee engagement and organizational alignment?

I agree/disagree that in my organization:

  1. Management policies are written in such a way that they restrict the freedom to carry them out as effectively and efficiently as possible.
  2. Leadership appears to be committed to a single, clearly articulated transformational agenda for the organization.
  3. Strategic change priorities are clearly articulated through the regular cyclical business planning process.
  4. Managers have the performance information they need to make decisions that will keep them on track towards achieving the vision.
  5. Taking calculated risks can be damaging to one’s career in the event of failure.
  6. Audit and evaluation are primarily regarded as punitive exercises that frequently result in the assignment of blame for poor performance.
  7. Strategic change is supported by the establishment of clear accountabilities for results.
  8. Employees are rewarded and/or recognized for their contributions to continuous improvement.
  9. Many important messages, whether accurate or not, are first communicated through the rumour mill.
  10. It is difficult to get people to share information if they perceive that it might cause them to lose an advantage.
  11. Limitation of financial resources tends to be regarded as a valid barrier to the achievement of strategic change.
  12. Employees feel as though their well-being receives the care and attention that it deserves.
  13. Horizontal channels of communication and accountability are well developed and utilized in support of operational and organizational development objectives.
  14. Despite frequent employee turnover, little support is available (either in sharing best practices or supportive knowledge capture technologies) for ensuring that critical knowledge is successfully transferred from person to person or role to role.

The Sticking Points

An organization’s ability to successfully undergo a strategic change is dependent upon management policies and practices, human resources management, knowledge management, organizational culture, and communication.

Here is a quick checklist of some common things organizations often overlook or downplay as they embark on a strategic change project:

  • The vision for the future is effectively communicated below the managerial levels.
  • People tend not to change their way of doing things unless they have a compelling reason to do so.
  • There are mechanisms to ensure that a consistent transformational plan would survive a change in leadership.
  • There are mechanisms to ensure that the highest priorities are identified and resourced.
  • Vertical ‘stovepipes’ effectively inhibit the necessary horizontal initiatives.
  • The organizational culture promotes continuous improvement through the encouragement of critical thinking.
  • Employees generally perceive change as a threat.
  • In general, adequate expertise and support methodologies are available within organizations to facilitate improvement initiatives.
  • There is insufficient time available to launch improvement initiatives within organizations because of heavy workloads associated with normal day-to-day activities.
  • There should be an active leadership role responsible for standardizing and supporting business management tools designed to support continuous improvement efforts within organizations.
  • Regulatory roadblocks are not impediments to change and improvement within organizations.
  • Organizations should adopt a common approach to promote continuous improvement across operating units.

As with any checklist or tool—this is not intended to be an exhaustive and complete list.  Rather, it should provide a starting point as you begin to ask the difficult questions of yourself and your people.  All input is valid, all data is useful.  But it’s up to you—as the “subject matter expert” on your organization—to evaluate the feedback that you receive in the proper context.