As a senior executive, sometimes it’s easier <and more appropriate> to delegate challenging and complex assignments to middle managers. Doing them yourself means having to set aside your long term projects to focus immediately and directly on the problems at hand, fabricating solutions on your own, making decisions on your own, and dealing with situations for which you’d ordinarily provide oversight. Making your decisions work also requires you to take total responsiblity for the success or failure of those outcomes, instead of having the benefit of another point-of-view to help you shape decisions and minimize failure (which might be the case if you had recommendations to consider from a middle manager).
The same holds true for organizational change … it’s easier for senior executives to delegate organizational change to middle managers and say, “Make this happen” than it is to create change from the top-down and move everyone forward, sometimes “kicking and screaming”.
But “change” can be toxic, even if necessary for survival of the organizational ecosystem. The biggest problem with organizational change is that its outcome can be unpredictable! Even the best intentions, if forced down the chain-of-command, will still affect every employee differently, according to his or her own unique set of personal needs, wants, and desires.
It’s impossible to control how change will affect each employee but, when the majority realize their “needs, wants or desires” will be met, change is easier than when few employees are satisfied or when few believe their interests, at the very least, have been considered. And, therein lays the secret to success! The trick to affecting organizational change is to strategically control its implementation. Don’t try to manage it, don’t try to force-feed it to employees, use strategic methods to control it.
I have to make a personal comment here, however; generally, I view “control” as a bad thing when overly practiced in the workplace. It stifles innovation and hinders brilliance, both of which are typically borne out of the freedom to look at problems without inhibitors. When employees are held back by excessive management controls, it’s natural for them to give up on creativity and just go with the expected flow. That doesn’t mean they’re pleased or even content, however. It just means they’re compliant.
Nevertheless, where change is concerned, control can be a good thing if done correctly. Theoretically, control is about measuring and correcting the activities of subordinates to ensure that outcomes conform to plans. Where organizational change is concerned, control should be more about letting subordinates figure out and resolve foreseeable problems themselves before leadership imposes desired changes and to do so before conflict and resistance rear their ugly heads.
If an organization needs to change, it’s best done from the top-down. Even still, while change is in play, leadership can best retain control of change by flattening the structure of the organization and restricting management’s role in the decision-making process. There, I’ve said it! But let me assure you, I’m not advocating anarchy during organizational change. I’m suggesting that senior officials can best control change when they spell out their desired results and delegate “how to get there” to the lowest levels in the organization.
Employees who have a degree of influence over the means by which organizational change is achieved are far more likely to embrace change than if it’s simply thrust upon them. Senior officials who best control organizational change are the ones who let go and allow employees to figure out how to get there. Getting to a workable solution isn’t easy; but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare either.
Like anything else, organizational change can be run like a project, and “monitored and controlled” methodically in order to ensure desired results.
Risk Management would also be relevant, to identify possible off-track organizational changes, and contingency plans to keep things moving the right direction.
Great post and a good message! And you are right about leadership getting out of the way so that employees can enact the change. But it is still vital that leadership have a clear vision of change that the employees can enroll in.