Organizational change is exciting, especially when you’re leading it.

The euphoria spurs critical thought, which drives an urge to change everything you possibly can!

But be careful.

Pretty much all major changes – even those that appear to be positive – create uncertainty and danger you may not notice while you’re celebrating.

Once the euphoria dies down, the law of unintended consequences may throttle your change initiative.

A key, and often unspoken, principle of organizational change is knowing what NOT to change, at least right away.

In this article, we’re going to look at

  • two examples of positive change,
  • the negatives that can show up later on for each, and
  • how to facilitate change by leaving some things the same (or at least pacing the change even if you can do it immediately)

Example #1: Acquiring Your Biggest Client Ever

Consider the impact caused by a small company getting a client or project greater than they’re used to.

For example, a 5-person, $500K/yr company suddenly gets a new 7-figure client.

A dream come true, yes?

Now pause and think.

How quickly can the organization handle the sudden increase in demand on its human resources and infrastructure to support the new client?

Will you have enough resources left to continue supporting other clients?

Do you need to hire new people – and should you bring on employees or contractors?

What new technologies do you need, and how quickly can you get staff onboarded to use them?

And it doesn’t stop there.

Once the 7-figure contract ends, or if the client pulls out, what happens next?

Unless you quickly bring in a new client of similar size, will you need to downsize?

If the company returns to its previous size, will the cultural shifts spurred by having that client suddenly become a detriment?

Example #2: Getting Acquired By Another Company

Now, let’s say a larger company, and/or a competitor, buys your company.

Even if this was the original exit strategy from the very beginning, it too brings uncertainty (which causes fear).

First, you get new management – the acquiring company’s management.

If the acquired company’s management team did not parachute out as part of the deal, will they still have a role, and what will that be?

If they’re staying, are you giving them the support they need to handle being subordinated to the acquiring company’s leadership?

Across the company, will people lose their jobs due to role redundancy, or will the acquiring company find new places for them?

Will the “new, improved” merged company still be a place people want to work?

How soon until things settle down?

When Big Things Happen, Stick To Basics And… Think Small

Large-scale change happens easier when small things that don’t need to change stay the same – at least for a while.

Basic organizational anchors help keep the company stable.

Something as mundane as knowing there is a coffee pot in the break room, and you can still bring your lunch and keep it in the refrigerator, provide needed continuity.

No matter what happens all morning, there’s still lunch.

If the company was used to working 9 to 5, unless there is an unavoidable reason, don’t suddenly change to 8 to 4.

The small dislocations caused by changes in daily sleep routines, commute patterns, dealing with childcare, and – yes – what time lunchtime happens will compound against the necessary changes you’re already making.

Flowing from this, as much as management may get excited about change just for the sake of something new, try not to physically move departments, offices, and cubicles around at first.

Seeing the same surroundings as before creates tangible continuity even as policies, procedures, and scope undergo dramatic change in the face of a huge new client or a corporate acquisition.

Good Change Can Go Bad If It Happens Too Quickly

Consider this – suddenly having new technology and talent that make it so certain procedures are no longer necessary sounds awesome, yes?

FINALLY – you don’t have to keep all those rote processes that slow things down and suck up bandwidth you can now use for greater things!

But again, pause and think.

These amazing, awesome changes that are great for everybody can frighten the very people whose lives just got easier.

You may need to adjust the pace of this optimization as part of avoiding making people feel left out.

Even if this means freeing up team members to work on bigger things, suddenly having their small tasks taken away can cause fear and uncertainly requiring several rounds of calibration.

Conclusion: In The Grand Scheme Of Things, Remember What Needs To Be Grand (and What Doesn’t)

Even when it seems otherwise, not everything is changing in the workplace.

Not everything is coming off the wheels.

But perception overshadows truth and fact.

Because the “little things” described above play their role beneath the surface most of the time, you don’t notice them until you move them.

Knowing your organization’s anchors – which ones remain stable and which ones are changing – can help you plan and communicate change.

Keeping them in place reduces the sense of disruption that change management initiatives create.

They help create a sense of stability during change, a calm port in the eye of the storm.

Leaving alone what does not need to be changed makes organizational change more effective by keeping the organization focused on what matters most.

Think about this before you make changes just for the sake of change and lose sight of the prize.

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