Four Life Cycles of an Organization Affect Change by Understanding Which Season Your Organization Is In
As board members in one of the organizations I actively participate in, we were recently asked to consider: In the next few months, let’s think about our mission.
In this article I want to discuss the most opportune time to introduce change based on the four life cycles that most organization go through.
I am a strong believer that leaders must speak up, speak into, and be bold regarding the direction of their organizations—regardless of their position. While causing disruption to the status quo can be beneficial, choosing to do it at the wrong time may prove ineffective, produce chaos, and incite injury.
When you want to affect change in an organization you belong to, especially if you are a new member, you’ll want to understand which season the organization is in along its journey. For example, if the company spent a year formulating a mission, vision and strategy, and everyone is excited about implementing them, chances are you will be ineffective in recommending a change to their mission/vision/values—at least at this time.
In this phase it is open season for people to comment on the hard, existential questions: Why do we exist? Who are we? What should we do? Where should we go? What must we accomplish to be successful?
If you want to affect change at this level, if you sense there needs to be a realignment or even a complete overhaul at the core level of the organization, you will have the best chance at success if the leadership is open to considering change. If you come in after this phase is complete, you must gauge how committed the key people are to the mission, vision and values. If the leaders of the organization are happy with and committed to their current mission, vision and values, you must be patient. Learn. Build relationships. Start conversations.
Organizations often fail to revisit the vision phase routinely. They treat their purpose, mission, vision and values as sacred words descended from the Divine, rigid and nonmalleable. Not true. Organizations are built upon people, usually a few people that guide it. Since people change and grow, the dreams, aspirations, and values of the organizations they lead must also evolve. Further, as the environment and market changes, an organization must respond if it is to thrive. If you join an organization that has not touched their mission, vision, and values in a long time, I would encourage you to start the conversation by suggesting that they do.
We must recognize that each organization has a soul, much like each person. It has a past. It has previous successes and failures that determine the way it “thinks” about certain decisions, “moves” in particular directions, and influences how it “sees” itself. The more adept you are at understanding these dynamics, the more effective you will be in affecting change. Having said that, sometimes we are too shy to speak up because we don’t know all of the twists and turns of their journey. I believe if you are with a group of mature leaders, it’s okay to speak up and ask questions. Others will correct you or educate you on the history.
In the Strategy Phase people are already excited about the vision and mission. They are figuring out the strategy. They are answering the question How do we get there? If your organization is at this stage, you will have the best chances to impact the strategy. This is not the time to revisit the vision. You missed that boat.
But what if the vision is absolutely wrong? Well, you might say something and start planting the seeds for the time when the vision conversations resurface in the future.
The Implementation phase is when people are excited to implement the strategy and are figuring out how to do it. Once again, if you try to alter the strategy, or the mission and vision, you may not have much buy-in, and therefore success.
In this phase, everyone recognizes that the current direction the company is taking has become stale or perhaps is no longer relevant. There may be a sense of malaise with the vision and strategy, or maybe the organization is experiencing repeated failure, culture problems, or lack of clarity. If you come into an organization during this phase, your ideas, if presented in a positive way, will be fresh and more readily accepted.
We must be courageous to suggest bold visions and change to our organizations; we must also have wisdom to know when to speak, when to suggest change, and how to do it without dismantling the existing framework that makes an organization stand tall and strong in its industry.
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