Working with change

My new career search led me to considering additional certifications in order to quantify certain experience… particularly in information management.  I had frequently seen the acronym ITIL pop up in relation to IM roles so it made sense to look into it.

ITIL, I found out, stands for Information Technology Infrastructure Library.  It’s a means of establishing an official, common framework for activities like configuration management.  The goal is “to build best practice in developing a long term service strategy“.

One of the first topics I encountered as I plowed into ITIL was change management.  I was immediately struck by the fact that everywhere I have worked the focus was on managing process change, and rarely people change.  It is precisely the lack of the latter that leads to companies letting the wrong people go when times become turbulent, or overlooking the effects on those who remain.

Change means disruption, but it should not also mean chaos.  Disruption can and should be managed by developing fact-based procedural maps and identifying areas of impact.  Research needs to be performed to spot where disruption can be avoided or at least minimized.  Disruptive actions need to be communicated to affected employees (always a larger set than many planners assume) well in advance of the change.

But that is not the only aspect of change to address.  That’s still process.

In today’s massive, byzantine international companies, it is easy for executive management to be ignorant or lose sight of key players who make things happen.  These are the coordinators, expeditors, administrators.  A former manager of mine referred to these roles as the “glue” of any organization.  Too often, it seems the glue is transparent.  In episodes of layoff, these chain-link positions can be mistakenly seen as unnecessary overhead and summarily dismissed as cost without benefit.  That ends up having significant impact on remaining employees, who often lack the skills of the long-gone specialists yet are now tasked with backfilling them.  Training is not always the solution, either, as many will not have the aptitude for these roles.

And the damage doesn’t stop at an increased workload.  As with earthquakes, there are aftershocks of any reorganization regardless of the mode.  They manifest as inversely logarithmic developments, often designed to fine-tune the larger event or to process and incorporate feedback.

Corporate reorganizations are the most disruptive of changes.  Employees can easily handle change to an an assembly process, alterations in policy or even a totally rearranged work area.  In fact such advents are often good for breaking people out of creative ruts.  But when a corporation overhauls its very foundations, productivity suffers in the meantime.  And if the overhaul cycles are too close together, morale declines and longterm projects go unfinished.  Why bother completing a difficult task that will become obsolete if you just wait long enough?

Obviously this subject is too large and complex for me to adequately address, much less solve… especially in a single blog post.  What I am hoping for here is that some executives will stop and think deeper about the ramifications of impending organization changes, especially as the economy struggles.  The goal is to prevent unnecessary loss and harm to employees, and ultimately, to customers.

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