4. Vitalizing

If an organization has maintained a phase three pattern for an extended period of time, the very strengths that have led to quality, success and security slowly begin to manifest their downsides. Almost imperceptibly, over time the well-oiled machinery becomes mechanical, leaving motion without inspiration.

At this point, directors and employees are usually motivated towards renewal, and convinced that an injection with rejuvenating practices is needed. However, the problem is often that they go about effecting change in the same staid and plodding way that they do everything else – thereby smothering any budding elements there might be of originality and sparkle.

A CEO in this situation might put it as follows:

“Our firm has an excellent position – we are renowned, have wonderful clients and know how to maintain our turnover. On the other hand, sometimes I feel the sparkle is getting lost. Innovation is too slow for my taste- endless discussions are carried on, with turf wars between marketing, research and production. I have now decided to look into the best structure for innovation in a matrix organization like this one. I have commissioned Professor Jackson of the Turfsead institute to design a research project.

“What do you expect from this?”

“Well, obviously he will make an extensive report, with many suggestions we can subsequently implement”.

“Do you expect it to work in practice?”

“Professor Jackson is the authority in this field. On the other hand, there is of course a risk that his report, ingenious as it may be, lands in the drawer along with the others. But that’s just the way things work around here. It certainly means we have to be careful with the communication about this project.

Maybe we could select some heavyweights for a sounding board…”

 

Unfortunately, as the CEO in the example indicates, many change efforts remain cosmetic only: Extensive diagnostic operations, resulting in thoroughly responsible plans and instruments, which either serve to enhance bureaucracy, or else die an ignominious death in their implementation. This is when the ‘Handbook of Dynamism’ gets written, and the ‘Procedure for Flexibility’ gets spelled out.[1]  What is indicated, obviously, is to revitalize the organization. The question is how does one actually get results?

 

The revitalization strategy aims to rediscover entrepreneurship, market sense and innovation, and to free the organization from constricting patterns and mechanisms. The apparently stable condition needs to be reawakened into alacrity and flexibility. The company must open the windows to the environment again, breaking up settled patterns. This means that it will be necessary to question the basic assumptions of the organization and its business model. Existing perceptions, values and –unwritten- rules need to be challenged. The organizational climate will need to undergo a metamorphosis: from closed, staid and defensive to self-confident, eager and alert.

In the business strategy challenges and innovation are reinstated. The organization is shaken out of its comfort zone by extrapolating expected market changes to the very core of its being and detailing the effects of the present course if allowed to remain unchanged. In this phase, grand schemes are less effective than accurate and concrete strategies at a micro-level. It is essential that the risks involved in entrepreneur-ship and innovation are accepted.

Regarding structure, this move actually implies de-organizing: breaking down the detailed job- and task descriptions, introducing more loosely coupled work forms, both horizontally and in the shape of projects. Goals are redefined in terms of pure output, and procedures and systems are severely reduced to essentials in these terms.

Line management is reinstated in its primary position. Staff is reduced and remaining staff made directly supportive to line management. Supervision is assigned to a separate function.

 

[1] Many Quality Assessments and Balanced Score Card operations end this way.