By Paul Glen

The first article of this series discussed the process of clarifying the desired future state of your organization as the first step in improving the productivity of your group. The clarification phase is the one most often skipped when trying to deal with organizational issues. Managers commonly try to jump directly into the second phase, planning, often with disastrous results.

This occurs for two distinct reasons. Firstly, most managers are by nature people of action. They prefer to focus their energies on doing things rather than pondering things. In many ways, this is what makes them effective. But planning organizational changes without a clearly articulated goal often leads to the selection of ineffective or even destructive actions.

The second reason that managers frequently jump directly to a solution without a clarified problem is the availability and promotion of so many management tools. Writers, consultants and research organizations regularly roll out new management approaches claiming to have broken the secret code of leadership. They arrive in magazines, books, seminars, white papers and marketing brochures on a daily basis. You are probably barraged as I am by information on tools like CMM, extreme programming, RUP, professional service automation, project management software, behavioral analysis, communication training, leadership training, etc.

While most of these tools can be valuable in helping improve technology organizations, few are precise about the issues that they address and the limited conditions under which they should be used. So overworked managers under constant pressure to improve their organizations often adopt the use of these tools without a clear understanding of the problem they are trying to solve.

So only after completing the clarification phase are you in a good position to begin planning how to improve your organization. Then you can select one or more tools to use to improve the group function.

As you are selecting tools, it’s also important to recognize the full range of options. Here is a short list of 15 categories of tools that you can consider when planning to transform your organization along with a few notes on their strengths and weaknesses.

1. Training – Usually training (either technical or soft skills) is the first thing that we think about, but it has only limited effects unless combined with other reinforcement mechanisms.

2. Organizational structure change – Restructuring can be a powerful approach, but requires careful attention to both the new structure and the transition. It is usually disruptive in the short term and you have to be willing to absorb a short term productivity hit until the benefits arrive.

3. Policy change – Policies can be useful tools. They are clear directive statements. They are simple to issue, but hard to enforce and sustain. Too many policies can combine to stifle an organization rather than to improve it.

4. Process improvement – Processes address the selection and sequencing of tasks as well as the approach to how people work together mechanically. Too often, managers try to use processes to mitigate cultural and human relationship issues that remain unresolved.

5. Culture change – Culture change can be a very powerful tool, but is also very difficult to do well. Organizational cultures are remarkably resistant to change.

6. Staffing change – Sometimes, you really just have to move people in and/or out of the organization. New blood can help transform a group. So can jettisoning those toxic people who constantly infect others with their bad attitudes.

7. Technical review – Either at the enterprise or the project level, a coherent fresh eyes view of your technology can reveal both technical and human issues.

8. Compensation Rewards and Incentives Changes – Adjusting compensation plans is always difficult. Not only do the incentives change in often unintended ways, but employees often have emotional reactions to the changes even if they are largely improvements.

9. Strategy and Planning – For many groups strategic planning has become an annual ritual, but it frequently becomes an exercise in tactical planning rather than true strategy development.

10. Mission, Vision, Values – The experience of writing mission, vision and values statements can be a great opportunity for debate and clarification for a group. But, leaders have to be cautious about declaring grandiose visions that elicit more eye-rolling skepticism than aspiration.

11. New Technology Tool Implementation – While rarely living up to the marketing hype, there are many new technologies that can help improve communication, collaboration, management, and monitoring.

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12. Assessments – Psychologists and consultants have developed batteries of tests and surveys that can help clarify the true state of your organization. In addition to your gaining a better understanding of reality, the simple act of asking the questions can help to raise awareness of issues in the group.

13. Coaching – Over the past 10 years, the formalized process of individual coaching has become common in the corporate world. It provides people with a coach who serves as a safe sounding board and provides unbiased feedback. A coach also helps hold people accountable for commitments they make.

14. Mentoring – Mentoring differs from coaching in both content and duration. While coaches allow the person being coached to drive the process of individual improvement, mentors take a more active role in directing the progress of the “mentee.” Mentors also work with their charges for long periods of time, often years.

15. Outsourcing – With the constant pressure to reduce costs, many large organizations have turned to outsourcing, especially outsourcing services overseas. This approach is an attempt to improve the ROI on people not by improving the return on investment but by reducing the investment. The jury is still out about what sorts of work can be successfully outsourced. There is also a growing backlash with many organizations re-insourcing their previously outsourced work.

The key to planning a successful organizational transformation is to select the appropriate combination of interventions to meet the clearly articulated goals around which you have already built consensus.

About the Author:
Paul Glen is the author of "Leading Geeks: How to Manage and Lead People Who Deliver Technology" (Jossey Bass Pfeiffer, 2002) and Principal of C2 Consulting. C2 Consulting helps clients build effective technology organizations. Paul Glen regularly speaks for corporations and national associations across North America. For more information go to http://www.c2-consulting.com. He can be reached at info@c2-consulting.com.

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