The Lines are Blurring: How Leaders Can Respond to the Ever-Changing Work Environment
Organizational life in all sectors is feeling a lot different these days, but it is hard to pinpoint exactly what is different about it, let alone what to do about it. What is clear is that organizational life has changed, and it’s still changing.
I recall reading an article some months ago about how the lines are blurring between technology and the human element, causing us to rethink how we do our everyday work. Since then, I have been thinking about other lines that are blurring in organizations—such as the increasing need for multiple organizational structures, the rising demand for integrated leadership and management skills, achieving work-life harmony, shifting job roles and responsibilities, and the multi-generation workforce—and shaping the way we work (and live), where we work, and how we interact with others.
While these examples of blurring lines offer some clues as to why organizational life is feeling so different, it leaves many organizational leaders with a big unanswered question:
What do all these blurring lines mean for the future of organizations?
Organizational leaders can make things simpler for everyone in their organization if they see the blurring of lines as signals of the need for change to reach their desired future. And then take it one step further—do something about it. Old ways of thinking will not work. It will require viewing these blurring of lines from an integrated perspective where flexibility and choice are the norm, rather than viewing each different blurring of lines as a linear problem to be solved once and for all. In other words, it is about being proactive, rather than reactive.
Here are four highly recognized values of organizational change that will help you get to the heart of real organizational change—shifting the way people think and feel about the new workplace realities and creating new behavioral norms and practices that make it easier to chart a course to the desired future.
- Be clear on your purpose. When people believe in the overall purpose of the organization, they are more willing to change their individual behavior to serve and support the purpose. Effective organizational leaders often use story to help everyone make sense of the desired change. Involving the executive leadership team in refining the story helps prepare the next level of leaders to write a supplement to the original story that is relevant to their direct reports. Depending on the size of the organization, each next level can further supplement the story to make it meaningful to those involved until it gets down to the individual worker who will then be able to see what they need to do differently to support the desired change. When the stories shared at each level include how life will be better, it helps create the collective energy and interest to make it happen.
- Build new skills to support the change. Many organizational leaders make the mistake of expecting individuals to behave differently without preparing them to make the relevant changes in behavior. When learning experiences go at the same pace as the change, individuals are better able to absorb the new information, test it out in their work environment, and integrate it with their existing knowledge to make it real. This type of skill building to change behavior is critical at all levels of the organization, including top leaders.
- Reinforce to build and keep momentum going. As individuals engage in making the desired behavior change, trust is built through consistent management, communication, and motivation. This means clearly communicating expectations, setting targets, measuring performance, and recognizing those that display behaviors that are consistent with expectations. When the organization’s goals for new behavior are not reinforced, individuals are less likely to adopt them. It requires continued attention and tweaking to the management, communication, and motivation systems to sustain desired performance. Periodically re-engaging with others across the organization on what is working and what is not working helps to drive shared learning and experience.
- Create consistency through role modeling. To change behavior consistently throughout an organization, it takes individuals at all levels to display the new ways of working, not just from those at the top of the organization. The most effective role models apply the underlying values informing the new behaviors needed for the tasks they are expected to perform to make it real.
We all know that changing individual mindset and behavior is not easy or clear cut, but this is where real behavior change begins in every organization. When you are ready to undertake the blurring lines in your organization, make sure you understand your organization’s current context and then plan the change effort using the four highly-recognized values described above to engage the collective organization in the desired change effort. Not only will it help you create the clarity you need to make the change, it helps to speed up the time it takes to realize the desired change.
What’s keeping you from addressing the blurring lines in your organization?