Leaderonomics: Know your organisation's tipping point - Michelle Gibbings

In organisations, there are tipping points for change. These tipping points occur at two ends of the scale. Read more about them in my article published on Leaderonomics.com

Preparing for your company’s transition


Every organisational change has a tipping point, which can go one of two ways – up or down.

Many people will know Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of tipping point. He talks about a tipping point as that moment when an idea, trend or social behaviour tips across a threshold, so it spreads exponentially.

Know your tipping point

In organisations, there are tipping points for change too. These tipping points occur at two ends of the scale.

Firstly, there are tipping points in which organisational change reaches a critical mass, where it has achieved buy- in and acceptance from stakeholders and end users thereby, helping to ensure the success of the change programme.

Secondly, and unfortunately, on the other end of the scale, there is change where people are so over-whelmed by the scale, frequency and pace or it is so poorly managed, that there is no buy-in or acceptance.

“Consequently, not only does the change initiative fail, but the organisation can become paralysed with indecision and inertia, and experience a spike in employee and customer dissatisfaction.”

There are many reasons for a lack of buy-in, as securing change acceptance is often challenging.

It’s made even harder when an organisation’s ambitious change agenda does not take into account the capacity or capability of the organisation to adopt the change.

Set realistic goals

Over estimation of what can get delivered in a certain timeframe and at a certain cost is a regular occurrence in large scale change projects.

Ambitious agendas are pitched with tight timeframes and costs. Unfortunately, it’s rare that a programme delivers on time, within budget and to the required level of scope and quality.

“We are all told that it’s good to have “big hairy audacious goals” (BHAG) that push us to achieve, but it’s not good when those goals aren’t realistic or achievable.”

Improving outcomes starts at the time that the decision is made to invest.

What often happens is that the project or investment committee, which is charged with determining the projects to approve, will examine the programme in terms of delivery costs, return on investment and other benefits.

What they don’t consider is whether the organisation is ready, willing and able to cope with that amount of change.

As a result, the organisation ends up committing to a long list of projects without understanding whether it is equipped to pull off that amount of change at the same time.

To ensure impacts are well managed and stakeholders are aligned, it’s critical to know the totality of change occurring across the organisation, what capability gaps exist in delivery and end user adoption, and how to best sequence the change.

Get ready, willing, and able

This is about getting your organisation change-ready, willing and able:

  • Ready – the organisation knows where it wants to get to, and has a well-constructed plan for execution, with a logically and thoughtfully sequenced change roadmap
  • Willing – the organisation has effective leadership support and the roles and responsibilities of the change sponsor, project team and leaders are clear, and they are willing to step up and lead the change
  • Able – the organisation has the capacity and capability to execute the change and is able to invest in the resources to ensure that impacted stakeholders are well prepared for the change

Projects need to work out

While focused set up and planning during project initiation is critical, so too is regularly assessing the organisation’s portfolio of inflight change initiatives by putting it through a workout.

This can help to ensure progress is made and the organisation’s change tipping point is heading in the right direction.

In this work-out, you assess:

1. The size, scale and nature of your change initiatives

Gather details on how many initiatives are inflight or about to be started.

At a minimum, the project portfolio list should detail the initiatives, their cost, stage gates, who the sponsor is, key milestones, and the intended benefits.

2. How the proposed changes will impact the business

To identify what areas of the business are being impacted, when, to what extent and in what way.

From there you can determine whether those areas have the capacity and capability to cope with the changes planned.

This assessment should result in the construction of an integrated map of all change initiatives so that you can identify the hot spots (i.e. multiple change impacts at the same time)

3. The gap between planned and actual benefit delivery

Detail the expected benefits, when they will start accruing and who is accountable for delivering them.

Through this assessment, examine inflight projects and how they are progressing with delivering benefits against the original estimate.

Note where there are gaps between planned benefit delivery and actual benefit delivery.

4. The sequence and delivery schedule of the proposed changes

To determine the optimal approach consider whether the programme of work is sequenced in a way that is logical and accounts for the organisation’s capacity to absorb and adopt the change. The delivery schedule may need to be altered so one initiative comes before or after another.

5. Potential roadblocks that may arise

Identify where there may be gaps in resources, key risks or stakeholder concerns which may impact delivery timeframes.

These details will provide an accurate picture about each initiative and their likelihood to deliver to time, budget and quality.

Having these details enables the organisation to make informed decisions about the readiness and capability of the organisation to deliver.

So, next time you’re planning a change, ask yourself: what effort does my organisation put in to assessing it’s tipping point, and is it ready, willing and able to deliver?

If the answer is little or none, perhaps it’s time to do things differently.