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Empowering Change in an Unempowered Environment

Part 2: Matching Your Organizational Maturity Level to Your Approach for Change
In the May issue of News for a Change, three levels of organizational maturity were described. In this issue we will review how an organization’s approach to change relates to its maturity level.

As you leave work today, you see a man who has collapsed on the sidewalk, clutching his chest. Would you perform bypass surgery; administer CPR; or explain how paying better attention to his stress level, exercise program, and dietary habits could have prevented this unfortunate situation?

The most logical choice would be to administer CPR. The patient needs immediate intervention to help him survive the attack. The other options are appropriate for follow-up activities and are almost certainly necessary for a full recovery, but obviously, suggesting aerobic exercise to a patient in the middle of a heart attack would be ridiculous based on his life-threatening needs.

Similarly, public-sector organizations today are feeling the pain and stress of shifting to a quality- and customer-focused culture. Unfortunately, many groups are experiencing disappointing results because of a mismatch between their approach to improvement and their organization’s maturity level. Just as the level and type of medical treatment must be geared toward the needs of the patient, the approach to improvement and change must be tailored to a group’s specific needs and abilities.

About Organizational Maturity
The maturity model recognizes that organizations are at different levels in the areas of vision alignment, management involvement, employee empowerment, customer focus, and process base.

The three levels of organizational maturity—firefighting, emerging, and total commitment—all have unique characteristics and all require different approaches to change.

Three Levels of Readiness
Like the person who collapsed on the sidewalk, the firefighting organization is also struggling for survival. The situation isn’t always as serious as being on the doorstep of drastic funding cuts or outright elimination of departments and agencies; but if fundamental changes are not made, the organization is headed for rough times.

Groups in the emerging phase of readiness have progressed from the firefighting mode and are able to determine a general direction for their improvement initiatives. They are operating successfully but have not achieved peak performance.

Finally, an organization at the total commitment level is ready to make a significant investment to change its culture from one of a scrambling, day-to-day view to one of proactivity and vision.

Matching Approach to Readiness
Matching your approach to your organization’s readiness level can have a profound impact on the success of your improvement initiative, but what happens when you select an inappropriate approach?

The results can be as disastrous as when a doctor recommends the wrong treatment for an illness. The figure below gives an overview of which approaches work best for each of the three levels of readiness; and, more important, it shows what can happen when the approach and readiness level are mismatched.

Firefighting Organizations
For example, firefighting organizations should focus on basic problem-solving techniques, like analyzing or correcting defects to gain a basic understanding of the situation.

Asking a group like this to work on a focused improvement initiative like root-cause analysis or business self-assessment will only lead to disappointment. People will be too busy with their “real work” to devote the time required to make improvements.

Additionally, deploying companywide mandated programs would have the more severe effect of making employees cynical and resistant to any future initiatives.

Emerging Organizations
Organizations at the emerging level have a basic foundation that allows them to function in a relatively smooth manner.

The best approach for these groups is to select one area to address for improvement, measure its success, and use it as a springboard for improvements in other areas. This also serves as an example to other parts of the organization by showing them a successful approach for implementing improvement activities.

Problem-solving tools, which work best for firefighting organizations, can also be used in the emerging organization as needed to support the focused improvement initiatives. These tools, however, may not allow the organization to advance to its fullest capabilities.

A broad-based approach, on the other hand, may be useful to understand how the focused improvement fits into the larger picture, but it may be too much for the organization to support as its primary focus.

Total Commitment Organizations
Groups at the total commitment level have a very clear sense of vision; have management that is actively involved in supporting change; and have strong employee empowerment, customer focus, and process base.

These organizations are able to initiate broad-based approaches to change, such as deploying the Malcolm Baldrige model as a management framework.

Clearly, selecting problem solving as a primary approach would not fulfill the potential for improvement in an organization at this level of readiness. Similarly, an approach of focused improvement would sell the group’s capabilities a bit short. Initiating a collection of coordinated, focused improvement is an excellent way to achieve the organization’s broader goals and to help improve overall performance and effectiveness.

A nationally recognized customer service expert, author, and trainer, RON ROSENBERG, CSP, recently founded, a Web site dedicated to helping people get the service they deserve and to teaching companies how to provide it. He has been featured in publications including The New York Times, Smart Money, and Real Simple and has appeared as a guest on nationally syndicated radio shows including “Dateline Washington” and the “Gary Nolan Show.” For more information, visit his Web site at .

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