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Making Change Happen: In Search of the Silver Bullet

By Kevin Dwyer

Too many organisations search for a "silver bullet" to fix their human resource problems. They search for a singular, narrow approach to improve performance when a broad holistic approach is required. The result of focusing on a narrow approach to improve performance is unintended consequences delivering reduced performance instead.

For the human resources of an organisation to perform well, the organisation needs to have four synchronised building blocks. The building blocks are goal setting and strategy development, performance management, process management and the organisation culture.

Goal setting and strategy development are important in providing individuals and teams with their reason for turning up to work each day. Strategic planning not only delivers to teams and individuals their key result areas, but also the broad measures by which the organisation considers itself successful.

A performance management system delivers to individuals and teams their key result areas and their specific measures to know that they have been successful. It also provides a means to receive feedback on their performance and the competency development programme to ensure that they are competent to undertake their roles.

Process management ensures that the processes being executed are suitable to achieve the goal set by the organisation. It also ensures that the policies which dictate some processes are appropriate to the stated goal of the organisation.

Organisational culture provides the paradigm in which the organisation operates. It provides the unwritten rules, the informal measures, the stories and myths and the power structures that determine "how we do things around here".

Organisations which require urgent, immediate change can afford, in the short term, to concentrate on only one or two of the building blocks. For instance, an organisation with no semblance of vision, strategy or goal will get an immediate benefit from developing a strategy to deliver a goal.

In the long term however, concentrating on strategy and a goal without addressing the necessary culture and processes to achieve the goal and building a performance management system will result in an organisation with a group of individuals unsure of how they can contribute to the delivery of the goal. A team unsure about how they contribute to executing a strategy typically lacks focus and undertakes an overload of activities, many of which are at best, not contributing to the goal.

Organisations which concentrate on performance management and processes without having clear and specific goal and a strategy which is understood by all people in the organisation are in effect, "flying blind". The result will be a set of processes which may in themselves be efficient but are only likely to be effective in delivering the goal of individual managers and supervisors. A "silo" organisation is created. Additionally, a well run performance management system reinforces the "silo" mentality, setting standards and targets and feedback and competency development processes suited to the individual supervisor or manager rather than the organisation.

Organisations which concentrate on goal setting and strategy and re-engineering processes without ensuring that the performance management system and culture support the re-engineered processes, find that the re-engineered processes revert to their pre re-engineered state.

For example, implementation of complex information technology systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM), even with a clear goal and strategy and a re-engineering of processes, founders after implementation when the performance management system and the culture of the organisation does not value data.

Organisations which implement tools such as quality circles without first understanding the purpose for which they are to be used and the culture required to make them successful risk devaluing the use of the tool through frustration developed by a lack of results.

For example, quality circles implemented for non-manufacturing processes tend to fail as defect measurement is difficult to define and communicate. It then becomes difficult for autonomous teams to improve the process. It is not that quality circles in themselves are inappropriate, but that the culture of defining and measuring and working as an autonomous team is usually not addressed. Definitions tend to be broad, not measured appropriately and result in little improvement in quality or productivity.

Organisations which concentrate on setting a goal and implementing a performance management system risk reinforcing inefficient and ineffective processes. A good performance management system will set standards and targets of performance for existing processes but not address changes in processes or policies to make the processes more efficient or effective.

If your organisation is concentrating on "corporate plans", "performance management", "business process re-engineering" or "cultural change" in isolation of the other building blocks which support the organisation's intended change, it may be in search of a silver bullet. A silver bullet which ultimately, is unlikely to provide the change in performance desired, delivering unintended consequences, further lowering the performance of your organisation.

Kevin Dwyer is Director of Change Factory. Change Factory helps organisations who do do not like their business outcomes to get better outcomes by changing people's behaviour. Businesses we help have greater clarity of purpose and ability to achieve their desired business outcomes. To learn more visit or email

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