The word ‘dysfunctional’ is often used to describe individuals, families, relationships, organizations, and even governments. While ‘functional’ means it is in proper working order, ‘dysfunctional’ is the opposite: it is broken, not working properly, unable to do what it was designed to do. The world seems upside down.
Managers are part of a rebellious company, known sometimes to fail or make mistakes. Those who get a second chance when things go wrong tread carefully on the road to redemption. Their humanity and spirit may get reignited when opportunity knocks.
Some say, “If you can’t manage change, change management.” This dictum translates into incumbent turnover and disappointment in work environments where “You’re fired!” is the kneejerk reaction to change gone wrong. More commonly, it points to less draconian measures affecting a range of issues: strategy, structure, systems, staff, style, skills, shared values.
Taking corrective action
Organizations need mechanisms for monitoring progress, evaluating the effectiveness of change, and adopting remedial action. This might take the form of an oversight body to monitor teamwork. Or it might be administered in periodic employee surveys to track attitudes and morale. Taking corrective action closes the loop and renews the change management process.
For example, public functions are susceptible to alternating waves of centralization and decentralization. Each requires different organizational designs and leadership skills for success. Centralized functions often trade off agility against efficiency gains, neither of which may be fully realized. Managers seek to:
- Anticipate cultural impact. They advocate a holistic vision of a better future to improve trust, innovation, and productivity and transcend the burning platform of restraint or compliance.
- Ensure the right change leadership. They set direction and inspire teams to achieve goals that leverage diversity of ideas, cultures, and geographies.
- Cultivate curiosity, awareness, and connection. They recruit for, develop, and recognize cross-functional collaboration to nudge teamwork and incentivize change behaviours.
Decentralized models, on the other hand, want to maximize efficiency while aligning with strategy where resources are dispersed organizationally and geographically. Managers seek to:
- Create collaboration forums. They share knowledge and good practices to multiply the benefits of scale and diverse opinions without the need for physical co-location.
- Develop informal networks. They share information through joint projects outside traditional roles to capitalize on specific opportunities and build relationships.
- Align decisions with the right incentives. They promote blended solutions to enhance local performance while supporting the global strategy.
How managers think is as important as what they think, especially for effective leadership. In a complex, fast-paced environment, public servants must develop agility and flexibility to adapt to and manage change. Dr. John Kotter observes: “Leaders need not just a tolerance for such volatility, but an appetite for it. Whenever you have changing conditions and turbulence, it’s actually full of opportunities.”
Thinking differently about unique or original solutions in a networked model of leadership sometimes means ‘thinking wrong’ about hierarchical structure. Designer-entrepreneur John Beilenberg suggests that, “… subconsciously we’re following predictable pathways to solve problems (whereas) what you want at the beginning of a design challenge is as many possibilities as you could imagine.”
Change management is an essential skillset that helps people build resilience, get involved, and take charge of transformation in their workplace. Managers and executives need toolkits to promote innovation, foster engagement, and develop institutional capacity strategically.
Change management is one of five pillars of transformation addressed by the Canada School of Public Service. Its transformation curriculum differentiates needs to develop excellence in public service:
- Executives lead transformation by recognizing the challenges and triggers, focusing on complex stakeholder relationships, and integrating dynamic change strategies;
- Managers manage change in complex times by grappling with people management in different contexts and situations; and
- Employees navigate change by exploring the impact on individuals and adapting tools and techniques in the workplace.
A common lament in public service is, “If only I could do it over again.” Experienced middle managers know that the past cannot be changed but that the present can be ruined by living in the past or worrying too much about the future. Living without regrets means resolving the past, living proactively in the present, and nurturing future prospects. Moving on means learning to forgive and let go, so that problems become possibilities and obstacles become opportunities.