Avoiding Growing Pains: 3 Steps to Ensuring Organisational Change Isn't Painful

Every business goes through change - without it you cannot grow and adapt to a changing market. With big change or growth, it’s inevitable that the new company direction won’t align with the career objectives of some of its employees. This is not a bad thing, just a thing that happens, and being prepared for this will put you on track for a smooth(er) ride.

I recently had the opportunity to observe the results of a growth spurt in an organisation that grew from 10 to 400 employees in 6 years. The company was looking for a new CEO, CIO and IT Manager, who had all resigned for different personal reasons, but all related to the changes in the company since they joined. Again, there was nothing wrong with the company, just the paths were diverging.

This company was fortunate enough to have existing employees who were capable and willing to take over each role in an acting capacity while replacements were sought. Unfortunately, as each of these people took on the role in addition to their current responsibilities, they were under the pressure of doing two people’s jobs.

One of those roles included the approving of any financial transactions in the IT department. Invoices were still coming in at their usual rate, but the acting CIO was busy in his main role and just put them to one side for a few days until he could work out what needed to be done with them.

A few days turned in to a week, and when a supplier, who was aware of and understanding of the temporary situation called to check the invoice had entered the system, she was asked what the normal process was.

In this instance, the supplier was familiar with the process and talked him through it, but it raises the question: why was the acting CIO not able to find this process information internally, and if it was available, why was it so painful to reference that putting it aside for a week was preferable?

It’s not just resignations that create these situations; maternity/paternity leave, transfers, business trips, vacations and illness all create similar effects to varying degrees. So how can you alleviate the situation of knowledge loss and reduce the requirements of handover.

In his book, The E-Myth, Michael E. Gerber talks of designing every company as though it will be a franchise, so let’s examine the fast food industry. These companies are rapidly and massively replicable and have high employee turnover. To summarise only part of E-Myth’s recommendations, these three steps will result in the basic systems you will need to benefit from the ease of transition of staff in your organisation:

  1. Have an up-to-date organisational chart outlining every role and line of report for every member of the company. Include board members, managers, HR, accounting, cleaners, contractors - anyone who is on the payroll or is paid to work directly for the company.
  2. Have manuals for every role detailing the worker’s responsibilities and processes.
  3. Make it the role-owner’s responsibility to keep the manual for their role up-to-date.

Obviously it’s much easier if these steps have been in place from the point of creation of the company, as retrofitting this to an existing set of positions will be non-trivial, but as the old adage goes, it’s never too early to start. If you’re starting your own business, you can still follow these steps. The only difference between your organisational chart and that of a larger company is that most of the boxes will have your name in them! I’ll write another time on the specifics of how this applies to sole traders and tiny companies.

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