The result of this is that people are walking in the blind when implementing Sharepoint and ride a car without the proper steering wheel. What happens when you drive a car without the proper steering wheel? You crash, that is unavoidable. The same is true for Sharepoint implementations. If you neglect the soft complexity part of the Sharepoint implementation you crash, and that also is unavoidable. This blog will give you some ideas about soft complexity and how knowledge about it can help you avoid most problems. We approach this soft complexity with the Soft Systems Model of Change. This is not the only method out there, and others will be talked about in other blogs.
What this blog will challenge is the notion of rationality as applied to organizational change in the context of soft complexity. This blog will try to recognize that some change situations (problems/opportunities/ Sharepoint implementations), by nature of their complexity and particular characteristics, require soft rather than hard systems approaches to change. What this blog also will try to do is let you consider the philosophy, value orientation and theoretical underpinnings of Organisation Development (OD) as a generalised example of soft systems models for change. We will outline and describe the processes and practices which comprise most OD approaches to designing and implementing organisational change. This blog will also discuss the limitations of OD approaches to managing change.
Why do we need Mess Management when implementing Sharepoint within organizations? Various factors such as power bases, organisational culture, leadership styles, and changes in the organisation’s environment when implementing Sharepoint, can in many cases make organisational change a lot more technically complex and emotionally charged (therefore messy) than the Hard Systems Model of Change can adequately deal with. As we mentioned in the last blog, one of the characteristics of Sharepoint implementations is this emotionally charged part of the project. Let’s face it: Sharepoint is hotter then hot and this alone makes the soft complexity almost unavoidable and more complex then normally would have been the case.
But Mess Management is also needed because People act in accordance with their own view of what is rational for them. This last thing is especially the case when we deal with Sharepoint. All the people involved have their own rational about Sharepoint. And all those rationales are different and full of emotional charges. We cannot approach the people only the hard way, the technical way. They are not puppets, dummies, cogs or cattle. We need something else when implementing Sharepoint and that has everything to do with the soft complexity side of these kinds of projects. How can managers deal with messes is a valid question. Let’s look at it in more detail.
Ackoff (1993) suggests there are 3 ‘kinds of things’ which can be done about messes. The first two are: Resolve them - Select a hunch that yields a “good enough” outcome - one that satisfices (satisfies and suffices). Solve them - Select quantitative approaches based on research and rational-logical methods of analysis. Focuses on the trees rather than on the wood.
This means that you have think about the messes within Sharepoint implementations, define some of the messes which represent the bulk amount and most important ones. It must be the bulk of messes that solve the first problems, that answers the first messy questions. Than select and prioritize the bulk of messy problems and questions and keep it high level. Don’t dive into the details too early in the process.
The third of Ackoff’s (1993) ways of tackling messes is: Dissolve them, change the nature of the problem context (or system involved) so as to remove the problem. This is development oriented – eager to improve quality of life for self and others. It’s about resigning systems at various levels of the organisation to dissolve the problem. This is what the soft systems approach tries to do.
In relation to Sharepoint implementations this could mean that processes should be reviewed, redesigned where needed or put in another context that makes them more workable for Sharepoint implementations. Lots of messy characteristics can be a result of procedures and processes which are not well aligned with Sharepoint implementations. They can be politics based, human based or based on other soft factors. You can change the context of the Sharepoint implementation problems combined with realigning processes and procedures within the organization to make them more adabtable for these Sharepoint implementation problems.
What can be said about messy changes is that change is only effective when people’s feelings, needs, perceptions, ways of doing things & hopes are addressed AND that messy situations require managers to dissolve existing problems, by challenging underlying purposes and assumptions. This is often the case when implementing Sharepoint. Many people have different feelings, needs and perceptions of how doing things with Sharepoint. There are a lot of underlying assumptions when people do and act on Sharepoint. It is important to make these elements crystal clear before implementing Sharepoint and make it a part of the organization. When this phase is underestimated, as is the case in most Sharepoint projects, then the project will probably crash somewhere down the road because people cannot identify themselves with the product and the results of the Sharepoint implementation.
For the manager who wishes to dissolve problems, Buchanan and Boddy (1992) suggest: - ‘backstaging’, not just ‘public performance’ - ‘political skills’ behind the scenes - ‘intervening in political and cultural systems’ - ‘managing meaning’ – ‘selling the change’. This means that the modern leader, the manager involved in Sharepoint implementations must have a talent in communicating, people management and politics. Not only the visible things are important, but it can be said that the invisible parts of Sharepoint implementation projects are even more important than the visible parts. To get a grip on these invisible parts the (project) manager must make them visible through soft managerial skills.
Let’s look at some differences between hard & soft Change approaches when dealing with Sharepoint implementations.
Organization development (OD) is a long term effort, led and supported by top management, to improve an organization’s visioning, empowerment, learning, and problem-solving processes, through an ongoing, collaborative management of the organization culture - with special emphasis on the culture of intact work teams and other team configurations - utilizing the consultant-facilitator role and the theory and technology of applied behavioral science, including action research (French W.L., 1995).
Organization development is an ongoing process of change aimed at resolving issues within an organization through the effective diagnosis and management of the organization’s culture. This development process uses behavioral and social science techniques and methodologies through a consultant facilitator and employs action-research as one of the main mechanism for instigating change in organizational groups (McCalman J, 1992).
There are some assumptions of Organization Development as a model for change. It defines goals and processes with emphasis on processes. Also it deals with change over medium and long-term. It is about people and recognises their worth. It involves the organisation as a whole as well as its parts. Finally it emphasises the concept of a change agent/facilitator. What can be extract from these assumptions is that the people are in front of the attention. It is not about short term wins but the long term benefits prevail. A very important thing to notice is that the whole organization is part of the analysis. Most effeciency and results will be made when there is a change agent guiding the process. And this is also very much the case for Sharepoint implementations where all these factors play an important role in the success of the project.
More recently, the concept of a learning organisation has been blended in with OD. Central ideas of the LO: it is a process approach to change in which everything, including existing goals and the goal setting processes, is subject to challenge. Double-loop learning is an important part of the learning process.
Why is organization development so important when dealing with Sharepoint implementations? When dealing with Sharepoint implementations the volume of change in many organizations is massive. The economic scene places demands on managers while they are reluctant to change from tried and tested methods. The role of management is changing and new models are needed when Sharepoint comes into play. Change management takes time and for a lot of organizations this is a new phenomenon that comes to existence when Sharepoint is being implemented. Some Sharepointchanges challenge basic assumptions, for example, the role of supervisory staff, the role of the reviewers, the role of the middle managers and more (H., 1973).
Furthermore the need for control remains - the skill is remaining in control when so much change is going on. More comprehensive strategic pictures are needed when implementing Sharepoint which integrate different changes in the organization and alleviate confusion. Organization design and re-design are as important and necessary as product, process or system design and are the responsibility of management and people in organizations, not just specialists. Sharepoint has one characteristic that is always there: the organization as a whole must change and if this is not accepted or realized then failure lurks behind the corner (H., 1973).
Another important change process can be mentioned here: Lewin’s Three Step Process to Changing Behavior.
Pugh (1993) gave us a good description of effective change management. He wrote that an effective manager...: anticipates the need for change as opposed to reacting after the event to the emergency; diagnoses the nature of change that is required and carefully considers a number of alternatives that might improve organisational functioning, as opposed to taking the fastest way to escape the problem; and manages the change process over a period of time so that it is effective and accepted as opposed to lurching from one crisis to another. What can be extracted from this is that these same elements are needed when implementing Sharepoint within organizations. Reacting to what Sharepoint causes to the organization is fundamentally different than anticipating on the things Sharepoint will do to your organization and diagnose the anticipated soft change and managing them well when they happen.
Let us go back to the Organization Development Model for Change. A number of elements distinguish this approach from the hard systems model of change discussed in the previous blog. Change is not a ‘one-off’ event, but is rather an iterative, cyclical process which is continuous as part of everyday organisational life. Components of the model are diagnosis, data gathering, feedback to the client group, data discussion and work by the client group, action planning and action. What you can see when describing these elements of OD is that it needs a lot of involvement of the client. It is important to check before you start with a Sharepoint implementation where soft complexity plays an important role, if the client can create and give the time needed for Organization Development when needed. If this is not the case, then that should be a noted risk.
The mentioned components may form cycles of activity within each stage of the OD process. The OD approach to change is firmly embedded in the assumption that all who are or who might be involved in any change should be part of the decision-making process to decide what that change might be and to bring it bout. Again, this takes time and asks time from the client. So, it is almost a definition that the soft complexity part of a Sharepoint implementation asks a lot of time from the client. This can be called a main characteristic that should be addressed before the Sharepoint implementation starts. Organization development is not a project planned and implemented by senior managers with the assumption that other workers in the organisation will automatically go along with it. And again, often this is what is being done when Sharepoint is implemented. It’s implemented and the assumption is made that the organization will automatically go along with it, which is definitely and absolutely NOT the case.
Action research is tightly integrated and related to the OD process. Action research is central to EACH STAGE of the OD process. It is a collaborative effort between the leaders and facilitators of any change and those who have to enact it. It involves data gathering, feedback of data to the client group, data discussion, action planning, and action. Therefore, action research is, as its name suggests, a combination of research and action. Every step, every action done when implementing Sharepoint should be analysed the same way, should undergo this action research or something similar. If this is not done, if people and managers think the organization will go along the Sharepoint implementation, there is too much that is ignored and this WILL bite you in the butt.
Let us look more closely to this picture. Put Sharepoint in the middle and align your analysis around this product. At stages 1a and 1b the issues, problems and opportunities are to be fully explored and the (generally) multiple perspectives of people in the change situation should be understood. Diagnosing the current situation should not be rushed through without sufficient consideration of the underlying issues as well as the presenting ones.
Again, Sharepoint is often implemented way to fast and without the proper analysis of this current situation, on the hard and on the soft side. Also it happens often that the future state is not well analysed or not analysed at all. As mentioned in the previous blog, often the system administrator is made Sharepoint goeroe who must implement Sharepoint and make it a go. Where is the business in that situation? Where are the people, the procedures, governance and what not? I hope it becomes and is clear by now how very wrong Sharepoint is approached in most situations: as only a (simple) product that can be put into action within an hour.
Gain commitment to the vision
What are important thoughts when gaining commitment to the vision? Once the vision for change has taken shape (stage 1b), commitment to it has to be gained. This is also related to the steps of Kotter (1993) who writes about communicating the vision early in the process and communicating it constantly. Walk the talk and talk the walk. Consequently, sharing the vision with all concerned is important, which might mean a review, again, of the vision for change. It is vital to ‘listen to the organisation - people's responses in words and deeds to the vision proposal. This creates commitment and understanding and is also important to form the guiding coalition of Kotter.
Develop the action plan
But then comes the real hard part, developing an action plan. Stage 3 is complex and requires much consultation and gaining the participation of those who must enact the change. Possible resistance to change must be addressed. The role of the change agent is important in the whole of stage 3. Debates occur as to whether the use of an internal or external change agent is preferable. Buchanan and Boddy (1992) have written about Change Agents’ competencies. The next paragraph will show some of it.
Change agents must have a sensitive, clear, flexible goal setting, they must be able to do team building, networking and handling ambiguity. These change agents must be experienced in communicating and dealing with people and meetings, enthusing and motivating people and groups. They must be able to do the selling and negotiating when needed. And last but not least these guys must be trained in dealing with the politics, influencing people in the background and communicate the broader view. Preferable they must also have some knowledge about Sharepoint on all these matters.
Therefore it is important to ask yourself before you start implementing Sharepoint within the organization: “Do we have these kinds of people in house and if not, what are we going to do about it, what does this imply?” Because Change Agents can help the organisation to: Define the problems when implementing Sharepoint, examine and diagnose the problem when implementing Sharepoint, come up with alternative solutions, direct the implementation of these solutions with Sharepoint and crystallise the learning needed to understand and deal with the change.
When you implement Sharepoint within an organization, an organism if you like, without the proper attention to all the surrounding elements and organs of this implementation, then it must be clear by now that such an action is like begging for failure and disaster. And still this is what most implementations are: dumping Sharepoint as some silver bullet fileshare without paying proper attention to all the related hard and soft elements.
It can be of help to create a responsibility chart. Responsibility charting helps in the assessment of the alternative behaviours for those involved in the series of actions for change around Sharepoint implementations. It involves identifying and assigning the specific people involved in each action or decision. Who is responsible (one person). Who are the approval givers (not too many). Who are the supporters, resource providers (vital) and who should be informed. Down here you’ll find an example of such a responsibility chart.
Pugh’s (1986) OD matrix is very useful in deciding where, in an organisation, Sharepoint change efforts should start and be planned. Start with desired behaviour that needs to change when implementing Sharepoint. Move to organising the system, structure, info. flows, etc. that may need to change when implementing Sharepoint and move to organise the contextual setting that may also need to change when Sharepoint is implemented.
Implement the change.
Stages 4 (and 5) of the OD process ‘Implementing and assessing and reinforcing the change’ can make use of a range of techniques, some of them are identified on the Pugh OD matrix. We can think about survey feedback where employee opinion survey is very important. How is Sharepoint adapted? What do they think about the implementation? Can people find what they are looking for? Does Sharepoint speed up their work and so on and so forth?
Then we have organisational mirroring where focal group gets feedback from other groups about how it is perceived and regarded. And we have the Inter-group confrontation. Each group lists its complaints about the other as well as what it thinks the other group has as a complaint against itself. Role negotiation can also be important where we focus on each other’s behaviours and negotiate an increase, decrease or status quo. The consult can do process consultation. The consultant engages in feedback, coaching and counselling that helps individuals and groups finds their own solutions.
Also there is overall team building - focus on the team processes, culture and responsibilities. Life and career planning is also important for ‘Life line’ drawing, connecting past, present & future. Write your own obituary. A lot of things change when implementing Sharepoint and this is also the case for how people will work within the organization after the implementation of Sharepoint. Plus there are various other methods for designing structures and contexts.
Go for a series of SHORT-TERM WINS, visible outcomes (short term goals) that: show that sacrifices are worthwhile, reward change agents, help fine tune the visions and strategies, counterbalance the cynics, keep bosses happy and build momentum. These short term wins are especially important when the change implementation is a very long process. If the process takes a lot of time and people don’t see short term wins, they could think that the change overall is a disaster and will not succeed. Kotter (1996) talks about them also in his eight step model and it is one of his steps. Create short term wins and communicate them properly. This gives the people confidence in the change and boost their support.
Assessing and reinforcing the change
When assessing and reinforcing the change it can be said that hard change is relatively easy to assess because you can set hard objectives and quantifiable performance measures, as written about in the previous blog. Soft change is more difficult to assess. When assessing the soft elements of change then there are a couple of things that can be of help. For example survey or cultural audit and Interviews with individuals or focus groups. Furthermore we have examination of turnover and absenteeism rates or analysis (through observation or questionnaire) of group performance. Another technique is picturing the organization, ask staff to portray the organization in pictures, not words.
As mentioned in the blog about the Hard Systems Method of Change, Kotter (1996) and Hayes (2010) talk about enchoring and sustaining the change to make it a part of the organization, to make it a part of ‘this is how we do things around here’. What can help to make this happen is design appraisal, career and reward systems which help reinforce desired behaviours. Also of use is to orientate staff training and development to the new vision and the new situation. Hold people accountable for maintaining the vision and continuing to implement the change. At all these stages, the requirement of iteration back to previous stages and then forwards again with modified plans and actions is crucial to the way the OD process operates.
Three of the criticisms that have been aimed at this model for change are: OD does not always face up to the harsh ‘realities’ of change. (‘Rather than unfreezing, people need to be shaken up’.) or create a sense of urgency where Kotter (1993) is talking about, OD is limited when change situations are ‘constrained’. (Diagnosis and vision already set) and OD does not always fit with the policies and practices of bureaucracy, political systems. This last one is indeed often the case. As mentioned earlier; implementing Sharepoint the proper way asks a lot of time from the organization at hand. When this organization is very static and full of latency, then Sharepoint implementation will probably fail on the soft complexity elements of the change. A fourth criticism of the soft systems model for change is the claim that OD cannot be applied in the same way across all cultures. Supposedly it is not suited to high Power Distance, high Uncertainty Avoidance, and high Masculinity cultures. Probably this is also true for Sharepoint implementations and it is therefore important to do a proper feasibility study before the start of the Sharepoint implementation project.
Given these criticisms, care has to be taken that the OD process is modified to suit different circumstances. It must also be recognised that, in times of crisis, managers may have to act very fast and... it may not be possible to put into practice the full consultation and participation that is built into the OD process. On the other hand though, what is often the biggest problem when implementing Sharepoint is the speed used and lack of proper analysis upfront the implementation. Even when just using some of the elements and considerations of OD in relation to the soft complexities of Sharepoint implementations, then that is often better and more than is done now.
After reading and writing about the soft complexities of Sharepoint implementations and what have to be done to be prepared and react on them the right way, it is clear that soft complexity is a very important element of Sharepoint implementations that should be handled with care and understanding. The soft elements of Sharepoint implementations are in most cases the elements that costs most money and are highly underestimated. They have the biggest teeth and the hardest bites. Neglecting them or just don’t pay the proper attention and they will certainly be one of the main reasons of failure.
It has to be said that there are more models and techniques to handle soft complexity and they will be analysed in future blogs. The main goal of these two blogs about the hard systems method of change and the soft systems method of change was to make clear that Sharepoint implementations are complex beasts that need the right way of approaching. When these beasts doesn’t get the proper care, the proper attention and the proper food, then they will attack or die. In both cases it is a loss of money and you have to buy a new animal, invest in a new Sharepoint implementation project or choose for another collaboration platform. The latter will ask for the same treatment and care, so it will not avoid all the hard and soft complexities.
I hope that it will be also clear that Sharepoint is highly underestimated and then I’m not talking about all the features it has. It is often mostly underestimated on the part of change it will introduce in the company and what has to be done to be prepared for all those changes and what has to be done to make all those changes work in you organization. It would be great and cool if both blogs made some brains more aware of these facts because this could avoid future loss of millions.
Let that be the case.
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