What separates winners from losers is the ability to manage fast-paced change in the new millenium—to anticipate it, prepare organizations for it, and turn it into a competitive advantage.  When that change involves your greatest asset—your people—change initiatives need to begin with people as the basic unit.  Structures and processes are crucial, but they are not the drivers of change…people are.

Success depends not so much on natural resources, capital and physical labor but on the organization’s ability to tap its collective wisdom—the accumulated judgment, perceptions, experience, intuition and intelligence of all employees—as it pursues product and market opportunities and better ways of serving its customers.  By harnessing this precious resource, organizational improvements are fully realized and built into the fabric of a company. 

Six Lessons to Remember

1. Build a value-based culture. Common values, that are clearly articulated and specific, build trust and tie together processes and systems. Charts and numbers appeal to reason, but change requires a leap of faith built on trust and shared values. 

2. Provide clear direction. Given a common set of values, where should the organization be headed? Strategy is a framework that guides the choices that determine the nature and direction of an organization. People are more inclined to change behavior when their leaders have a clear sense of direction and present their vision in a compelling way. 

3. Establish a social contract. What does an organization owe its people—and what do they, in turn, owe to the organization? Healthy organizations enable employees to meet personal goals, and in doing so they achieve organizational goals. Establishing a baseline for relationships between employees and the organization can turn collective knowledge and experience into competitive advantage. 

4. Design the right performance environment. People in an organization work within a performance environment. The systems, structures, and processes that are embedded in that environment help people respond effectively to changes. Any change effort must include a set of positive and negative consequences and must balance the varied dimensions of the performance environment. 

5. Build the right infrastructure. An organization’s structure is a kind of skeleton that holds together its disparate parts. This infrastructure must be aligned with the strategy and it must be “people-friendly.” Prevailing wisdom suggests building the infrastructure first and then helping people adapt through change initiatives. But people adapt structures, systems, and processes to their needs, and needs change. Therefore the infrastructure must always be evolving. People are the measure of what the structures, systems, and processes should be.

6. Create a learning environment. A learning environment is where skills can be acquired, used, and continuously improved. While companies must provide the tools, equipment, and systems for employees to excel, the emphasis should be on developing critical thinking skills and using them. When people become more proficient problem solvers, decision makers, and planners, performance increases dramatically.