3 Frameworks for Managing Organizational Change

Man wearing a blue shirt and glasses.

You may be wondering: How can I begin creating meaningful change in my organization? If so, you’re not alone. “In every team that you talk to, and just about every individual you talk to, they're all trying to seek some kind of change in a given moment,” says Joe Brown, an executive director at IDEO.

As a leader in IDEO’s Organizational Impact Center of Excellence, Joe guides companies in building the culture, teams, and structures they need to get good ideas out the door. With so many different tools and processes for guiding change, Joe believes that frameworks can be a valuable model for helping teams understand what’s important, communicate ideas with others, and move in the same direction. 

In this Creative Confidence Podcast episode, Joe shares his thoughts on identifying your change journey, three different frameworks to approach change management, and keeping people’s needs at the center of it all. 


Listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts


Types of organizational change

To get started with change management, start by articulating the change journey that you are on. What change is it that you want to make in your organization or team? Try completing this sentence: “We seek to go from ______ to ______.” Write your change journey down, and keep it in mind as you learn about the frameworks for approaching that change.

Joe has seen organizational change fall into four main categories. The first type of change is business transformation. As an example, a car company concerned about a decline in car sales might explore new forms of mobility or shift from products to services. Second, there’s technological change. This involves digital transformation, such as a pharmacy that wants to expand its business beyond retail stores and have a web or mobile platform. 

Third is topical change. This is a large bucket that includes adapting businesses to a changing climate, building more inclusive organizations, and evolving with broader societal shifts. The last type of organizational change is capability building. A packaged food company that wants to build a stronger relationship with its customers by selling direct-to-consumer would need to develop an entirely new capability. 

With all of these types of change, a greater culture shift requires small experiments and beacons that show real results and encourage people to adopt new norms. “You can't start with just saying, ‘Hey, here's the new working manual, the new handbook for how all of our work should work going forward,’” says Joe. To create lasting change across your organization, there needs to be a structured approach to change management.

 


“You can't start with just saying, ‘Hey, here's the new working manual, the new handbook for how all of our work should work going forward.’”
Joe Brown


 


3 models for change management

While there are many potential models that can be used to approach change management, Joe suggests three specific human-centered frameworks as an effective starting point: the motivational model, the reverse cascade, and stop, start, continue.


1. The motivation model


The motivation model is a framework that focuses on building healthy teams and relationships, developed by Dan Pink in his book Drive. In this model, there are three elements that are critical for people in their work: autonomy, purpose, and mastery. Autonomy is the control over the work that you do; purpose is meaning and impact; mastery is progress and growth. “A well-working organization should deliver a balance of all three,” says Joe.

Pie chart of the motivational model, divided into three equal parts of purpose, master, and autonomy.

Joe points to what has been called the Great Resignation or the Great Mismatch between employees and employers, in which job opportunities are available yet people are declining to take them, to highlight how the three elements of the motivation model can show up in times of change. As shown in a recent study, while there has been a big boost in autonomy for many with remote work during the pandemic, there has also been an erosion of both mastery and purpose, with fewer meaningful interactions in the workplace. This can lead to a disconnect between people and their companies. “I love this framework because it starts to point to: Is your organization providing you with a balance of the things that you need in order to feel motivated in your job?” says Joe.

With change management, it’s important to understand the elements behind what motivates people. Joe describes his work with a client that had a goal of establishing a greater sense of mastery throughout the organization. After examining the existing annual review process of checking in once a year, they decided to experiment with a new system of feedback that helped team members review their goals and progress with their managers on a quarterly basis. This empowered employees to shape their own careers in tangible ways and led to a culture change across the company.

When you're seeking a culture change, start with an analysis of how your organization is showing up in each of the three elements of the motivation model: autonomy, purpose, mastery. Which are you over- or under-indexing on? How might you design change to rebalance these elements?

 


“I love this framework because it starts to point to: Is your organization providing you with a balance of the things that you need in order to feel motivated in your job?”
Joe Brown


 


2. The reverse cascade

If you’re looking to activate creativity and autonomy within your team, the reverse cascade can be a powerful framework. Oftentimes, leaders make decisions and everyone down the line follows through during the strategic process. This is like a cascade, or waterfall, where everything tumbles down from above. The reverse cascade flips this idea—instead of having authority rest on a few people at the top, ideas and solutions can come from the bottom, middle, or anywhere else in the cascade.

Staircase with arrows pointing up and down

During organizational change journeys in particular, there is typically a dictate that comes from management on what to do in order to reach certain OKRs, or objectives and key results. With the reverse cascade framework, you’re given the larger goals, but there is autonomy to generate ideas on ways to get there. It allows people to use creativity to look at all of the things that could be done, then figure out which ones to prioritize for the greatest impact. Joe suggests that organizations take this approach: “Instead of saying, ‘You need to go and do X,’ flip it and say, ‘We need to deliver on this big goal. How can we get there?’”

Joe mentions as an example a logistics company that he worked with, where the legal department, which was responsible for protecting against risk, would frequently push back on new offers from the product team as they were brought into the loop right before launch. It was structured as a top-down approval process, without any decision-making ability from the legal team in the early stages of product development. 

To address this, the company adapted its ways of working to invite the legal team into the initial part of the planning process. By opening up to more people and making it a collaborative effort, they were able to anticipate legal issues ahead of time and create better offers. This reverse cascade framework enabled the organization to create change in its ways of working.

 


“Instead of saying, ‘You need to go and do X,’ flip it and say, ‘We need to deliver on this big goal. How can we get there?’”
Joe Brown


 


3. Stop, start, continue

As teams and organizations go through change management, it can be difficult to reexamine and let go of current projects. The stop, start, continue framework helps you take a moment to sort through all of the information and know where to focus. “Every time you want to add a new project, it's like, you've got a full plate of spaghetti in front of you, and someone's trying to drop meatballs on top of it. And you are praying that those meatballs don't go rolling off the side,” Joe explains. 

Stop sign, start sign, and continue sign to demonstrate "Start, Stop, Continue Framework"

Stop, start, continue is especially relevant when having conversations around defining purpose, strategy, and impact. Joe gives an example of a fashion company in Europe he worked with that was reevaluating its investments. Its goal was to make the fashion industry benefit all people, which meant taking a look at its entire portfolio of suppliers, customers, and brands it worked with. The company challenged itself to consider which relationships were potentially harmful, before beginning to brainstorm and move toward new investments.

While it may seem simple to refocus priorities, it can be tricky for teams to let go and take things off their plates. According to Joe, almost all projects seem critical at the time that you take them on, and it can be hard to get people to agree that they are no longer important. One tactic that he has seen to be effective, however, is centering on a new alternative. “What we found actually works pretty well is if you can highlight a new alternative, like, ‘I want to get rid of this project so that I can do this other really cool one that's on the horizon,’” says Joe.

When designing for change, this framework helps you to figure out what you’re doing today, what you could potentially get out of, and what you should take on more of.

 


“Every time you want to add a new project, it's like, you've got a full plate of spaghetti in front of you, and someone's trying to drop meatballs on top of it. And you are praying that those meatballs don't go rolling off the side.”
Joe Brown


 


Get started with organizational change

Ultimately, these three frameworks are quick tools that can help you make an impact and create positive change in your organization. It’s important to remember, however, that no single framework will be able to capture everything. “They help us think through the kinds of activities we might need to engage in and the kinds of things we might need to take on,” explains Joe.


Organizational change is gradual, and the key is to start small. Take a few minutes to reflect on these questions:

  • Revisit the change journey you wrote down earlier. How might you now apply these frameworks to bring about change?
  • A beacon is a small win that builds momentum to go from a little change to a big transformation. What's one small thing you can try today to help others participate in change?


If you want to learn more about how to create change collaboratively in your organization, check out our online course Designing for Change.


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