Building an Organization for Change

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Today's guest blogger is one of our extraordinary volunteers, Suzanne Boyd - who blogs here.  Suzanne is an HR professional - and one of those incredibly smart, lively and engaged people that makes me feel a little bit inadequate in the best possible way. Suzanne facilitates training for Volunteer Vancouver. In this case, she was the presenter at a Books for Breakfast event. For more information on that program, check out the propaganda at the bottom of this post.

Building Your Organization to Change

Guest blog by Suzanne Boyd
Partner, Noverra Consulting & Capital Partners

Several months ago, I was fortunate to attend the Human Resources Management Association's annual conference in Victoria. One of the sessions I attended was led by Chris Worley, a co-author of the book Built to Change. I was immediately inspired by the session and did what all conference session leaders wish for, I purchased the book.

Several weeks later, I found myself waxing poetic about the book in a meeting with Colleen Kelly, Volunteer Vancouver's Executive Director, and Maria Turnbull, a Volunteer Vancouver Program Director. Colleen, never one to miss an opportunity, immediately suggested I present the book at Books for Breakfast. And so I did. Below is a summary of the key concepts of the book; insights provided by Valerie Lambert, Executive Director of Big Brothers who co-presented; and comments from the group discussion.

In short, the premise of Built to Change is how to make organizations as flexible as possible. This philosophy differs than a typical change management approach because it focuses on restructuring our organizations in order to flexibly manage change at all times. Most change management methods prescribe a process to follow only when change is encountered, without fundamentally shifting an organization's approach to doing business.

The business case for building a Built to Change flexible organization includes:

  • 91% of executives surveyed answered "yes" to the question "has the importance of agility and speed increased in the past five years?" (source: the McKinsey Quarterly).
  • Most change efforts fail because the concept of stability is buried deep in the managerial psyche. Most organizations are inherently "anti-change".

The following key concepts are core to building a Built to Change organization:

Concept One: Identity
An organization's identity is made up of the internal culture and the external image of the organization as seen by its competitors and customers. It is an overarching and relatively enduring statement of how an organization will achieve its long term mission.

When an organization knows and understands its identity:

  • It is more likely to formulate and communicate strategies that will be understood by organization members
  • When an organization's members know that announced or intended changes honour the firm's identity, they find it easier to support and commit to these changes.

Concept Two: Strategic Intent
Strategic intent is the integrated series of choices organizations make to run their businesses. A robust strategic intent is the ability to succeed under a range of change scenarios. Starbuck's Create Great Experiences is an example of a robust strategic intent.

Concept Three: Strategizing
Built to Change
organizations continuously (1) examine their strategy (strategizing), (2) recognize that some things rarely change (identity), and (3) understand that other things may need to change frequently (intent, structure, systems).

So what does this all mean when you take it back to the office? The following key points were shared to provide some tips on how to operationalize these concepts:

  • On strategizing:
    • Develop a strong future focus. 80% of strategy is figuring out where the world is going. If you can do that, what you need to do usually becomes obvious.
    • Use your organization's identity as an enabler for change.
  • On designing
    • Implement structures with maximum surface area so as many employees are as close to customers as possible.
    • Develop person-based, performance-based reward systems and throw out job descriptions!
  • On creating value
    • Constantly ask, "what do we need to learn?".
    • Create and support a system of shared leadership.

During the discussion of the book and organizational change, the following "aha!" moments occurred in the room:

  • Use the term "evolve" rather than "change" to focus on creating an evolving organization, rather than a changing organization. Also, avoid announcements about "change initiatives". In an evolving, flexible organization, these arbitrary announcements are unnecessary and can be damaging.
  • Culture is often perceived as a barrier to change for organizations, as such, the concept of identity as a driver of change is a positive spin on what is often seen as a negative situation.
  • A continued emphasis on the identity and core mandate of your organization, like building relationships with the community, is crucial to creating a responsive, flexible organization.
  • Reducing hierarchy and creating flattened organizational structures can enable success.
  • Do the "change" without ever saying "change".

If you have any additional nuggets of wisdom based on Built to Change, please share them here.


And, finally. A SHAMELESS PLUG. Feel free to stop reading if you don't want to hear it. If you want to learn from interesting authors, attend a Books for Breakfast at Volunteer Vancouver. You don't have to read the book, just hear about its theories and discuss their application in the real world with a group of smart, engaged people. The next session is on Talent: Making People Your Competitive Advantage on October 15 (this week!).


Fox Car Rental's picture
Fox Car Rental (not verified) on
This was a great article. Too many organizations and business have kept to the same premise or business ideals, many of them lost their way during the last few tough years because of this. A good company is one that can adapt and change to constantly make the best of a situation and provide improving service and ideas.

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