The Organizational Change Battle Plan: Using the Principles of War for an Effective Change Strategy

Organizational change is a lot like a SWAT operation; as they both involve strategy, operations, and tactics (www.ehistory.osu.edu).  There is a response to an incident, where the appropriate tactics and equipment deliver the best scenario for a positive outcome.  And throughout the scenario, leaders devise plans through “if / then” stimulus, ultimately leading to an outcome.  In this process, police assure the suspect that they will not go away, while the organization pours resources into the event for a safe outcome.  Subsequently, the incident commander reflects to see what event strengths, weakness, and opportunities will allow them better operational readiness.  So why don’t some leaders take the same approach for their change initiatives?  Some change strategies are cast out into the waters with no life vest, only to sink to the bottom of the ‘organizational waters.’  How can we leverage the dynamics of a SWAT event to bring success to our change management?  The purpose of this paper is two-fold: (a) to foster understanding for improved operational readiness for change management within police organizations, and (b) to build a battle plan while understanding the causal effects (“if…then…”) of change.

The Scout

A successful mission is incumbent on intelligence to properly deploy adequate resources (Handel, 2008). Such as when you have a suspect in a house, it becomes important to isolate him. The same is true of change. Because there are so many moving parts of change, and the fact that it bears to be constant, people tend to be ill prepared and antagonistic about it. Many people dislike change, although “change is the only constant” (Proverb, n.d.). Fortunately, leaders are better prepared to navigate people through change when focusing on what’s important, while paying attention to the internal and external forces that are at play (Terry, 1993). For law enforcement, internal forces include a resistance to change as well as an ambiguity of plan and/or failure to understand why change is needed. The external forces include such elements as legislation, political upheaval, and shifting community and economic realities.

When the spectrum of internal and external environments that impact change is realized, change can be seen quite simply as a series of tasks while the process is thought of in a “systems” context (Javidi, 2003). A system approach provides two important foundations. First, it establishes that no single thing can change without influencing every part of the system to which it belongs. Second, change in any part of a system impacts every other part. The figure below by Javidi (2003) outlines the interdependent relationships between law enforcement agencies and environmental systems. It illustrates how important it is for all of the internal elements of an agency to be aligned to assure the optimum agency performance. It also shows the effects of external environmental influences and their interrelation to internal elements.

Organizational Change Battle Plan

Armed with intelligence about the internal and external factors of change, one can begin to lay out the questions needed in the development of solutions to achieve change goals and strategies. It can be likened to the 5 “W’s” and the “H” of traditional journalism: who, what, when, where, why, and how (Porter, 2010). The following are examples of how to formulate questions to the specific change project:

“Who” questions:

  • Who from the police agency needs to be involved in the change?
  • Who is likely to be affected most by the change?
  • Who is likely to try to obstruct the change?
  • Who has the most invested in the status quo?
  • Who are the most likely leadership champions of change?

“What” questions:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • What practices need to be changed?
  • What change messages must be communicated to the agency stakeholders?
  • What behaviors do we need to change?
  • What resources will we need?

“Why” questions:

  • Why do we need to change our police practices?
  • Why do we need to communicate the new practices to our agency stakeholders?
  • Why do we need to change our treatment of each other and the communities we serve?

“Where” questions:

  • Where are changes most needed?
  • Where do we have support for the changes?
  • Where does management stand regarding the need for change?
  • Where will the capital come from to implement the changes?

“When” questions:

  • When will agency leadership consider implementation?
  • When should we communicate the change to the agency members?
  • When should we communicate with the community stakeholders?

“How” questions:

  • How do we improve our operational practices?
  • How do we change the way we treat and communicate with our communities?
  • How should we communicate the agency’s practices to its internal and external stakeholders?

The Operation

In his acclaimed book, Sound Doctrine: A Tactical Primer, author Charles “Sid” Heal (2000) introduced law enforcement to the nine tenets or principles of war. First introduced by the U.S. Army in 1921, although originally published by British major general J.F.C. Fuller in 1912; these principles and related factors have stood the test of time (www.wpi.edu). The nine principles of war have interfaced war exercises throughout the globe, as well as tactical operations abroad; and play a pivotal role in all tactical operations. The authors hope to navigate the change process utilizing these nine principles, known as “MOOSEMUSS” which will be discussed in further depth.

Maneuver

For a tactical operation, this is defined as the movement of troops and equipment to gain an advantage. The same is needed for a change strategy. The right people need to be rallied, as well as the right communication strategies to provide the momentum for the plan. Simply put, creating change foundations by aligning agency resources and leadership while securing commitment and capabilities from employees involved in the change implementation.

Objective

Author Stephen Covey (1989) understands the importance of an objective with his quote “having an end in mind.” A charismatic leader has an opportunity to propel change initiatives that engage people. In the book Fired Up or Burned Out, Michael Lee Stallard (2007) states the lack of true connection with each other keeps us from really moving our business forward. Having a clear vision is a big part of the picture, and connecting with others is paramount. Designing the change plan relies on aligning the agencies mission with the change plan and determining the challenges ahead. Once done, leadership can then begin to implement the change plan.

Offense

This is the progress of the event, and especially important not to confuse motion as a success factor. Remember the quote by Alfred A. Montapert (n.d.) which states, “do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.” It is up to leadership to create some kind of urgency to help propel motivation in the right direction (Kotter, 2011). Perhaps it is using competition to spark urgency or seeing how employees can benefit from the change. If put in the right perspective, employees will engage in change whereby they perceive will either save them time, effort, or bring additional satisfaction. Another consideration is the resistance to change leaders inevitably face. This is what Heal (2000) calls friction, which is the force that resists all action. Although not completely unavoidable, leaders can remove roadblocks and alleviate the energy that resistance takes away from change goals. One example can be found in the threats experts experience within a change process. Experts want to feel like experts, and when their knowledge base is tilted, they will be uncomfortable (Luftman, 2004). If power relationships shift, this disturbs people’s equilibrium. In this stage, it is critical to have well-defined goals and objectives that are clearly communicated to everyone. A clear vision can help everyone understand why you’re asking him or her to do something (Kotter, 2011). All employees must be kept involved and aware of the process while allowing time for training (Luftman, 2004).

Simplicity

The roll out of new systems threatens people in organizations on many levels: by interfering with organizational norms, fear of the unknown, and new power relationships (Luftman, 2004). Fear of the unknown manifests itself when employee competency shifts, or thy no longer believe they can control events affecting them. New power relationships threaten organizations by shifting expertise and/or the change in relationships. Simple plans remove ambiguity and allows everyone a level playing field to understand why the change is needed, and more importantly, how to deliver (Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, & Lampel, 1998).

Economy of force

Since resources are rarely infinite, the change strategy must accept a level of risk in areas that are not vital for mission success. Setbacks and challenges are expected and are never a reason to abandon the mission. The change management should build in acceptable areas where areas of failure or setbacks don’t completely thwart the plan.

Mass

This principle deals with the decisiveness of force exercised at specific times or places. The change strategy is always up against threats from multiple directions, and thereby important to gain advantages through controlled and focused concentrations of power. An example of this might be when certain intervals are needed for an all-out effort. In these moments, leadership as well as multiple layers of the chain of command must synchronize efforts to gain the leverage necessary to implement the change or sustain it.

Unity of command

All efforts must be aligned and focused on the necessary steps needed to build the successful change plan. If everything becomes a priority throughout the entire change initiative, then nothing is a priority in the strategy. Leaders (both formal and informal) must be in sync with regards to the tempo and adjustments they are making to the process. Internal and external marketing are important factors here while remembering that change management rarely happens overnight, and through unity and consistency throughout all ranks, the leadership message is heard, understood, and acted upon accordingly.

Surprise

In tactical operations, police officers know that the art of surprise can be a key factor in success in arenas such as search and arrest warrants. For the sake of our discussion, surprise should be a tool in regard to a change management process, which can advance a mission, as well as the unanticipated (or should have known) events that our change management brings. As a tool, its best explained with a quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower (n.d.), “leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” As far as the known/unknown variables of the change management, its best described with an excerpt from the Department of Defense’s study of capability surprise:

  • “Known” surprises – those leaders should have known were coming, but for which they did not adequately prepare.
  • “Surprising” surprises – those leaders might have known about or at least anticipated, but which were buried among other possibilities.
Security

Simply put, security allows plans protection. Security plan for change are things such as incentives and short-term wins which build progress. Giving people a taste of victory early in the process will further motivate people to continue towards the change (Kotter, 2011). Security also aids in the refreezing of change, which is the point at which the change itself becomes the new norm (Kotter, 2011). Some change processes fail because victory is declared too early. Real change takes time and each win provides an opportunity to build towards the sustained change (Kotter, 2011). It has been thought that it takes about 21-28 days to make a habit. Some of the latest research shows that if we do something for 66 days straight, we can do it for a year, five, or thirty (Goetzke, 2010). Anchoring the change into the corporate culture assures that continuous efforts are a part of the entire organization (Kotter, 2011).

Final Reflections

As Heal (2000, p.38) points out, “a flawless plan is a mythical as a unicorn. Anyone can tell you what it looks like without ever actually seeing one.” The same is true of change. It can be dirty, tiring, and flawed…. But progress is just that, and is the sum of the effort and systems put in place for more than just momentum. By identifying the external and internal forces that both create and resist change, police leaders are better suited to begin thinking in terms of resources needed to advance change management. From there, asking the right questions becomes imperative to develop the plan and know what we are trying to accomplish. Third, by using the nine principles of war as a mechanism to plot course and action, leadership is poised to deal with issues that stunt progress. Leadership can identify what and who will be needed for success. They will be able to identify where they are going, and the offense needed for progress. All the while ensuring simplicity is built into the plan, while recognizing resource management and the mass needed. Finally, aligning resources and people through tempo adjustments, and dealing with the implications of surprise, leaders are afforded the ability to bring security to the change management process. After all, if we left change up to chance, leadership is up for one wild ride.

– Brian Ellis, M.S. – Sacramento Police Department

– Mitch Javidi, Ph.D. – International Academy of Public Safety

(Photo courtesy Juan Beltran)

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