Posted by: genevievetaylor | September 9, 2008

Change – The Long & Short of It. (Part 3 of 4)

How can an organization be designed to innovate and work with change effectively? What are the design components of an organization that is truly “Ready for Change”?

It is useful to think first about the work of Ichak Adizes, who wrote The Corporate Life Cycle in 1988. He notes that similar to biological systems, organizations are “born,” they learn, they peak, then they (can) fade. He talks about the Business Function of Organizations, and how the needs of the organization change over time. He also talks about how by understanding where your organization is, you can figure out how to give it the “nutrients” (my words) it needs to re-energize.

The Corporate Lifecycle, by Ichak Adizes (1988)

The Corporate Lifecycle, by Ichak Adizes (1988)

This slide to the side summarizes his ideas. When an organization is in the early stages, it is merely focused on performing services. “Just do it!!” is the idea. As an organization matures, it becomes more and more necessary to focus on how the service is being provided. After that, the organization is looking to be one step ahead of the curve – how can we anticipate the competition. Many best practices have been established in the organization, but the organization must not rest on its laurels. Finally, the organization moves on to integration – whether through vertical or horizontal mergers, externally, or through looking to its people, and thinking about their long-term success.

It is easy to see this pattern in an organization I have been a part of for the last several years, the Sustainable Enterprise Conference. The process that it took to get the conference to be the success it is now very much mimics the path that Adizes notes.

2005: The conference started when Robert Girling, a friend and colleague, went to a large conference in Marin called Bioneers, and came back with the idea of having a conference in the North Bay. He invited a number of people to come brainstorm with him – community activists, Sonoma State & Green MBA professors, business people who were interested or working in sustainable business. I was in that organizing meeting, and ended up being the “Director” for the conference, organizing the efforts of the many volunteers over the course of the next several months. In April, 2006 we thought we would get 150 people – we were shocked when we “sold out” at 220, turning people away.

That year, there was a huge learning curve – and boy was it a rock & roll roller-coaster as we learned about sustainability, how to run and market a conference, how to work together, and clarified, over the course of time, what our true purpose was. In terms of the Adizes model, we implemented systems as we could – but really, the focus was on producing that one day. We had to prove the “business” of the conference was a success.

In 2007, the second year, I was director again. We decided to expand the conference to two days, and to increase our number of targeted guests. That year, I became much more organized; we structured the work differently; there were many more volunteers who had much more ownership. My job became more manageable as a result, although I found myself working much harder as volunteer coordinator than I had the first year. When I compare that year to the Adizes model, we were clearly in stage 2, Administer. Systems became much more important; we didn’t want to “reinvent the wheel”. We were much more focused on fine-tuning.

In 2008, I decided that it was time for people who had a different set of skills to take the director-ship. As a group, the Steering Committee had decided it didn’t want to rely on volunteers as much; it wanted professionals to take the helm on logistics, coordinating sponsors once we had made contact, and otherwise managing the flow of the conference. So, we hired two “co-directors” of the conference, Deborah Grace Kraft & Stacey Ward, and one marketing director, Ryn Longmaid, in addition to our steadfast webmaster Oren Wool & graphic artist Alana Jelinik. These people brought specialization in detail & event management, in marketing; and Oren & Alana were benefiting from having worked in their capacity in previous years. The team took the “Administer” stage of the Adizes model to a new level; writing policy, clarifying decision-making processes; establishing strong working relationships.

As we prepare for 2009, we are clearly in the Entrepreneurial stage, with forays into the Integrative Stage. We are attempting to figure out what is “cutting edge.” Particularly now that “sustainability” and “green” are mainstream words, the question is, how do we help our local enterprises continue to push and challenge their own edge.  We are also re-examining our organizational structure, something we do every year, formalizing different committees and roles that are greater than function, and speak to the purpose of the conference.  More on that later.

Where is your organization?

In the next article, we will talk about how knowing where your organization is can help you design systems that will help you work most effectively and efficiently.

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