Thursday, October 13, 2005

Listening at Warp Speed for Organizational Adaptation: The Answer is Blowing in the Wind after Katrina

(PRWEB) October 13, 2005 -- Under the newly formed Department of Homeland Security, FEMA’s entire workplace was revamped and new leadership was installed at the highest levels, without input from those veterans who had worked at FEMA for decades.

But rapid change without listening to the workforce will add insult to injury, according to experts like Dr. Elaine Gagne, award winning organizational development specialist. She and other professionals who study organizational change cite the breakdown of emergency relief programs in Katrina’s aftermath as a textbook example of what happens when change is not coupled with thorough organizational alignment and workplace communication.

Veteran employees of FEMA have warned for years that the organization suffers from poor management, squandered workforce talent, and attrition of experienced personnel or “brain drain.” But those warnings appear not to have been integrated into the organization re-design.

In truth, how many workplaces could handle their own “Katrina?” According to organizational systems consultants and experts in the field of corporate management, when organizations cannot adapt to rapid change, they fail.

But how many organizations will heed the lessons of Katrina? Are the people, systems, and processes strong enough to bear the “perfect storm?” Does leadership factor in the worst case scenarios in addition to the best case scenarios? Is the organization transparent enough so that each part knows the relevance of other parts and how they depend on each other? Would they pull together or apart in a time of crisis?

These and other questions are essential for organizational leaders today. And, according to Dr. Gagne, the answers lie in engaging the entire organization in becoming adaptable to a changing environment whether it be a slow evolution or one with the speed and power of Katrina. Dr. Gagne says, “The workforce today is not merely about machines, brawn, or even brain. Successful organizations also engage the heart elements like creativity, passion, commitment, loyalty, and morale. Leadership cannot survive without these elements.”

Workforce morale is an issue in organizational success. Employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that employees are less satisfied with their jobs and their wages. Low morale costs companies their competitive advantage, it blocks creative product research and design ideas, and it translates into more expensive, slower production. However, corporate winners today are faster, more efficient, and more agile.

A recent National Business Research Institute study confirms Dr. Gagne’s premises for workforce involvement. NBRI found that root cause of low job satisfaction was that employees were disconnected from the organization’s short and long term goals, vision, and mission and recommends communicating plans throughout the organization and reinforcing those plans in daily activities.

Dr. Gagne addresses these issues in her acclaimed book Engage! Roadmap for Workforce-Driven Change in a Warp-Speed World, where she describes that successful change involves input from the entire workforce, coupled with a proven roadmap, a unique approach to organizational vision, and an execution plan that has lock-step accountability. According to Dr. Gagne, successful changes in organizations like FEMA must involve everyone in the workforce working together to share ideas, set goals, and -- most importantly -- implement them as a team.

Although that may seem like a nearly impossible logistical task for a gigantic organization set in its bureaucratic ways, it is the same principle that applies to responding to a large natural disaster. For disaster relief to succeed, it has to be implemented within a system that can adapt to rapid changes and take advantage of clear and accurate internal communication. Scores of people have to be able to communicate throughout the chain of command, without stepping on each other’s messages, and then be supported by the entire organization so that they can act with confidence.

Dr. Gagne believes it is possible to fix what is wrong with FEMA. The silver lining in this cloud of catastrophe is that in the process of fixing FEMA, we will also learn new and improved ways to respond to other organizational problems that plague us in a rapidly evolving world. And that includes overnight problems brought on by unforeseen disasters like hurricanes and terrorist attacks.

For a review copy of the book or to set up an interview with T. Elaine Gagne for a story, please contact Jay Wilke at 727-443-7115, ext. 223

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