A Tale of Organizational Change

By: Guest | July 16, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Krista Giuffi.

Do you remember reading fairy tales as a child?

They were usually steeped in a life lesson that was subtly engrained into our psyches.

Like don’t judge others by external appearances (Beauty and the Beast).

Or don’t take candy (apples) from strangers (Snow White).

Or don’t break into a bear family’s house or you’ll meet an untimely end (Goldilocks).

OK, maybe it didn’t go quite like that…

We remember these stories and their lessons through life, much like we keep with us our professional experiences through our careers.

I was reminded of a true life tale of organizational change after reading Gini Dietrich’s post on company silos and leadership.

How the Tale of Organizational Change Begins

Once upon a time, at the beginning of the economic recession in 2008, while national advertising and PR agencies were cutting budgets and staff, a small healthcare communications agency knew it had to do something or face the same fate.

The strains of organizational silos between the agency’s four business units were growing.

Small chiefdoms formed between account teams to protect budgets and resources.

Although the agency achieved industry recognition for its work, nothing was working to keep clients or retain staff consistently.

It felt like a time of darkness and despair until a white knight appeared in the form of a new company president…

And with the power of a thousand windmills, he implemented sweeping changes to the agency’s structure and corporate culture within a year.

  • No more silos: All business units shared budgets.
  • No more chiefdoms: All accounts were pitched as integrated teams and a new horizontal company structure was introduced.
  • No more despair: Employees were rewarded for their hard work with frequent social activities.

The new company president rebranded the agency and began changing the very core of its corporate culture.

All seemed well in the land of the new agency, until…

The white knight abruptly left less than two years into the transformation, as did his senior leadership team.

While the company leadership tried to keep the brand and structure together, it began to show cracks in its foundation.

  • Little by little, the silos were built up again and an adversarial tone overtook the account teams.
  • No one supported the company culture or shared vision as they had before.
  • And almost three years later, the agency has rebranded itself once again.

I left this agency a year after the new president left, which was long enough to see how easily companies will revert to their former structures if an organizational change effort is not strong enough, nor supported sufficiently from the top down.

While this fairy tale does not have a happy ending, per se, it presents several valuable lessons for communications professionals and for those managing their own business:

That’s my tale of organizational change. Do you have a story to share or similar observations in your career?

Krista Giuffi is a PR and communications professional currently working in alumni relations. She occasionally blogs at PR in Pink. You can also find her on Twitter at PR_in_Pink. And pink is her favorite color!

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  • YAY! I’m so happy you wrote this! I love hearing how it works (or doesn’t) from people who’ve experienced it. Thanks for the contribution!

    •  @ginidietrich I SO appreciate this opportunity, Gini! And it’s cathartic to think about how much I’ve learned from my experiences. 

  • Organizational culture has always fascinated me – how to create it, change it or whatever. It’s a daunting challenge, I’m sure. It’s too bad about this one – seemed like it was going to have  a happy ending!

    • Hi Lisa– yes, sometimes the fairy tale ending is not what you would think it to be. At least this was a good learning experience for me and I hope for others who worked at the agency. I am always fascinated by organizational culture and change transitions, so it’s an area I’d like to continue studying.

  •  @Krista Thanks for this. I have been through significant organizational change a couple of times and I recognize your story where some worked and others didn’t. To me the critical elements are in what you say – absolute commitment from the top, and never stop communicating! Get those two right and you have a good chance of success. Be anyway lacking in either and you are doomed to failure. Both take energy and work!

    • Thanks, John! You’re exactly right– change takes engery and work. If you’re not in it for the long haul, then it’s not even worth starting. Communications during organizational change are extremely important, to your point, and that presents an area of opportunity for PR and communications pro’s.

  • Oh, I am SO familiar with this tale! So you hung in there for three years? Good for you! I honestly don’t know if I’d be able to do that.

    • Hi Shonali– great to hear from you! Yes, it wasn’t easy to stay, but I felt a commitment to the company to carry on the change effort. However, as the kingdom began to crumble, I realized it wasn’t in the cards.

      •  @Krista So… do you think you stayed longer than you should have? And if so, in retrospect, how much earlier would you have quit? (If you’re at liberty to reveal that in a public forum!).

  • As someone who’s worked in internal communications for quite some time, I’ve seen this happen too. It’s so sad to see the hard work completely reversed or abandoned.
    There will always be those who are short-sighted and neglect to see the impact this has on employees. And, ultimately, productivity and profit. It’s a sad tale. Perhaps more fitting for Aesop’s Fables than a fairy tale 🙂

  • PR_in_Pink

    @wordsdonewrite Thanks for the comment & tweet! Hope you are doing well 🙂

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