7 Types of Organizational Change: What It Is & How to Navigate Them - Knowledge Management | Scribe (2023)

Spotify was one of those companies I thought would grow without a hitch during the pandemic.

We were all stuck at home, sharing playlists with friends and coworkers to feel a little bit closer to each other — that sounds like a perfect vehicle for success, right?

But it wasn’t that easy.

Spotify’s revenue took a big hit when advertisers slashed their budgets in 2020. With the number of free users on the platform growing rapidly, its weakened advertising model couldn’t catch up. So they introduced a major change.

Podcasts.

And it worked! Spotify saw over 150,000 podcast uploads that first month.

This change isn’t easy and doesn’t just yield results of this scale for anyone. But Spotify had a culture that primed its processes for organizational change.

What does it mean to prepare your team for successful change? Keep reading to find out.

What is organizational change?

Organizational change occurs when companies introduce actions or systems that shift existing operations to reach a new goal. Every organization is bound to go through some sort of transition, whether that’s a change in leadership, team structures, business models or technology.

These changes impact how your team conducts business, and ultimately affect your bottom line

Many businesses we know underwent organizational change to respond to COVID-19. The teams that did that successfully were the ones with defined processes for working toward a new shared vision.

The importance of structured processes in organizational change

When Spotify introduced its Work From Anywhere program, it was armed with a system that sets its workplace culture up for success. This was its band manifesto (a document that defines its culture) which explains the foundation of a company that takes risks and prioritizes employee autonomy.

Katarina Berg, Chief HR Officer at Spotify, calls this controlled chaos. “To be able to navigate and thrive in this fast-moving echo system of ours, we needed some sort of order, our order without losing what is core to us,” she says.

This 'order' looks different for every organization, but it helps teams overcome common obstacles faced when navigating change:

  • Resistance from employees
  • Lack of team engagement and participation
  • Miscommunication
  • Not having enough time for training
  • Unrealistic timelines

A dive into Dr. John Kotter’s popular 8-step process for accelerating change outlines how a structured approach to organizational change can overcome these obstacles:

  1. Change doesn’t start with one executive with a vision: You must implement consistent managerial processes across your entire leadership team.
  2. Change doesn’t happen if one person becomes the bottleneck of many: Your entire team needs to be empowered with information that helps them act without hesitation. Kotter says this can help you uncover leaders you didn’t even know you had.
  3. Change is inspired by heart, not just logic: Your employees want to know where they fit in your organization’s goals, and how those goals contribute to a bigger purpose.
  4. Change happens when everyone feels included: You need to build an environment that gives teams the space and energy to learn and contribute on top of their existing responsibilities.

The 7 types of organizational change

According to the Harvard Business School, there can be between five to 12 types of organizational change. Some changes are adaptive and made in gradual increments, while others radically shift the tides of how an organization works.

We’ll dive into each type of change and provide examples of how it should be done.

Incremental change

These are the small adjustments you introduce to your organization on an ongoing basis. These changes help your team unlock its highest potential by regularly improving existing standards and processes.

Incremental change can be implemented at any time. It’s the tweaks you make to your database maintenance, sales outreach or sprint planning processes. These gradual improvements add up to make companies more productive in the long term.

British cycling coach, Dave Brailsford, describes the benefits of this change perfectly: “If you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improve it by 1 percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”

Transformative change

Transformative change is more drastic, often forcing organizations to redefine their existing mission or operations. These changes are implemented as a response to economic or social tides and may require you to adapt to new responsibilities, communication methods or work styles.

The biggest challenge here is helping employees transition smoothly from old processes and goals. Transformative change happened for many during COVID-19 — and well after the lockdown — with businesses restructuring their product offerings, pricing models and growth tactics.

Remedial or unplanned change

This change is usually an immediate reaction to an unplanned threat to an organization’s growth or stability. One example of remedial change is shifting your business strategy after unexpectedly losing a valuable customer.

You can minimize risk from project management gone wrong and operational crises with SOPs and guides ready at your disposal. Think of it as a disaster kit that your team can use at a time of need to formulate next steps with leaders, stakeholders, legal and financial entities and more.

Technological change

Technological change occurs when your team implements a new software system. A 2022 study of 500 organizations found that 77 percent of respondents were in the process of launching and scaling their digital transformation efforts. But this technological change is bogged down by poor communication and training.

The hardest part about introducing new change is finding time-saving ways to seamlessly weave it into the everyday workflows of employees. Team leaders find the most value in using tools that automate process documentation and enable self-serve learning. One Senior Campaign Analyst shares how she uses Scribe to avoid spending hours creating documents for long, complicated digital processes.

7 Types of Organizational Change: What It Is & How to Navigate Them - Knowledge Management | Scribe (1)

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People & culture change

Changes to a company’s culture are inevitable — and now more than ever, it’s encouraged.

Many companies have been thrown into a constant cycle of people change management over the past two years. We’ve seen a continuous tug-of-war between hyper-growth and mass layoffs. We’ve also been introduced to all sorts of new terms to make sense of it all — like the great resignation, the great reshuffle and quiet quitting.

Your change management process here is about creating consistency across your team even as the size of your organization fluctuates. Good documentation help companies maintain high-quality protocols that appeal to what employees want and need in the workplace.

Structural change

A change in leadership or a reorganization of business functions can be detrimental to a team’s productivity if not handled well. Warning signs of structural change gone wrong are employees who fear and lack trust in their leaders, don’t have clarity in their roles, consistently make mistakes on the job and are not aligned with shared goals.

To avoid this, companies must invest in strong onboarding and training programs for employees and leaders covering everything from culture and expectations to technology systems and processes.

How you can use technology for organizational change management

Here’s a fun fact: An article from the Harvard Business Review found that a search on Amazon.com for books with “change and management” in their titles yielded over 6,000 results.

There’s a pretty simple explanation behind that sheer volume — organizational change is hard.

Studies have shown that companies see just as much skepticism as trust from employees about their leadership’s abilities to deliver change.

Although most solutions will be specific to the change your organization is facing, we do want to share some actionable ways you can use digital tools to accelerate change management:

1. Create more open lines of communication with your employees

Forty-four percent of employees don’t understand the purpose of changes being made. You don’t want to implement new initiatives as a one-sided conversation.

Instead, you should kick off your change management plan by consistently collecting feedback from managers and employees to earn buy-in.

You can use employee engagement tools like Culture Amp and Polly to send surveys and polls or create open-ended discussions around certain topics. These tools help let you customize surveys, anonymize responses, and integrate feedback collection into existing communication channels.

2. Automate all your low-value tasks

Change management often results in a whirlwind of operations and administrative tasks, from documenting new processes to training employees, administering new tools and credentials and more.

It’s easy to unexpectedly lose your day to a backlog of menial tasks that take you away from more strategic and creative work. Will you 10x your team productivity by spending 10 hours creating documents and hopping on Zoom to answer the same question over and over again?

Probably not.

Embrace digitization by using tools that specialize in accelerating content creation and delivery. This includes digital adoption platforms, training course builders, project and people management platforms and intelligent document creation software (like Scribe!).

3. Prioritize a user-friendly knowledge base

Change takes time. Your team isn’t going to unlearn old habits and get up to speed with new ones in a matter of days. It’s understandable if they forget the little details now and then. It’s normal.

Your employee’s productivity is driven by their ability to be resourceful and solve problems. That’s what a knowledge base does — centralizes documents, SOPs and tutorials related to your organizational change.

And no, dumping everything into an organized drive won’t do much good.

Create a knowledge base experience that makes it easy for employees to search for information and apply them practically to their day-to-day tasks. Use multimedia elements to walk through lengthy workflows, create interactive documents instead of PDFs, and engage your team with annotations, call-outs or GIFs.

Here’s an example of how companies use Scribe to populate their knowledge base with exciting tutorials and onboarding handbooks.

4. Create systems that keep documents up to date

Eighty-three percent of employees lose time searching for documents only to discover that they’re outdated. When executing organizational change, you will be in the weeds updating policies and procedures that set the foundation for your business operations.

You'll be stuck doing things manually if you’re not using cloud-based tools (like Notion, Google Drive, or Scribe) to house your documents. What does that look like? It’s you making changes to a word document, converting it into a PDF and uploading that PDF into different databases and communication channels one at a time.

But let’s say you’ve embedded a technical document via Scribe into Confluence or Zendesk. You can make an update in seconds, hit publish and see those changes reflected everywhere — even in that pinned message in Slack that you forgot existed.

Organizational change isn’t as scary as it used to be

It’s hard to make and embrace change when it’s seen as a pile of inconvenient additions to our already long to-do lists.

But we’re in an exciting era of work where we have the tools and community support to make massive — and terrifyingly unfamiliar — changes and come out perfectly OK.

Ten years ago, the idea of upending traditional office environments would have sounded like crazy talk. But it happened, and thanks to technology, it could happen in a matter of days.

At Scribe, we’re excited to be part of this wave of change sweeping how organizations share information and work better. You’re only one free click away from joining our community too!

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