All of us at some point will likely be involved with an organization that is going through structural change. We might even be in the position where we are taking initiative to suggest that change is needed.
We recognize that a change is needed in how this organization is structured – that is, the system that is in place, and what this means for the way in which we are organized so that we can effectively make programmatic, personnel and financial decisions. Those are the three defining issues in organizational structure and potentially, change. When a change is needed, there are three essential process questions:
- Who has the final decision-making authority to confirm what our new or revised approach to governance will be?
- Who will bring the recommendation to this body or entity that makes this decision? and,
- Who will moderate this process – who will be the midwife to this deliberative process that will work with the key stakeholders to bring the process to closure?
On the first question – who makes the final call – there may well be bylaws that specify who makes the determination of the change? It might be a governing board, for example. Or for a church it might very well have to go before the whole congregation for a vote at an Annual General Meeting. Have this in view early on: where does the final decision-making power lie for this change in the governance structure or arrangement of this organization?
The second question might not be a fixed or bylaw related question: Who will make the formal recommendation to this entity? That is, who – which person, or which body or committee – brings the recommendation forward? And it is typically this body that does the bulk of critical and essential work that will in the end bring the appropriate recommendation to the board, let’s say, or the entity where the final decision will be made. For example: in my situation the board would make the final decision [first question above]. But we appointed an ‘ad hoc’ committee to do the preliminary ground work and bring a recommendation to the board. Rather than an open forum at the board, we chose to put a smaller committee in place to do the due diligence of exploring the issues, naming the potential changes and coming up with a proposal for how we might proceed. This kind of work is rarely done by a later committee or board; fewer – even as few as three – is generally more effective. This group or entity then does the deliberation but also the consultation. They agree on what needs to happen in terms of the three questions in Posting No 1 – the decisions that are made on program, personnel and finances – and then weigh options and consult with those who have a genuine right to speak into the process and the potential outcome from the process. At this point, they make it clear: this is consultation, giving voice to those who might be invested in the final decision that is made. They might actually hold a town hall meeting – whatever is needed to be sure that diverse constituencies are heard, but also to be sure that those who feel that they should be given a say even if not they are not part of the final decision.
And third, it is also appropriate to ask: who will moderate this process: (1) moderate the conversation that leads towards a recommendation; (2) present and defend the recommendation that is being presented. This person takes the heat, one might say; they expend their political capital to move this process through to resolution. They are deeply invested in what is best for the organization but also recognize the importance of process and of listening to concerned parties [but, without giving undue influence to those who might want to shape the outcome but then do not have the requisite right or authority to either make the decision or live with what is being recommended. A good moderator knows how to limit the influence of those who might feel that they have veto power on the outcome of the process.
The moderator might be internal – perhaps a member of the board or a member in good standing who is widely regarded as impartial and attentive to diverse constituencies. But if no such person is available, it is entirely appropriate to seek for an external person who might be asked to come in and moderate the process for a group or an organization. What can typically be said: the senior executive leader who is likely most keen to see the changes come about that the leader knows are so necessary . . .this person needs to be part of the process but is not likely the moderator. The reason is that one key outcome of this process might well be greater empowerment for that leader to do what needs to be done for the organization. And thus rather than anyone suggesting that this person is after power it is best for someone else to provide for this crucial role or responsibility.