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Tiptoeing Through the Crisis How HR Can Keep Change Moving

March 1, 1994
Related Topics: Change Management, Reengineering, Featured Article
In the midst of a companywide reorganization, the HR staff at San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) revamped its internal placement system. Although the system that the staff envisions has yet to be totally operable, the integrated, cost-effective, paperless placement system has become a keystone of the culture change at PG&E. In the process of developing it, the HR staff has come to understand some important principles that can apply to any change-during-crisis situation. These principles include:

  • Chaos is not an excuse for inaction.
    Chaos can create opportunities that aren't present in a slow-moving organization. The prevailing energy, even desperation, should be harnessed, rather than resisted, to make change happen more quickly. You can take risks because you have to take risks. Out-of-the-ordinary behaviors are normal in extraordinary times. During periods of chaos, people are more willing to suspend negativity, become unstuck, go beyond their current limitations and use their creativity.
  • Managing a project through chaos requires attention to three key principles:
    1. Future pull-the potential that systems have for fulfilling their destiny rather than fulfilling predictions based on past behavior
    2. Creativity-deriving from the interaction of order and disorder
    3. Connectivity-healthy connections with the environment. At PG&E, we stayed connected to the people in the field, middle management, technology experts and others who modify rather than guard the project. Connectivity provides the fuel, creativity the engine, and future pull the direction for a system to advance.
  • Paradigm shift and incremental change can be complementary.
    With the forces of future pull (the vision), you can keep moving forward toward the new paradigm. Every enhancement, if it relates directly to the vision, will contribute to shifting the corporate mindset and thus assist in the culture change.
  • In a crisis such as a reorganization, it's important to keep moving, yet remain flexible.
    For example, even if team members disperse to different business units, the team should keep on meeting and addressing its mission while staying alert for new priorities. You may have to shift direction from time to time, like a sailboat responding to the prevailing winds. The most successful projects, as well as the most successful organizations, that are in a period of chaos adapt to their environment and change as the environment changes.
  • Believe strongly in your goals.
    If you believe strongly in your goals, and these goals reflect what is best for the business, you can stay on track even in the midst of chaos.

Personnel Journal, March 1994, Vol.73, No. 3, p. 86.

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