Management Articles


Ensuring Organizational Success and Progress

By: Robert H. Kent, Ph.D., CMC

President of The Mansis Development Corporation, Dr. Kent is a specialist in the structure and management of small and medium-sized organizations, and frequently serves as a personal coach and management consultant to executives for solving their management and employee performance problems. Before founding his consulting company, Bob held senior management and executive positions in federal and provincial government and private corporations. He has been a director of several health care and service organizations and a consulting member of private and government task forces in the areas of government finance, organization structure, personnel management and executive development. Since 1972 he has lectured in management at several Canadian and American universities in the faculties of Management, Administrative Studies, Medicine and Continuing Education where he has been an award winner for excellence in teaching and professional expertise; and he has published over 125 books and articles on management.

A critical responsibility of today's CEO is to improve his or her organization's ability to progress - i.e.. the ability to implement change successfully. However, most of the barriers to successful organizational change and implementation are organizational characteristics. Rather than focusing on personal issues such as leadership style, the CEO of the 90's needs to ensure that the capacity to change is built into the fabric of the organization, so that progress becomes an organization trait and an asset, and not dependent upon individual personalities.


All organizations change. New employees join and others leave, technology changes, clients change, the people themselves change, and the services or products tend to change. But not all organizations progress.

Progress means a purposeful planned change towards desired goals or objectives. An organization progresses if it heads in the right direction and its intentions become reality.

But your organization will progress only if both its plans for progress are good and these plans are successfully implemented. Your initiatives for change or what you want to have happen are obviously critical for progress. High quality plans usually head you in the right direction and poor plans will likely set you back or even ruin the venture.

But the more important factor determining your organization's progress is its ability to implement change, whether or not the plans for change are of high quality. In fact, the quality of a plan or an initiative is only hypothetical until it is implemented. So faulty implementation can brand even your best plans as poor.

As a consequence, organizational leaders must devote as much attention "to the nitty-gritty of execution" as they do to creating plans and initiatives, if they ever hope to see their organizations progress.

It has been observed that "Even in the best run companies, it is too easy to feel that the work is done when the Big Idea is hatched." For example, the return realized from the time and money you invest in strategic planning or new product development is ultimately determined by your organization's being able to implement the strategic plan or successfully market the product.

The Progress Map

The Progress Map (see chart) shows four cells resulting from the interaction of the two key factors to progress in an organization; the plan and the implementation .


Success at


Cell #2:
Poor Plan and
Good Implementation

Cell #4:
Good Plan and
Good Implementation
Cell #1:
Poor Plan and
Poor Implementation
Cell #3:
Good Plan and
Poor Implementation

poor <-- Quality of the "plan" --> good

Cell #1: Poor Plan and Poor Implementation

Here lie the losers and clowns. Irrespective of their intentions, these people have insurmountable difficulty either in deciding what to do, or in making correct decisions when they finally do decide. And even when they dare to initiate some action, it never seems to work and the implementation goes awry.

Cell #2: Poor Plan and Good Implementation

One thing worse than a poor plan is to have that poor plan successfully implemented. Now you have to live with the consequences. At one extreme is the clown who had the idea that everyone thought was "goofy". He now makes that plan happen and proves to you how much of a fool he was.

At the other extreme is the villain who has a plan that is harmful to the organization but self-serving to the individual. Using manipulation and other power tactics, he forces the plan to happen and is perceived to be the villain.

Cell #3: Good Plan and Poor Implementation

Here is the cell of high tragedy. The plan was basically good, even great. But the implementation failed. As a result, the leader is perceived to be either a loser who couldn't get the plan to work, a villain because the plan was implemented so poorly it resembled a terrible plan, or a swindler who made great promises but who never delivered.

Cell #4: Good Plan and Good Implementation

Progress and profit only happen in cell #4. Here are found the winners and heroes; those who made promises of a better tomorrow and delivered the goods. Only in cell #4 does the organization get the return on its investment in the plans. In fact, the likelihood for future success increases even more because the leader is perceived to be a winner; and only winners inspire confidence. Winners can go on to even greater triumphs and progress while the losers must live with the costs of failure and low morale.

Implications of not being in Cell #4.

Cell #3, in particular, underlines the vulnerability of leadership. If the head of the organization doesn't have a firm control over the implementation process, he or she is dependent on others to implement the leader's plans for progress. And others may personally benefit if the leader fails.

The value of programs for employee participation, quality improvement and customer relations, for example, ultimately rest upon the success of their implementation. The implementation cannot be left to chance! Poor implementation not only eliminates the potential value of these initiatives, perpetuating the expense of, for example, re-work, employee turnover, wastage, political embarrassment, rejects and lost sales momentum, but it also scuttles executive credibility and the likelihood of successful implementation of any change in the future.

We depend on organizations to make change happen - even global initiatives in sustainable development and ecological, environmental, economic and humanitarian arenas. But most organizations have been designed by intent and by natural forces to resist change! And so we can't presume that the mechanisms are there to make change happen. It's for these reasons that the implementation of change cannot be dependent upon the goodwill of personalities in an organization. Implementation must be a systematized tool of the leader, and a well controlled process.

How To Move To Cell #4:

What Are The Gateways and Barriers to Progress

Some would suggest that a high quality initiative coupled with strong executive endorsement of that plan, is all that is required to successfully implement change. Would that be the case!!

Obviously, a necessary condition for successful change is the active and symbolic support and commitment by the leadership of the organization. Perceived weaknesses or doubts in this commitment frequently destroys the implementation. Lack of support for a change, or behavior of a CEO perceived to be contradictory to the intent of a change, throws confusion into the organization and employees usually seek the status quo for security.

Also, a poorly developed plan is less likely to be implemented than a well thought out one. As well, the way in which the plan was developed may influence implementation. Some plans may require the input and advice of others (if only to get them to "buy in" to the plan) while others may be unilaterally developed and implemented.

But as shown in Table I at the end of this article, contemporary research suggest that many more factors determine success at organizational change.

A very important observation about these factors is that they are almost all organizational characteristics rather than personality traits of the leader. Although the leader may initiate the effort to improve the capacity to implement change, it's the organization that needs to change more so than the leader. The leader influences the will, the desire and the direction of progress, but its got to be the organization that gets you there. The leader can't do it alone. He or she has to build the capacity to progress into the organization.

Management Control is one of the most important factors. Organizational change frequently fails because the organization simply doesn't have its act together. The basics for sound management are not in place. Recently, for example, a manufacturing firm made significant expenditures and effort to implement a Quality Control program throughout its rank and file. Unfortunately it failed miserably because the President couldn't even control the managers and supervisors, let alone the quality of non-management production!!

Many organizational leaders seem to ignore this axiom of change: "You can't purposefully change the direction of what you don't control." Consider driving a car, riding a horse, or racing down a steep hill on a toboggan. It's impossible to change to the direction you want if you're not in control.

Being in control of an organization means being able to influence the behavior, actions and performance of all members of the organization, even senior management. It means not letting people do as they please for fear of upsetting someone. It also means being aware of what members of your organization are doing, and ensuring that they all are performing their assignments the way you feel they have to be done.

Leadership Challenges of the 1990's

[1] Discover your organization's current ability to implement change - its capacity to progress.

An accurate, objective measure of the factors in Table I can help you pinpoint areas for improvement and quickly raise your employees' consciousness regarding the need to be able to change.

Frequently, low trust of management, previous failures at implementing change, and personal fear make employees unwilling to take the risk associated with any change. Experience shows that many executives aren't aware of these feelings in their staff. Unless your organization's ability to change is measured, you and your management team may remain oblivious to these potential barriers to progress.

For example, for many months the executives of a large utility corporation developed strategic and operational plans. One outcome of this strategic planning process was the establishment of a "Key Result Area" related to improving the organization's ability to implement change.

Using a specially designed survey, The President undertook an analysis of the company's ability to implement change, measuring many of the factors listed in Table I. As a result, he and his management team produced a detailed set of action plans for improving the entire organization's capacity to progress. Now all management jobs contain activity for improving the capacity to implement the operational plans and thereby ensuring maximum payoff from their strategic planning exercise.

[2] Move your organization to cell #4 and keep it there.

Since winners instill confidence in themselves and in others, and losers don't, organizations who perform in cell #4 are more likely to stay there, and those falling into cells #2 and #3 usually drift down to cell #1. Also, performance in the first three cells results in financial failure in either the short or medium term. To progress, the challenge for the leader is to move the organization into cell #4 and keep it there.

After identifying the factors which need improvement, develop and initiate action plans. For example, one organization discovered low trust of management by many of its employees and serious weaknesses in its ability to influence the day-to-day employee behavior. Long range measures were instituted to regain the trust of the workforce, and a general management system was installed to enforce equitable management control throughout the corporation. In this way, the organization's ability to progress became dependent upon a well defined system and not dependent upon individual personalities.

[3] Control your organization's implementation process; don't leave it to chance.

To strengthen your organization's ability to implement change and progress, you must systematically gain control over the factors listed in Table I. But your challenge is not so much to make sure that there are procedures in place, for example, for fair, equitable supervision or for giving clear, accurate and timely direction. Your real challenge is ensuring that they're used!

How do you guarantee that what you want to have happen in your organization does happen? How do you really control what you supervisors and executives are doing? One apathetic supervisor or an egotistical executive can cause major damage to the perception of trust and equity throughout your organization.

The solution is to systematize (and audit) procedures to influence the many factors which determine progress, and then you control the system. For example, a general management system is a necessity to control an organization's ability to progress. It should not the responsibility of a Human Resource or Training department. It's a tool of the President.

Summary and Conclusion

Until the 1980's, organizational change was usually "the big event", a dramatic, stressful ordeal that, thankfully, didn't happen often. Organizational change was either a reaction to a sudden external event or a planned activity lasting several years. From now on, however, organizational change may become the usual, rather than the exception. Now, organizational leaders are no longer captains of slow moving ocean liners but pilots of combat jets, with the need to change direction continuously, both as a reaction to the chaos in the environment and as a planned strategy to survive.

Executive edicts, visioning and communication won't bring about successful organizational change and progress. Change has to be "managed" to make it happen. "Attention to detail" and "gentle relentless pressure" aren't attitudes familiar to many leaders, but they're requirements for shepherding change into an organization.

Table I: Factors Influencing An Organization's Ability to Progress
[A] Executive Commitment to "Change"
[B] Perception and Quality of the "Change" Plan and How It Was Developed
[C] The Organization's Receptiveness to "Change"

Sometimes organizations, or parts of organizations, are simply not receptive or willing to make changes in the status quo. Unless this inertia can be overcome, the task of implementing change becomes a long struggle and usually a failure. The determinants of this receptiveness include:
  • A Perceived Need to Change, since members of an organization are usually more willing to change if they perceive a real need to change
  • Individual Personalities, since there will be some personality types that are severely threatened by change and yet others who cannot function in a static environment.
  • Culture, since some organizations seem to relish change and excitement while others fervently protect the status quo and bureaucratize everything to maintain stability and consistency.
  • Trust in Management and in the Organization, because change involves risk and the unknown. Many aspects of organizational life are threatened when you try to implement change including employees' power bases, social patterns, economic security, job satisfaction and more. If employees don't have a high enough level of trust and confidence in the judgment, motives and values of management, they will tend to protect or defend themselves by resisting the change.
  • History of Change, for success usually breeds success, while a history of failed attempts to change leave employees with a low expectation of future successes.
[D] Management's Ability to Implement Change

The fourth key element determining success at organizational change is whether management has the ability to implement change.

This is determined by:

  • Management Control. Typically, in organizations where a major change failed, the executives were not in control. They would rant and rave but the organization would do what it wanted to do, and its momentum would win the day.
  • Structural Rigidity, or the organization's capacity to reshuffle employees and departments, and to change reporting procedures, communication patterns and reward systems.
  • Clear Direction and Authority, or the degree to which direction to the organization is clearly received and understood as intended. Often there is a wide gap between policy enunciated at the executive level and what actually happens throughout the rest of the organization. As well, when authority, or the power one needs to do one's job, is not clear or it is misunderstood, management control and the ability to implement change are weakened.
  • Accurate Feedback, from the bottom to the top so that senior management know what is actually happening in the organization and whether or not a change effort is on track.
  • Enforced Standards, for unless procedures are in place to ensure that standards are enforced throughout the organization, employees are confused, demoralized and management control disappears.
  • Equity, or consistency in management practices throughout your organization, since feelings of inequity or the perception of double standards seriously erode motivation and management control.
  • Appropriate Consequences, or does following organizational directives and doing one's job well really pay off; or are employees inadvertently punished for doing good work and rewarded for incompetence .
  • Expectation of Success or the expectation of all employees that the change effort, as well as their own performance, will be successful.
  • Expectation of Recognition or the measure of employee belief that management will keep promises and recognize good employee performance.

© Copyright 2001 The Mansis Development Corporation

Other Articles by Robert H. Kent, Ph.D., CMC

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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