Strategy & Leadership

Measuring instruments required in order to monitor organizational changes

May 12, 2014

During planned change programs , organizations should measure whether or not the behavior of its employees is actually changing. Measuring instruments to that end are only seldom available. Because of the gap between academically developed change knowledge and change practitioners’ knowledge, change scientists lack practical change knowledge, whereas the knowledge of these change practitioners is seldom formalized or tested.

Image: © Nationale Beeldbank

On May 9, Prof. Dr. Woody van Olffen held his inaugural address, in which discussed how he would like to close this gap between academic studies on change on the one hand and practitioner’s knowledge of change on the other.

When an academic change researcher speaks with people from actual practice on studies on change, it can be compared to the chemist who is speaking with a chef on the subject of pea soup, says Van Olffen. “A chemist describes pea soup as a mixture of water, fat, proteins and fiber; he knows the ingredients down to the molecule level. A recipe  – let alone a delicious soup -  is not the same as a list of ingredients, however. What is lacking are instructions for the method of preparation: first this, then that, wait a moment, then that.” Academic knowledge is typically not very ‘actionable’ because scientists lack the practical knowledge of processes that is needed to make the theory workable.

Technical science makes use of design-focussed research. According to Van Olffen, a change intervention could also be considered a ‘prototype’ that is to bring about something and that must meet a number of requirements. And so the anticipated effect is as yet hypothetical in nature. Only with repeated testing and comparisons of multiple prototypes will it become clear how things work.

Measuring instruments

Being able to develop adequate organizational change interventions and being able to measure their impact requires measuring instruments that can monitor every step of the change. These instruments must focus explicitly on behavior. “What will we do more of in the new vision, what will we no longer do and what will we do differently? It is only actions that count. When genuine consensus is reached in mutual dialog on what the old and new behavior in an intended change program involves exactly, this potentially provides us with a concrete point of measurement, that can be monitored in order to determine if the assumed change –in behavior!- actually takes place or not: you either display the behavior or you don't (yet).”

Van Olffen works together with co-academics, consultants and game developers on an instrument – Engager – that can monitor behavioral changes in organizations in the course of time. The choice to involve game developers was a conscious one. “They, more than anyone else, are capable of keeping the participants highly motivated to continue participating in the study by adding creative play. After all, this is crucial in long-term temporal research and a frequently heard complaint of earlier researchers: test subjects drop out if they are called upon too often and for a prolonged period of time.”

Van Olffen also developed a model with 4 extreme change scenarios. These models examine how quickly the old behavior disappears and how quickly the new behavior is applied. This model and the corresponding new measuring instruments may help to enable us to better understand the ways and processes in which organizational changes take place from one moment to the next.

Read more

Verandering op heterdaad, Woody van Olffen (2014) - in Dutch

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