The critical first step in designing and leading successful large-scale Change is to understand the dynamics and performance of the enterprise fully. Leaders need a comprehensive roadmap for understanding performance issues in today’s complex enterprises. The Congruence Model of organisational behaviour developed by David Nadler and Michael Tushman at Columbia University is a simple, pragmatic approach to organisation dynamics based on systems thinking.
The model requires a preliminary look at the inputs and outputs of an organisation, and the strategy or roadmap to achieve the goals. The heart of the model is the formal and informal processes people use to get things done. Four key elements determine how work happens:
- The work itself
- The people who perform the work
- Formal organisational structure
- Culture and operating environment
When a broad and significant change occurs in the organization, the first question many people ask is “What’s in it for me?” or “What’s going to happen to me?”David Nadler, Techniques for the management of Change, 2010
This is an indication of the anxiety that occurs when people are faced with the uncertainty associated with organizational change.
The Congruence Model
Following a systems view, if a change impacts one area, it will have a domino effect on the other areas. Which is why this model can correctly apply to Change Situations. The model, in summary, looks at four factors that allow transforming inputs into outputs. As a Leader, if you want to achieve the desired output, you, therefore, need to understand how the 4 critical components work in conjunction.
Let’s see the element in detail.
Also identifiable as Work, refers to the tasks carried out by employees. As an organisation, you should ensure that the tasks are consistent with the objectives you have set for your organisation. It should be visible what skills and knowledge are required for each task, and these should be present in the organisation in the right quantity.
These are the people in the organisation, and composes a critical element of the Congruence model. You should be aware of the type of individuals your organisation is formed of, their working styles, competencies and skills, as well as their personal characteristics.
3. Formal Organisation
This is the formal aspect of the organisation, which includes policies, procedures, processes and all business systems. It creates consistency between what an organisation wants and what it does.
4. Informal Organisation
This is the “softer” aspect of the organisation and includes the characteristics that we would typically link to the Culture of the organisation. Purpose, Vision, Values, but also generally accepted behaviours, working style etc. all compose the elements of the informal organisation.
5. The Congruence
The basic concept behind this model is that whenever you do an action as a Leader (input), you will always impact all four dimensions. Only if the system is Congruent, you will reach the desired output.
Let’s make an example. You have identified that your travel expenses are growing, and you want to limit this growth. A typical management reaction would be to induce Change by focusing on the Formal Organisation, for example issuing a more restrictive policy. However, if your company has a very free and entrepreneurial culture, a restrictive policy can, potentially, introduce demotivation. People might be pushed into trying to trick the system, thus creating more expenses in reality. The new policy moreover might increase the Task level and the need for people to get more skills as they process their expenses.
As you see a simple policy change can result in a much broader issue.
To achieve Congruence, the model foresees a step by step approach, which allows to investigate where gaps exist and act upon those.
What’s good about the model
The Congruence Model is a framework conceptually similar to McKinsey’s 7-S, as it looks at giving a holistic picture of the components of the organisation that can affect a change. It has the advantage of being a bit simpler in the definition of its components. Still, above all, it introduces a very typical concept of Systems Theory which is the feedback from the organisation to external input. Whereas the McKinsey’s Framework is typically a static model (you identify an AS-IS, and maybe a TO-BE), this model is based on the effects that the Congruence Model has on a change initiative. As such, it can also be used during the Change Process.
What’s bad about the model
It is still complicated, especially in the definition of the components. Moreover, it requires a level of abstraction and detail that is not always easy to achieve in traditional organisations. Which means that external support is needed.
The Congruence Model is an excellent concept and a way to illustrate how an organisation should be considered a living organism. This framework allows us to consider the fuller picture of Change and not just the input or output approach. Great as a diagnostic tool, it still does not provide full guidance on how to conduct a Change Process, this still needs the support of other tools.