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I need to propose a change in my organization related to performance deficiency that has been observed by Human Resources Management. What types of conflicts might occur because of the proposed change? What practices could be used to prevent or resolve conflicts? What digital means of communication should be used in implementing the change?   This is a problem about production performance deficiency requiring corporate level organizational change and HR best practices during corporate organizational change.

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Performance Deficiency and How It Is Normally Encountered

Performance deficiency is identified as instances in which employees fail to advanced the objectives and profitability of the organization. Performance deficiency is normally encountered in a single individual who, for example, lacks proficiency in job description required skills, feels obstructed by inadequate communication, fails to meet output measures or quality or is deficient in skills that are predicted by leadership as being needed in six months or a year's time.

In such a situation, Human Resources conducts 360-interviews (managers, supervisors, fellow workers, customers), makes and interprets observations of employee behavior, examines and analyzes past and present performance appraisals in order to design a mode of addressing the individual employee's performance deficiency. Some deficiencies can be addressed by training courses, for example, skills deficiency, but some need other avenues of address, for example, obstacles to performance because of insufficient upward vertical communication (down-up: from employee upward to higher hierarchical levels) (Sims, "Organizational Success Through Effective Human Resources Management"). It is less common for performance deficiency to occur with a broad enough scope to trigger organizational change (as contrasted to individual employee change), but when it does occur with a broadly sweeping scope, what sort of performance deficiency might be encountered?      

What Performance Deficiency Might Lead to Organizational Change?

Two examples of situations that might lead to organizational change aimed at correcting performance deficiency identified at the organizational level by HR are performance deficiencies stemming from the managerial level or from poor design of elements related to production. Deficiency in either of these scenarios might lead to failure to realize the organization's objectives, and deficiency at the managerial level spreads downward, eventually progressing through the entire employee structure. Human Resources can play a role in identifying this kind of performance deficiency, which has a broad scope with an organizational impact, because HR not only gathers individual and departmental performance assessments, HR best practices also analyzes the assessments and identifies trends leading to identification of performance deficiencies with broad organizational scope. The role of HR in observing or detecting performance deficiency in the individual employee or in organizational trends is a significant one, and it begins with observational assessments and continues through to organizational trend analyses (Sims, "Organizational Success Through Effective Human Resources Management").

What Organizational Change Is

Organizational change is change that affects entire organizations or, at minimum, entire departments, and that initiates broad reorganization that restructures organizational operations and organizational culture. A large percentage of organizational changes fail (Rick) when attempted because of the cultural element. In many cases of failure, leadership and management were unable to generate a change in corporate culture that reflects the organizational changes required. In other words, operations may change but organizational culture does not resulting in failure (Hyatt, "How Do You Change Organizational Culture?"). One successful organizational change that is held up as a model of effective and broad organizational restructuring is the merger of Hewlett Packard and Compaq, which was handled in such a way that an entirely new culture was created from both entities such that a new combined entity emerged. What emerged was a organizational culture based on the best of each culture with original elements added and conflicting elements of culture eliminated (AMA, "HR Best Practices During Organizational Change"). Not all organizational change is as sweeping as HP-Compaq, but all organizational change must include change to organizational culture if it is to be successful (Rick, "Organizations don’t change. People do – or they don’t").
Example of Corporate Level Change Responding to HR Identified Performance Deficiency

A change we can talk about readily is a change at the management level wherein performance deficiency is identified by HR because C-level leadership and next-level management--both responsible for communicating and overseeing fulfillment of the organizational objectives--have in part or as a whole failed to effectively communicate the organization's objectives so that productivity matches objective. Organizational changes that might be proposed in response to the performance deficiency arising from this break in organizational objective communication is a change in the up-down communication structure and a change in the direct report structure, in other words, in vertical hierarchical communication from leadership-management to employees and in the span of control governing whether direct report span is broad or narrow (many direct reports or few).

Since the trends in organizations are for broad spans of control (HBR)--for the CEO and other C-level executive officers (i.e., Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, etc) downward--and increased horizontal communication between executive leadership and between second and third level management, in our scenario, we might say that the hierarchical communication change implemented in this scenario could be the enrichment of horizontal communication across management and leadership levels. We might also say these executives and managers are being asked to perform double functions by leading projects in separate areas of competence, such as, for example, supply chain development and international acquisitions. This doubling of functions, a trend occurring when organizational changes are implemented (Neilson and Wulf, "How Many Direct Reports?"), gives rise to the opportunity and the need for greater horizontal communication, which is communication across the same level of organization.

We might also say for our scenario that executives and managers would have broader spans of control, meaning they would each have more direct reports (the optimum is thought to be between 5 and 7 direct reports, with the maximum not more than 10). This change to "delayering" and "flattening" the control pyramid (Bandiera, "Span of Control and Span of Attention") would reduce supervisor and foreman positions since more employees would report directly to higher hierarchical levels leaving fewer employees (if any) reporting to supervisors or foremen. One result of this change in direct report vertical communication would be clearer communication of organizational objectives. This enhanced communication would result in greater performance proficiency (which is the result of reversing performance deficiency). HR would also play an instrumental role in implementing organizational changes since HR best practice analyses determine the need for training (e.g., training in effective communication), based upon employee behavior assessment, and would tailor training to the organizational restructuring.

What Conflicts Might Occur Due to Changes in Vertical Communication and Span of Control?


  1. Fears over employee reduction triggered by loss of supervisor and foreman positions.
  2. Disagreement in C-level leadership and in management with the organizational changes.
  3. Difficulties faced by leadership who newly take on two functions in "double hatting," e.g. tasked with a finance project and a marketing project (Neilson and Wulf).
  4. Difficulty for employees adjusting to directly reporting to management instead of to supervisor or foreman.
  5. A feeling of loss of autonomy on the job because of directly reporting to management.
  6. Managers' difficulties in adjusting to an increase in direct reports requiring greater mentoring/counseling time and lessened project or record keeping time.


  1. Clear, concise, repeated communication to management and employees from C-level leadership of the need for, the structure of, and the importance of the changes (the answer to "why" is as important as the answer to "what").
  2. Open debate and discussion at C-level and management levels with time to think and discuss privately amongst themselves; leadership will be replaced if unable to "align" with changes [alignment: different from agreement; requires wholehearted loyalty and commitment to the organizational objective regardless of agreement or disagreement].
  3. Clear communication from C-level leadership about what the new and clearly stated objectives are.
  4. HR communication to clearly define job description and job related functional skills; HR provision of training for new responsibilities, such as training in skill development.
  5. Clear and concise communication to employees from C-level leadership as to the role and function of each job and employee in the new organizational structure, e.g., why your job matters and what you provide and how your job fits into the new organizational structure.

Since this organizational change scenario includes the loss of supervisor and foreman positions, all employees will fear for their jobs. It will be essential that precise, clear, yet comprehensive communication assure them of their new roles and define their new roles in the organization in view of the changes (Hyatt); describe how the organization change will effect them directly and indirectly; and state what the answer is to the most central question in the minds of employees, "What will the changes mean to me?" These questions have to be addressed in terms of each individual employee and in terms of specialized, functional skill groups (Georgia State University, "Functional Competencies"). Similarly, C-level leaders and managers who cannot align--within a reasonable amount of time with a reasonable amount of conversation, discussion and debate--with the organizational change will have to be replaced (Hyatt, "How Do Leaders Create Alignment?"). Any replacements will produce a downward cascading effect instigating the same fears about job security among all levels of employees. These fears will have to be addresses in the same manner, providing answers to the same question: "What will the changes mean to me?"

Preventing conflict caused by organizational change is centered in a clear, concise, distilled massage from the CEO to the various levels of stakeholders so that all understand what will occur and and why it is necessary and how the reorganization will meet the organization's objectives. Not only does the message need to be given, with opportunity for questions, debate and discussion, it needs to be repeated consistently and continually, because a primary reason for failure is the lack of message communication and message directive. The organization goes the way the leadership goes, so all stakeholders, including the lower levels of the organizational hierarchy, have to know and be continually reminded of what the upper level wants and is doing and why (Hyatt, "How to Avoid Public Backlash When Introducing a Major Organizational Change").

Conflict resolution will remain dominantly in the hands of HR, but conflict resolution in situations of organizational change will begin with management's message to direct reports (who will filter that message in a faithful form to their own direct reports, which spreads the organizational message through all employees). Conflict resolution will focus on discussion and debate with the objective of alignment from all direct reports. On any level of hierarchy, those who cannot give alignment, but continually give contention and argument, will have to be replaced. The goal is to present roles so clearly, to explain why change is needed and how it facilitates meeting organizational objectives so precisely, and to answer the central questions ("How does this affect me?" etc) so well that, even without agreement, all will give alignment, loyalty and commitment to the organizational objectives and reorganization. In addition to the C-level message about the organizational change, HR will identify and provide training where it will help in conflict resolution such as in developing new functional skill sets needed for expanded job descriptions or for career advancement within the reorganization.

What Digital Communication Means Are Appropriate to Implement to Prevent or Resolve Conflict?

  1. Highest levels of stakeholder: face-to-face communication where possible; where impossible, digital communication means of voice mail and email is acceptable, but only as a fail-safe for top stakeholders, who are always informed first, before employees and the general public; clarity leading to alignment (not agreement) is the communication goal.
  2. Vertical "up-down" communication to descending managerial levels: face-to-face of C-level leadership to direct managerial reports; digital communication is not advisable for initial phases of organizational change messaging but is appropriate for mid- and later phases as email, voicemail, blog updates and video or audio presentations.
  3. Employees: face-to-face from owner or CEO where possible; where impossible, digital communication by means of video and blog, especially for FAQ, with emails at mid- and later phases to (1) repeat and reemphasize the concise message of plan and objective and to (2) reinforce or clarify what it means to individual employees or functional groups of employees.
  4. General public: press releases available through various digital media such as blog, online news agencies, online business reporting agencies, online FAQ (Hyatt).  
  • Resolving conflict has (1) fewer digital options and (2) more specific, more rigid, requirements for chains of communication. Often, initial contacts in conflict resolution--which may involve management or HR or both at some stage of proceedings--most often includes in-person and phone contact. Following up on initial contacts may include voice messages, emails, blogs, or video or audio messaging.
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Change for many within any particular organization is discomforting. Individuals and groups or cliques become comfortable and complacent when allowed to by management, and the suggestion of change threatens the “comfort zones” many employees within an organization covet. The response, unless changes are managed competently, can be resistance and even rebellion, prompting a serious decline in morale and productivity, a particularly ironic development when those changes were intended to improve productivity.

Organizations, to employ a platitudinous phrase, are their people. They can only function as well as the combined efforts of their members allow. Proposing alternative methods or policies, therefore, must be done in a collaborative manner. That is not to suggest that management or ownership must tip-toe around its own employees; it is, however, important to remember that employees may view the status quo as in their best individual interest. Shaking things up within any organization entails risk, but good managers understand the psychological impediments to effecting substantive change and prepare their staffs accordingly. And, communication, as always, is the key to implementing changes. Employees must be persuaded that it is in their own interest, as well as that of the organization, to undertake substantive modifications to existing policies and practices. That means notifications, whether through electronic means or through announcements during assemblies, and meetings intended to inform all affected individuals and departments of the reasons for the proposed change, with opportunities for employees to ask questions of management and to comment on potential problems that they may be better situated to foresee by virtue of their unique vantage points within the organization.

Before officially or formally proposing changes, a prudent manager should amass as much relevant data and analyses as possible. Obviously, if changes are planned, there must be underlying reasons. A decline in productivity must have one or more causes, and determination of those causes is a sine qua non of any subsequent managerial decision. Markets change, consumer tastes or preferences evolve over time, equipment becomes obsolete or financially-burdensome to maintain, supply or material costs may increase for any number of reasons, employees may require additional training, or management may be simply incompetent. Any one or combination of these and other factors may need to be addressed. The “shark” analogy is always useful: organizations either keep moving or they die. Depending upon the level of competition, they need to make substantive changes in order to remain competitive. Most employees understand the need to change when they are kept informed of their organization’s welfare, but nobody wants to be the sacrificial lamb for the betterment of the survivors. That is why the more information provided up and down the organizational hierarchy the easier it is to implement changes, including those that may upset some within the organization.

There is no way to completely eliminate or avoid conflict. If proposed changes adversely affect any one or more members, they will be resisted to some degree. The key is to convince the greatest number of members that changes are necessary and will be implemented with minimum disruption. If productivity needs to be increased, then what is the most cost-effective approach to that goal? Can new policies and practices be implemented through internal retraining of existing staff? If reductions in force are required, then how can they best be implemented to minimize disruptions that could impede productivity, for example, through early-retirement proposes? The bottom line, however, remains the requirement for effective communications. Management must treat staff with respect and not be seen as conspiring behind closed doors to upset the status quo. If changes are required to reverse a decline in productivity, the reasons for those changes must be communicated, and management must be receptive to whatever feedback it receives. And, digital communication is a meaningless concept when nervous employees think they are being fed marketed agitprop or being talked down to through the use of certain types of visual presentations. If they are shown the relevant data in a straightforward manner, for example, in an email distributed throughout the organization that clearly and concisely displays the problem and provides proposed solutions, they are far more likely to “buy in” despite the disruptions that may result.

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I think the easiest way to tackle this task is to imagine a real-life scenario in which it would occur. I strongly suggest you define your organization (what is it, how large, what does it do?), and then further establish parameters within that organization that define the different aspects of this question. Your "organization" could be anything from a small non-profit business to a major advertising corporation. Though it doesn't really matter, creating a more specific performance deficiency might help you identify ways to re-organize for better performance. And finally, depending on the size of your organization, you will be able to imagine different conflicts that could arise from making changes, as well as think of the best methods of digital communication for your employees.

In almost every organization, performance deficiencies are directly related to accountability. Every person in the company reports to a supervisor who checks to make sure individual work is being completed the right way and on time. Re-organization solutions might include implementing a system for more accountability, which means performance is reviewed more often and potentially by more people. It might also be necessary to redefine the expectations of each employee. It is also possible that employees need more collaboration with others to share ideas for enhancing overall productivity. Consider the following example:

PROBLEM: Because at Enotes we are all educators, I will propose an example that suggests the organization is a high school. The "performance deficiency" in such a case would naturally be low test scores. (This is actually a common problem!)

CHANGES: In this example, a human resource representative from the school district might come into an individual school and suggest that teachers have more accountability for what they are doing in their classrooms. Changes might include grouping teachers into grade and subject specific teams who are required to meet together to share ideas, collaborate on lesson plans, and review themselves and each other for what is working or not working. These teams would also work together to do peer observations and reviews, and then be accountable to a supervisor who would ultimately be responsible for reporting what is being done and how it is working to a district manager.

POTENTIAL CONFLICTS: Because this is a common real-life problem, I can tell you from experience some of the conflicts that arise when changes like this are proposed. First, teachers (people) do not like having extra work to do. Collaborative teams must figure out times to meet before or after school, or during common planning periods. Therefore, more accountability might mean spending more time at work. Collaborative teams and more accountability also often leads to more and different types of lessons in the classroom, which requires time to make changes and to implement the changes. A final conflict is man-power. Are there enough people available to make observations, review lesson plans, and provide meaningful feedback?

CONFLICT RESOLUTION: Most people are willing to accept change and feedback when they are given a clear outline of what is expected and plenty of time to make the changes. One practice that would help reduce conflict would be laying out new expectations during a natural break time, such as at the end of one year but before the summer, so teachers have time to make changes. It would also help prevent conflict if the teachers knew the exact date and time changes needed to be implemented, so they would be able to plan their own time management. Finally, it would be helpful in this example to provide the time during work hours for the teams to meet. This means the teams would need to all have a common planning period, or, time could be given during pre-scheduled staff meeting days for teams to meet.

DIGITAL COMMUNICATION: In the education world, email is still one of the most utilized methods of communication, and would be beneficial in this example. Supervisors and peers could communicate via email to electronically send documents, lesson plans, and even check-lists for what changes would be evaluated in observations. While it isn't necessarily practical for all classrooms at this point, another digital form of communication that could be used is video monitoring. It is definitely technologically possible to monitor a teacher via live stream if an observer was located remotely or could not be in the classroom for some other reason. A final idea for digital communication that might help implement these changes is a shared document file online, like "Box" or "Dropbox," where teachers could upload plans, see the lessons that others are using, and collaborate by sharing ideas and information.

I hope this example provides enough for you to think about as you work through your own example. Good luck!

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