Five Places to Anticipate Support Alignment Before It’s Too Late

A colleague and I made a rookie mistake in our very first work system redesign project.

Through a great deal of joint effort over many months, the organization had been transformed from a traditional assembly line where workers could only perform a few narrowly prescribed tasks to a high performance work system where, among other things, workers could:

  • Build the entire product from beginning to end individually.
  • Manage all aspects of process and product quality.
  • Plan and execute their own daily and weekly production schedule.
  • Continuously improve and innovate the process and the organization.

All of these activities happened in self-managed teams. It was a huge transformation for the organization and its team members.

It became evident pretty quickly that paying people according to their old pay grades, based on now outdated job classifications, no longer made sense.

The organization needed to pay people for acquired and applied skill. The client needed a skill-based pay plan.

Along with the client, we gave ourselves a crash course in skill-based pay plans and even sketched out a framework for what we needed. Armed with our homework, we met with the Director of Compensation in HR, confident that he would see the misalignment as we saw it and come to our aid in putting a solution in place.

His reaction surprised us.

The Director of Compensation wouldn’t even consider our request. He told us that it would wreak havoc with his comp plan and create inequities elsewhere. If, and only if, other plants adopted similar approaches in the future, then maybe he’d reconsider. Conversation closed.

That’s when we realized the full impact of the mistake we’d made. We hadn’t anticipated compensation as an important support system for the change and now, too late, there was nothing we could do about it.  We would have to live with a misalignment.

What’s a Support System, and Why Does It Need to be Aligned?

All organization work can be grouped into two types. The first type is work that contributes directly to the production of a product or delivery of a service that customers value. People who do this work are sometimes referred to as direct labor.

The second type is work that supports the first type, and makes its smooth operation possible and efficient. People who do this work are sometimes referred to as indirect labor, and they are part of what we broadly call support systems.

More specifically, support systems are the:

  • Structures
  • Arrangements
  • Policies
  • Procedures
  • Mechanisms
  • Platforms
  • Systems
  • Methods
  • Processes

that enable organizational operation.

When you make a change anywhere in an organization, you need to think about the effect that change may have on the systems that support what you’re changing. What and where are the interdependencies, and how can you develop understanding, support, and alignment?

Organization support systems must be able to bolster the new way of working and developing and reinforcing the behavior, skill, knowledge, abilities, authority, coordination, etc. that you want to achieve.

It’s never too early to think ahead about what must “change around the change” to make it fully successful.

Five Places to Anticipate Support System Alignment

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to thinking about support system alignment. All organization changes are unique.

However, in my experience, there are five areas to consider.

1. People systems

People systems occupy an important place in most if not all organization changes. Your change may trigger the need for support system alignment in any or all of the following areas:

  • Sourcing
  • Assimilation
  • Compensation
  • Performance management
  • Training

2. Coordination and dependency with other organizational units

The proposed change may affect levels of interdependence and the ways in which units must share information and coordinate activity.

A technology company I was working with made a major change aimed at reducing its fulfillment planning process from six weeks to one. The change involved the implementation of a software application and a redesign of the fulfillment planning organization’s structure, processes, and other tools.

The change had major implications for the frequency, kind of information, and the ways fulfillment planning interacted with other units like marketing, order management, sales, product teams, material procurement, etc.

All of these points of coordination had to be identified and carefully designed prior to go-live.

3. Policies and cultural norms

In some cases, the new way of working may change decision-making authority and responsibility for action, and this may push against cultural norms.

In the example at the start of this post, the work system evolved to the point that workers could shut down the manufacturing line on their own authority in the event of a quality problem.

Workers were fully empowered to identify and eliminate the root cause of the problem. Previously, only the engineering manager or production manager could call a line down, and trouble-shooting was solely the domain of process engineering.

What do you envision people deciding and taking responsibility for?

4. Information Technology

Many changes demand something different in the way of IT capabilities, so support alignment with IT is critical.

These days, organization changes often incorporate new software applications that enable people to work differently. Some applications may be purchased, but others may be developed in-house. In either event, IT will need to be involved early to understand requirements and have sufficient lead-time either to assist with the purchase and installation of an application or its development. IT has an additional stake in the game, since it will be responsible for maintaining and updating the application.

Changes may also trigger the need for different or additional hardware. Capital purchases need to be budgeted. IT will need to understand as early as possible what hardware may be required both for budget purposes and for negotiation with vendors.

5. Measurement and metrics

Organizations typically have well-developed sets of measurements to help everyone understand how effectively the organization is functioning. Some focus on work processes while others focus on outcomes. Organization changes may have implications for both.

For example, let’s say you’re redesigning a work process to reduce cycle time. You currently measure common metrics like yield, scrap, cost, and defect rate, but these won’t help you measure what you’re targeting. To understand the effectiveness of your change, you will also need to measure process variables like value-added time, wait time, and both together as percentages of cycle time. You will need to incorporate and align ways of collecting, computing, and monitoring these data.

Anticipating “Change Around Change” Will Help You Avoid Misalignment

Don’t find yourself in the situation we found ourselves in. In the end, we developed a solution within the existing compensation system that supported the multi-skilled environment we’d implemented. However, the solution wasn’t as well matched as it might have been if we’d thought further ahead and prepared better.

Anticipate the change around your change, and work proactively to develop the understanding and alignment you need from others to support all of the key elements of the change you intend to create.

In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about how you can take your change work to another level, please visit




One thought on “Five Places to Anticipate Support Alignment Before It’s Too Late

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *