Ensuring Your Organization’s Capacity to Change

Back to all Free Resources         View PDF Version

Dean Anderson
Linda Ackerman Anderson


Whether your organization has enough workload capacity for change is a significant risk factor to your success. Most organizations are running at over-capacity: current operations consume the organization’s capacity, and then leaders pile change on top of painfully stretched workloads without “taking anything off people’s plates.” This occurs regularly at senior and middle management levels.

Capacity is an overlooked strategic issue. Executives, being rightfully demanding, are generally poor judges of their organization’s true capacity to operate effectively while taking on major organizational change. Most either do not pay attention to capacity issues, or do not understand the dynamics and impacts that capacity challenges have on their people and organization. This article defines the issue and offers important recommendations for managing the workload between running your current operations and implementing organizational change.

The Issue of Capacity

Capacity—in the context of organizational change—can be defined as the organization’s total workload for running current operations and conducting change activities. Adding any work requirements to either side of the equation consumes some of your organization’s capacity. If you hear or observe any of the following, you have a capacity issue: “I can’t keep up the pace.” “We are burning out our best people.” “Our top performers are starting to slip up.” “I know you’re busy. Do it anyway.” “Take something off the plate? We can’t! It’s all important, and we can’t say no.”

If you consistently extend beyond your organization’s limits of capacity, you may observe high stress in your people, resentment, departure of your best talent, poor performance, and increasing failures of judgment from sheer lack of time to think clearly. Between operations and organizational change, what can give? Typically, your changes are pushed to the side, since most organizations reward operational performance, not change.

In reality, capacity is finite; people can only do as much as they can humanly do, and you only have so many people. Capacity becomes an issue when one or both of the following two things occur. First, it becomes a problem when there is too much on the “normal operations plate,” and leaders continue to add more work. In this situation, leaders are not paying adequate attention to the reality of the workload, are denying the degree of strain being felt by their people, or are demanding that there be more capacity than there actually is or can be. Second, leaders add major change on top of normal operating requirements and do not take anything off the plate to make space for the burden of organizational change, which includes time requirements, resources, attention, meetings, personal change, and lots of ongoing planning and execution at all levels of the organization.

One organization we observed was planning diligently to become more effective and efficient. The pain of over-capacity resounded through its management ranks on a regular basis. The CEO felt there would be a surplus of capacity if people would only be more efficient. This created a painful double bind for his very devoted executives: How could they generate more capacity from being more efficient? The answer, of course, was to institute a series of efficiency initiatives, which required capacity themselves!  Wouldn’t it be great if you could simply flip the switch and suddenly be more efficient? But all organizational change takes capacity, pure and simple, and the workload of organizational change must be planned for just like operations.


Your first step is to assess the real capacity in your organization, for both normal operations and for carrying out your key organizational change initiatives. The executive role in this “get real strategy” is to ensure that a capacity review process occurs to create a realistic picture of what is “on the organization’s plate.” Review your priorities and the timing of major operational and organizational change projects, as well as what else is “coming down the pike” in the near term. Take a realistic look at how more work gets “put on the plate,” including work that may come from above—Corporate Headquarters—or from below, your business units. Assess what projects or events can be “taken off the plate,” or “put on the back burner” for the life of the organizational change.

Executives should never take on the role of determining how much change capacity a project requires; they are generally too far from the real work to accurately know. Instead, rely on your project managers, mid-managers, and supervisors, but be aware that any existing organizational or change capacity burden felt by them may influence their data. Once you have received accurate data, use it to determine what to stop, slow down, or reprioritize to free up capacity, and where to apply your newly available resources.

A candid look at capacity requires a real partnership between your executives, mid-managers, supervisors, and employees. Trust issues across your organization’s hierarchy, as well as people’s fears of admitting to being overly stretched, will negatively impact the accuracy of your organizational and change capacity assessment. Do your best to invite and respect an honest review.

Do take things “off the plate!” Your capacity review is not a lip-service exercise. Make the tough decisions to ease the strain—at least to what is humanly possible under the best of circumstances. Show your workforce that you can and do see the true workload reality of your organization. You will send a visceral message, a truly bold action, by taking work “off the plate” to accomplish higher gain work and organizational change.

Issues with capacity to change are exacerbated by unrealistic timelines and insufficient resources. When people do not have the time or tools to achieve expected results, they take shortcuts that lead to failure or unnecessary rework. By adjusting timelines to fit your actual capacity, you can ensure better performance and higher morale in your employees. In short, do not make the mistake of neglecting real capacity for change as you set due dates.

When initiating organizational change, take a candid look at the change capacity required to lead and implement it effectively, and make space for that capacity. Set up your changes for success by making the time for them that they actually require. Measure this against the operational workload for the life of the organizational change.

When creating your organizational change strategy, you have the opportunity to scan all other change efforts occurring or being planned in the organization. This is a great time to put your “change capacity assessment” lens on. Include your operating priorities, and then take an objective look at the workload and where you might piggyback change efforts, or integrate or consolidate work. This is a key strategy to set up your organizational changes to succeed and accelerate their pace!

Organizational Culture and Change Capacity

Your organization’s culture highly influences how your leaders treat capacity issues; and, how your leaders attend to capacity issues in turn dictates your cultural norms about capacity. Leaders do not always stop to think about whether or not their people can do what is needed; they just assume they can and will. This sets a tone that exists in far too many organizations today: “It’s all important! Do it all. You can’t say no. Faster, faster, more, more.”

This mindset causes leaders, managers, and workers to go numb to their own inability to keep on going, and going, and going. But in reality, even the Energizer Bunny runs out of juice at some point (don’t believe the commercial!).

Take a hard look at your cultural norms and practices around both organizational and change capacity, and at the leadership mindsets that support them. If your organization’s values include something akin to “Our people are our greatest resource,” then your organizational culture must support people’s well-being as it relates to their sustained capacity to do the work of the organization: both operations and change work. Your organization, like many, may need to transform cultural norms that cause work plans to grow beyond the real capacity you have to achieve them. Keep in mind that this in itself is an organizational change initiative, and will require real change capacity to plan and see it through.


When initiating organizational change, pay attention to the issue of capacity to change in your organization. Become aware of it, make it a priority in your planning, and take action on it. Staff and pace your changes so that they have the best chance of succeeding. We are not suggesting that your organizational changes be carried out leisurely. Rather, the issue of capacity to change is about being realistic. See your reality clearly and build your organizational change strategy—and organizational culture— accordingly. Get it right and watch your managers and workforce flourish, appreciate your leadership, and deliver both operational and change results.


  1. Jun 2, 2015
    12:48 am


    Thank you for posting a very informative topic here and helping the students and professionals to make a reference note from this topic. Keep posting these informative things.
    Thank you again.

  2. Dec 4, 2015
    8:53 am

    Gert Pienaar

    You are highlighting an important issue about capacity and I would like to add that it goes together with capability. Nowadays people read about a topic and then they regard themselves as fully capacitated. Their tank is filled with the content of the subject matter. However when you actually expect people to act in the position they feel capacitated for, you get a rude awakening. The capability to increase the effectiveness of the department or lead the way and engage others with the appropriate message is suddenly not available. Whenever a new project is started we often try and build the capacity for change into the organisation and the whole team so that people can show the capability when required. My personal experience is that people do not suddenly have the capability to act as they are required. Capability in a picture is best described by the road-sign of a slippery road. Capability to lead and drive organisational changes are built over longer periods and this is also where we as change agents have a hard time with our clients.

  3. Jun 25, 2017
    7:30 pm

    Brett beaubouef

    Fantastic article. Is there a way to measure the capacity of an organization to change? Is so then how?

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

Share This Page…

Change Leader’s Network News

Get the latest industry research, updates and resources on personal and organizational change sent to your inbox with "Change Leader's Network News." It's free!



With this extensively upgraded second edition, Dean Anderson and Linda Ackerman Anderson solidify their status as the leading authorities on change leadership and organizational transformation. This is without question the most comprehensive approach for leaders who are serious about making change a strategic discipline. Beyond Change Management is an intelligent book by two of the most knowledgeable and accomplished masters of their craft, and it’s one that every conscious change leader should adopt as their guide to creating more meaningful organizations.

Jim Kouzes
Coauthor of the bestselling The Leadership Challenge and The Truth About Leadership

Read this great book by Dean Anderson and Linda Ackerman Anderson and learn how to use their multi-dimensional approach to lead transformation masterfully and consciously!

Marshall Goldsmith
World-renowned executive coach
Author of the New York Times best-sellers, MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

An important move toward a more integral business consulting approach, very much recommended for those interested in the topic and ways to actually apply it. 

Ken Wilber
Author, The Integral Vision, A Brief History of Everything, and over a dozen other best-sellers

Dean and Linda are core to the field of conscious change leadership, and continue to stretch and push its boundaries in this rich and deep compendium. This is a must read from two consummate thought leaders who have devoted their careers to developing highly successful change leaders. Read it and immediately improve your change leadership or consulting success.

Bev Kaye
CEO, Career Systems International
Author of Love 'em or Lose 'em: Getting Good People to Stay

This book is about mastery of leading the transformational change process written by masters of the craft.  For corporate leaders and consultants who consider themselves committed students of the process of organizational change.

Daryl Conner
Chairman, Conner Partners
Author of Managing at the Speed of Change and Leading at the Edge of Chaos

Beyond Change Management is a timely how-to guide for leading change in the 21st century. It provides both a conceptual roadmap, and practical tools and techniques for successfully transforming organizations.

Noel Tichy
Professor, University of Michigan
Co-author with Warren Bennis of JUDGMENT: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls

Once again, Dean and Linda have nailed it! Beyond Change Management is an extraordinary book examining the shifts in change management that have occurred over the years. This book offers real, practical solutions for change practitioners to become extraordinary conscious change leaders.

Darlene Meister
Director, Unified Change Management
United States House of Representatives

Powerful business solutions to the current chaos facing many organizations today. Dean Anderson and Linda Ackerman Anderson get to the heart of change, the human touch, by using timeless techniques and tools.
Ken Blanchard
Co-Author of The One Minute Manager and Leading at a Higher Level

Having applied this methodology for two years to manage change inside Microsoft, it has been instrumental in our ability to land change effectively, engage employees and deliver results quickly. The Change Leader’s Roadmap allows us to lead change with precision and minimal outside consulting, while at the same time growing change leadership capability internally. This is the most complete change methodology we have found anywhere.

Pete Fox
General Manager, Corporate Accounts
Microsoft US

This newest edition of The Change of Leader’s Roadmap is an invaluable, comprehensive and practical guide for envisioning an organization’s desired future, designing the structures and practices necessary to make it happen, and implementing them effectively. The book describes the change process in nine distinct phases and outlines the activities and tasks that need to occur in each phase. It provides change leaders with an essential map for successfully traversing the complex and uncertain terrain of transformational change.   

Thomas G. Cummings
Professor and Chair, Department of Management & Organization
Marshall School of Business
University of Southern California

This is the next best thing to having Dean, Linda and the Being First team riding alongside your complex change initiative. The Change Leader’s Roadmap breeds confidence in senior executive “Champions” to guide not just a successful transformational change, but most importantly, to develop the mission critical organizational CULTURE that will ensure unparalleled return on investment. Nothing I have seen in my 32 years of leading change comes close.

Jeff Mulligan
Former CEO, Common Wealth Credit Union
Mayor, City of Lloydminster

After implementing more than 2000 business strategy and operational excellence initiatives, we set out to find the best change methodology and toolbox in the world. The methodology this book describes is it! Study it thoroughly, because the thinking, process approach and pragmatic tools really work!

Thomas Fischer
Director COO
Valcon Management Consultants A/S

A practical, step-by-step guide for change leaders, managers and consultants. The book provides conceptually grounded, real world, time tested tools and guidance that will prove invaluable to those faced with navigating the challenges of leading organizational change in today's turbulent times.

Robert J. Marshak, Ph.D.
Senior Scholar in Residence
MSOD Program, American University
Organizational Change Consultant