“When will this be over?”
Change can be really hard. Changing the way we do something means unlearning seemingly natural, well-worn processes and replacing them with something else. Sometimes, even the prospect of change brings fear of what the change will mean. Transformational change involves careful planning, costing, selling, communicating, and then carrying out the actual change. This is then followed up with more measuring and checking that the change has gone smoothly. And the learnings are documented so it can be done better next time.
Industries which are being disrupted by new business models, entrants and shifting buying behaviour require organisations who wish to keep up to embrace more than a single big-bang change; they require the ability to change constantly.
In our final blog post in this series, I’ll discuss how a disruption-ready organisation can get itself set for ongoing change. How to build stamina for change, so that the process can be repeated smoothly, and even become the norm. This capability connects other topics in our series, and in fact brings them all together: putting the customer at the centre; being data-driven; enabling innovation; and improving and automating processes. Together, these corporate capabilities help an organisation get set for disruption – either to lead, or defend it.
Organisations seeking to build ‘change stamina’ into their normal way of working take a different approach to implementing, prototyping and repeating. A more formal risk-based approach to change, with committees, meetings, approvals and sign-offs are considered too slow and cumbersome for rapid change in a dynamic market. On the other hand, keeping ongoing change this side of chaos is its own challenge.
Change can become a regular, repeatable process that follows a lightweight framework, and delivers rapid results. I recommend taking the following approach in building up your organisation’s Change Stamina:
- Start Small. If your organisation has struggled with, or is unfamiliar with change, you would expect a lot of trepidation and risk if the first change project is a massive one. There are plenty of examples of really large change projects being aborted or wound back midway, when the scale and effort for a change program simply proved too much. Unless your organisation is brand new, you won’t have the luxury of building a perfect set of processes and systems for now. Even if you do, by the time you’re done building them, they may be wrong for a fast-moving market anyway. For other organisations, change inside an existing business is like changing the engines in mid-flight. It’s risky, so keep change to a smaller, bite sized effort.
- Document a change framework as you go. When considering a change program, the team who workshop what this change entails will tend to follow a functional path through the organisation as they consider all the areas a change will impact. At the same time, changes often have aspects in common, and these commonalities can form a powerful framework from which to build other changes in future. A typical framework would cover everything from the strategic imperative for change, through assessing its impact in terms of cost and productivity, building a stakeholder team and ensuring they form the project team for change until it’s complete, and ensuring customers and team members are involved in the change before, during and after with good communication.
- 80% is often good enough. If a change brings about 80% of the benefit you are seeking, for relatively low effort, that’s a powerful win. When designing a change, seek a rapid, nearly complete outcome over perfection. The last 20% may require another 80% of effort, and your organisation or market may not permit the time and cost to go that far. Combine this with repeatability, and an ongoing process of change can continue to deliver big benefits time after time. Compare: 5 x 80% effective changes completed in a year; one giant, 100%-aimed monster change program that took five years. Which approach would put an organisation in the lead?
- Build cross-functional change leadership. Change can be far-reaching, and it can involve a lot of effort across the organisation. A cross-functional (virtual, if needed) change team that brings together leaders from core parts of the business to build both the framework and develop and fine-tune the process for managing change, makes for a strong capability. The same team can then come together each time change is being considered, and ensure the framework is correctly used and nothing is missed. As they work together more, the change team gets better at change, and they can get going more quickly than ad-hoc change teams. The main challenge is that (especially with virtual teams), these people have their day to day roles to manage as well. Consider backfilling or contracting in resources for extra bandwidth in these roles, when change is being run – rather than contracting in people to run the change, who will often struggle with buy-in and relevance.
- Connect change to strategic outcomes. Change for its own sake isn’t productive, but change which has lost sight of its reason or goal is dangerous. An unmoored change program can grow and become unwieldy, inviting more and more scope to creep in as the desire to ‘solve everything’ escalates. As part of the change management framework, ensure changes are tested against their strategic drivers – to ensure that change is going to deliver something valuable for the long term, but only enough to achieve that strategic outcome. A change which doesn’t measure up to strategic drivers is possibly going to introduce risk for little benefit – time to reassess.
- Establish and maintain a ‘change cadence.’ Organisations facing the need to constantly change, may be tempted to build a massive change program. When trying to build an ability to change on an ongoing basis, having a huge mountain to climb will be both daunting and exhausting for an organisation. This multiplies the risk to delivery, and costs can skyrocket as well, all while the business tries to carry on doing normal activities. If a change cadence of – say – one small change per month, one medium-sized change per quarter, or one large change per year is set, this helps set budgets, change team sizes, and expectations for how much change people should expect to see going on around them. Being surprised by a big change program after a long period of inertia is (often rightly) responsible for cynicism and might hurt the change’s prospect of success.
- Communicate, at every level. The cadence of change can help determine how change is reported and communicated across the organisation. If there is a monthly or weekly get together of the affected teams, this is the time to cover off where a change program is at and take a quick read to spot resistance and problems early. Management, executives and board members will also appreciate being across where change programs are as they go along – rather than when progress has slowed or budgets have been blown. The art of correctly communicating change across an organisation is also a key aspect to get right – it’s an area where external professional assistance can make a huge difference to the success of a change program.
As change stands upon the shoulders of other corporate capabilities, they also need to be well-developed to pull off successful, transformative change. When an organisation builds the stamina to change on an ongoing basis, it can become agile, fast-moving and successful while not putting customers, team members and finances at high risk. Change Stamina is a corporate capability that needs to be kept ‘in training’. The best way to stay limber is to drive repeatable change, as new markets and customers are sought and serviced.
Anthony Woodward is founder and Chief Executive Officer of Accelera