Three lessons we’ve learned about ‘change nimble’ and ‘change capable’ organisations
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change,” Charles Darwin famously said.
Heck yeah! The leading organisations of tomorrow will be nimble – for growth and competitive advantage. And will be able to act with urgency in response to threats. Sadly, there will be many organisations that fall behind or fall away. These are the ones who will struggle to quickly and effectively implement even small and simple changes.
History has given us this lesson already. Well-established, and seemingly untouchable, bastions of our times have crumbled before our eyes – like BlackBerry, Kodak and Blockbuster Video. They took the ‘we’re too big to fail’ attitude and didn’t innovate and adapt quickly enough to outlast the competition – Google, Apple and Netflix. They clung onto traditional operating models, while the new kids on the block trail-blazed new product offerings and engagement approaches that have won over market share.
Will you be left behind?
- How do you make sure your organisation is on the right side of success, and won’t be left behind?
- How do you stay nimble and responsive while the world changes around you?
From our experience, to create a result on these macro problems, you need to engineer a change at the micro-level. In other words, you need to create changes within your organisation that will withstand the changes outside your business. You just need to know how and where to do it.
Here are 3 lessons that will help you tune-up for change:
- Develop Skills – ‘Work smarter, not harder’
Your organisation will only change at the pace of its people. So, do you have the right skills – the right capabilities – at all levels of leadership? Empowering your people by building their capability, will not only create resilience in the individual employee, but it will also mobilise your whole organisation towards agility and change.
When we work with our clients, we’re regularly asked to build change leadership capabilities for those at the helm of the business. We call them the Change Architects as they imagine, spark, fund and sponsor change. This is a worthy investment, as skilled-up change leaders can deal with ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty from the business and the shifts in workforce expectations.
Senior leaders must move beyond the top-down leadership approach when it comes to championing change. Leaders need the skills to create broad-based participation, crowd-sourced change solutions and bottom-up delivery planning. In other words, defining, planning and delivering change in cahoots with those closest to the work. Believe it or not – this saves time (and money) and has the added benefit of (re)building trust in the organisation!
Traditionally line managers – or Change Makers as we call them – could rely on their deep subject expertise to manage their staff. Today, Change Makers need the skills to lead in, and through change; modelling the right behaviours and navigating themselves and their teams through the new way of operating. It’s critical to success.
This capability for change is what we refer to as change intelligence – does your workforce have the skills to confidently face into change?
A large bank made a concerted effort to use the Agile methodology for the delivery of a new program. Those rolling out the project received the skills through formal training, and the project was ready to move at the speed of light. Yet key stakeholders and senior leaders, aka the Change Makers, were not on the same page – they didn’t have the skills needed to shift to the new ways of working and respond with the urgency required for the project to succeed.
Sound familiar!? So as part of lesson 1 ask yourself: “Do my people really have the skills they need to change effectively?”
- Dedication – ‘You get out what you put in’
The appropriate dedication of resources (people, time, money and effort) is not optional, but essential when tuning up for change in your organisation. And some smart change approaches help too, here are a few to consider:
Broad-based participation with ‘smart mob’ organising
We’ve all seen ‘top-down’ solutions fail to deliver. Where someone in the ‘ivory tower’ (a.k.a. head office) has conceived the plan, and implemented it, but with no consultation to the people that are actually affected by the change (often they’re concerned that this approach would cause a loss of productivity). No one buys in, no change happens. Money lost. Time lost.
However, we’ve seen great success from organisations that dedicate time, from a cross-section of employees or leaders who will experience the change, to co-create the definition, process and delivery. It’s a win-win – the team are more likely to arrive at a solution that can be applied in the ‘real world’ and they will get greater ‘buy-in’ from those impacted. And again, trust features as a positive ingredient and outcome.
Dedicate the right resources
A change will be successful when it has the right resources to make it happen. We’ve seen businesses overloading operational roles to deliver change initiatives. These people don’t have the dedicated time, deep capability, accountability or control to make the changes, and the result is that very little actually changes, and nothing advances. We suggest either intentionally lifting capability and capacity (see Lesson 1) or bolstering your teams with targeted expert support.
A large international technology company was trying to transition their finance functions from domestic to regional shared services. The team, located abroad, failed to assign dedicated resources to help with the transition; instead of expecting the very people whose roles would be affected to drive and deliver the change.
Not much progress occurred and global management became increasingly frustrated as milestones got delayed and the timelines blew out. Once dedicated specialist resources were assigned, the project and the business gained pace and successfully delivered within a few short months.
Lesson 2 is: Think deeply – Do we have the right resources?
This typically follows your critical and clear understanding of the effort and impact of the initiative. This upfront assessment approach quickly confirms the resources, time and costs required to achieve great outcomes and has everyone working with a common plan. Simply demanding an outcome without acknowledging the effort and the skills required seldom leads to the anticipated outcome, certainly not in a quick timeframe.
- Focus – ‘begin with the end in mind’
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there”. – Lewis Carroll
Most organisations we work with know they need to change, they’ve allocated funding (usually not enough) and commonly, they’ve failed to adequately define where they hope to arrive as an outcome of the change occurring.
This is important as your people, the ones who deliver ROI, need to understand the direction before they’re willing to take the first bold steps in change.
That’s not to say that at the start of a change initiative, you need to know every detail of the solution or impact to your people. What you do need from your leaders – the Change Architects and Change Makers and Change Enablers – is a clearly defined and cohesive view of where we are going, what great looks like when we get there, and perhaps even how you’re thinking of getting there. This, followed closely by exploring what the impacts will be and how you’re going to measure and track your progress to reach these goals, will put the wind back in your change sails.
A large consumer goods business was seeing competitors and new products erode their market share and their revenues were decreasing. The company’s leaders knew that they had to do things differently and so heavy investment in new technology took place.
Despite the new technology, the results continued to decline as the experience for consumers didn’t change. Staff had a new system but what they were doing and how they were doing it hadn’t fundamentally changed.
This story is very common; money is thrown at solving the problem but there isn’t enough focus on defining what the change needs to be at a behavioural level and how we’ll know when we’ve achieved that behaviour change. Over the past few decades, we’ve seen countless organisations fail despite them knowing that they needed to change.
Lesson 3 is arguably the most important – Think about your key focus areas and ‘beginning with the end in mind’.
Our purpose is to make transformational change achievable and create a lasting capability for our clients. Our unique approach empowers organisations to create the best return on investment for their change efforts.
We’ve seen that the sooner an organisation is willing to identify and address its (human) change capability needs and gaps in detail, the quicker it will be likely to reap the rewards.