Effecting Organisational Change Successfully

No matter how strong the will to change their business for the better, leaders frequently underestimate the amount of work required for the change, overestimate the company’s capacity to make the change and miscalculate how the team views their connection to the change.

There is a huge amount of knowledge and information around to help leaders determine how to make effective change within their business happen, but despite this, too many executives continue reaching for the same ‘comfort levers’ that consistently fail to hit the target.

As a result, the failure rate of organisational transformations is around 70%!!

The pandemic and its lasting effect will require many businesses to change or suffer the consequences. Changed markets, changed customer bases, changed consumer habits will condemn the ‘old ways’ to the commercial dustbin. Here are some tips on how you can avoid the pitfalls that will scupper an effective change process:

Scope the work required accurately:
Transformational change isn’t easy. Even though we would like it to be. Everyone who undertakes a change process will say that it is much harder than they expected.

By its nature, transforming organisational change creates discontinuity because it touches the entire team. If it is done correctly every part of the business will be and should be affected.

When you look at incremental change however — for example, implementing a new technology platform or launching a new product — it will probably only touch a few parts of the organisation and the rest of the group continue as they were – unaffected. It is a mistake to believe that a large number of incremental changes will create transformation. Incremental changes are often disconnected – there is no joined up ‘knitting’ where one change flows naturally off the other and thus meshes into a master transformational plan. Instead of accelerating change therefore, these incremental piecemeal changes – because they are not joined up to one transformational purpose – cause change to be obstructed – it becomes a process that is ‘jammed up’ with an overload of disparate efforts. The result is that everyone eventually stops bothering about change and the whole thing falls apart.

True transformational change needs to be appropriately scoped, resourced, and most importantly, integrated. By that we mean that each initiative must be linked to every other initiative. Where a company is marketing newly introduced services for example, this will need to be synchronised with the efforts of the company’s operations people to actually deliver those services effectively and efficiently. Messages to customers needed to relate to the new skills that those delivering the services have acquired. It all needs to be sequenced and paced in a way that the company can cope with. Without considering all of these things before embarking on the plan, the plan will fail. If these efforts were correctly assessed and scoped prior to commencement, the means and the ends will match and real change will subsequently align with the messages.

What can the company cope with?
When change occurs, it is often forgotten by the people ‘at the top’ who are planning those changes that the people who are going to be required to implement them also have a ‘day job’ to complete! As a result, these boardroom ‘change initiators’ neglect to calculate the capacity that those impacted by change will need to have to make it successful, while still carrying out their day-to-day responsibilities and not letting them slip.

Too often senior executives set change in motion and then get distracted by the next ‘best thing around’ that excites them soon after. So, the current change project suffers. Instead of working on changes needed in their personal leadership of their people on the project, they resort to other ways to remind people of the “strategic importance” of the changes but personally ‘move on’ before the change has even started to be implemented. They also have a habit to declare premature victory by citing early progress on efforts that don’t actually amount to real, tangible change. The message is short term campaigns will not result in organisational transformation.

We see lots of finely crafted e mails, nice videos and articles from leaders, circulated through their team, that try to substitute for real leadership of a change process. The open rate of e mails of this nature in organisations is often less than 20% would you be surprised? How effective is that?

There is often huge confusion within the teams being asked to change on the purpose of the changes. Without a purpose people will struggle to see where everything fits into the master plan and exactly what their role is in helping the company get there.

Proper change starts with an honest acknowledgement of how hard the work will be, how much capacity and discipline the company actually has combined with a commitment from the top management to be first to change. Further, communicating change effectively requires listening to the group much, much more rather than being on send and simply telling them all about the change.

If things start to outrun the capacity of the business, just pause a number of efforts. Close down initiatives that you have neither the capacity nor resource to implement successfully. Then, listen to your people, ask questions and don’t get defensive if you hear employees talk about the mess that has been made. Identify parts of people’s day jobs that can be paused. This can help free up capacity for change. Finally make sure that top management are on a change programme too – working on their strengths and weaknesses and sharing the fact that this programme is running with the rest of the business. This indicates that you are ALL in this and all committed to the change process.

How do others see you?
Many change efforts are born of a leader’s personal convictions and interests. The motives for the leader are often careerist. There is nothing wrong with that, unless the leader tries to hide it behind spin about “the greater good” or plays down the sacrifices required by others to make change happen. Often change initiators fear that acknowledging their personal connection to a transformation might hinder commitment from the business. The reality is that if leaders only want the benefits, with none of the personal cost, a lack of organisational commitment will be the result.

Leaders who are willing to roll up their sleeves and do their part to advance an arduous transformation let their organisation know how and why the change is personal to them. Conversely leaders for whom a major change is nothing more than smokescreen, behind which they hope to advance their career, shouldn’t be foolish enough to think the organisation doesn’t see right through it. They will!

Remember that transformational change must become personal for every employee if it is going to stick. Invite employees to connect their own sense of purpose to the aspirations of the transformation. Using small groups, get employees to share their vision for how their job function might shift and the impact that their new work could eventually have on customers, the company, and their careers in terms of benefits.

In summary, if you are in the middle of transformational change or about to start a major transformation or if you are simply thinking about it – as many businesses must as we come out of the testing times of the last year – understand how hard it will be if you are going to make it succeed.

There will be obstacles that you could never have forecast. Be clear that these obstacles will test your staying power and positivity. Do all of the required work to prepare yourself and your team for the journey. You, as a leader, are in the best position to keep yourself from derailing the transformation that you need.

If you need help to put all the things in place for a successful transformation get in touch with us at ignite@tinderboxbusinessdevelopment.co.uk, or call on 0116 232 5231


David Turner
Managing Director