How to drive implementation and sustain business improvement
As management consultants, we often hear from leaders that their change programs somehow got stuck. Often they know what they need to accomplish, but the path to getting there is unclear. On inspection, we typically find that the reason they can’t move on is that they haven’t sufficiently paid attention to some change steps at an earlier stage of the transformation. Following a structured and balanced approach to business transformation will stop this from happening. In this whitepaper we will briefly introduce four stages of business transformation that will guide you in leading a successful change program and sustaining business improvement.
4 stages of business transformation
Every business improvement trajectory has a technical side (designing, developing and delivering change solutions) and a people side of change (embracing, adopting and utilising change solutions), which should go hand in hand to increase the probability of success. We distinguish four stages of change within every improvement trajectory:
1. Aim & Engage
The aspirations you choose will depend to a great extent on your starting point. To obtain a robust fact base, you need to ask yourself the following questions. What do our customers demand? What competitive pressures and opportunities do we face? How does our performance stack up against benchmarks? What are our organisational improvement areas? Based on the outcome of this analysis, you will need to articulate your strategic intent (vision, objectives and priorities). In this stage it is important to mainly focus on why change is necessary, to show the benefits of change and to let go of the how. You will first need to generate commitment to a cause. At the heart of every successful transformation effort lies a soul-stirring sense of purpose. Internal communication and storytelling need to be on the top of the agenda. Do you have an inspirational vision with a compelling future? Have you communicated the reasons for change and the risk of not changing? Have they heard the message? Do they believe it? Do they know what it means?
In this stage it is important to mobilise the people who are open and willing to change. By engaging their support and visible participation you can help move the change forward. This group can become a strong and active advocate for change, and can convert the strongest dissenters. Don’t forget to listen and understand objections of people who are uncertain, hesitant or resistant to change. The power of true listening and empathy is often underestimated. In many cases employees
simply want to be heard and voice their objections. Listening to and understanding these objections can often provide a clear path toward resolution. Listening can also help to identify misunderstandings about the change.
2. Architect & Explain
When implementing a change, employees need to know what the future will look like. They need to know how they are going to go there and what their personal consequences are. You will need a clear roadmap in terms of portfolio of initiatives, communication plan, timing and risk management. This goes beyond a high level description of the desired outcome. Employees need to understand what will be different and what will stay the same. Therefore, in order to successfully implement your strategic vision, you will have to carefully architect the organisation (structure, roles and responsibilities, processes) and speak out your expectations. You will also have to determine the necessary supporting organisational conditions and enable your employees to make the desired changes by removing the barriers to change (knowledge, skills, mindset shifts, tools, resources). In order to stimulate self-ownership and accountability, you should leave the design and control of the
work to the employees themselves as much as possible. You can drive accountability and prepare for implementation by setting up a program & change management office, a steering committee with executive sponsors and by creating a leading change team.
3. Act & Empower
In the implementation stage it is all about people. You will need to have the people on the bus with the right skills and attitudes to do what is necessary. You have to invest in the development of their skills. Managers play an important role in this. They should lead by example; give every action purpose and act like coaches, providing support and feedback when requested. In this stage it is also important to audit compliance with the ‘new way of doing things’, to monitor the progress, to remove obstacles and to stimulate self-ownership and collaboration. Do remember to celebrate success. Taking the time to celebrate is important because it acknowledges people’s hard work, boosts morale and keeps up the momentum.
4. Adapt & Evolve
While making a change is difficult, sustaining and adapting can be even more difficult. You need to gain commitment to a core strategy but also respond in the moment. If the strategy or organisational design doesn’t work anymore, you need to adapt. The ability to manage an organisation dynamically and to rapidly adapt is becoming the most important source of competitive advantage. You can improve your organisational agility by creating an “analysis – focus – execution – evaluation” platform with dedicated expertise for continuous improvement. This platform can be used for sharing knowledge and best practice, to collect and act on feedback for improvement potential from employees and customers and to learn from mistakes and past successes.
When should we move from one stage to the next?
You will need to fulfil certain criteria before you progress from one stage to the next. Every stage has its characteristics. It’s important to increase the probability of success by carefully finishing each stage to avoid confusion, passive resistance, employee dissatisfaction, delays and inefficiencies from rework. However do bear in mind that change does not happen in such a linear stage-by-stage fashion in real life. What you learn during on stage often prompts you to revisit decisions you have
made in an earlier stage. Even if you revisit earlier decisions, it is important not to jump ahead from one stage to the next until your organisation is ready.
Checklist for business transformation
If you can answer yes to the questions below on a specific stage in the transformation, you are ready to move to the next stage.
Aim & Engage
- Have you clarified your strategic vision, the reasons for change and the risk of not changing?
- Do you have a concrete set of prioritised improvement projects that will deliver your change vision?
- Do people have a strong sense of purpose and feel deep ownership of it?
Architect & Explain
- Have you made a roadmap in terms of portfolio of initiatives (for each project), timing and risk
- Is there a leading change team to architect the organisation (structure, roles and
responsibilities, processes) and to determine the necessary supporting organisational
conditions (knowledge, skills, mindset shifts, tools, resources)?
- Do people know their roles and responsibilities, have you set clear expectations and are there
training and education programs in place for skill building?
Act & Empower
- Do you have a tailored transition plan for implementing each change initiative and do you have the right people on the bus with the right skills to do what is necessary?
- Have you generated energy for change by spelling out the preferred culture and by showing what excellence looks like?
- Do managers lead by example and act like coaches, providing support and feedback when requested?
Adapt & Evolve
- Have you put in place the structure, processes, systems and people to drive continuous improvement?
- Do you engage employees and stakeholders in joint improvement and innovation efforts?
- Do you invest in the training of key leaders and committed internal change agents who have the qualities to drive continuous improvement from now on?