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How to manage true transformation

Transformation director at housing and facilities management social enterprise First Ark shares her top tips

First Ark is a social business employing more than 600 people in the North West. It is comprised of housing association Knowsley Housing Trust (KHT), housing development brand Oriel, facilities management and refurbishment arm Vivark, and investment charity One Ark.

First Ark worked with consultancy The Connectives on a three-year £4.5 million transformation programme that has been critical to the organisation’s sustainability, effectiveness and efficiency. Reflecting on how to go about this as a true partnership, transformation director Collette King offers the following top transformation management advice:

Call things what they really are: Transformation is a word bandied around a lot, and often it’s used to describe a number of change initiatives led by different directors where there is little collective sign off, control or consideration of interdependencies. Real transformation requires all the pieces of the jigsaw to be available and seen and joined up.

Leadership and independence: In our experience real organisational transformation can only occur with active sponsorship by the CEO, a focused and influential internal transformation director with broad organisational insight, and an independent partner with experience of transformation in many sectors and contexts. Together they can drive clarity around what needs to change and why, what the unique opportunities are to leverage change, and reduce potential resistance.

Known and agreed drivers for change: For transformation to work change must be driven by a clear vision and a thorough understanding of what success will look like. Your drivers may include improving efficiency or reducing costs, positioning the business for growth, utilising your people better, improving your customer experience, or pursing social value – what’s key is knowing what is driving your change.

These two ‘anchors’ (vision and measures of success) provide the context for changes to your structure, the processes used, what capacity and capability you need, and leadership behaviours. These are all aspects that help or hinder the translation of vision into success, so you must understand how each contributes or frustrates performance and the relationship between them before you make change.

Know your current state and gather real evidence: Take a rigorous look at your organisation, gather baseline data and test how transforming your business would better meet your drivers. Unless you really understand the ‘current state’ – how you deliver your business today – any attempt to build a future model and a map to get you there will be flawed.

Leave egos at the door: During a transformation so much change can happen in pockets and silos, and the only way to get a grip on this is to have a proper programme office. Ensure senior people are disciplined in getting sign-off and permission to instigate change, and remember: even if it is just a temporary change or disposable solution it still takes time and resource.

Be emotionally intelligent – it’s people that make things happen: Develop leadership maturity; overseeing transformation is like conducting an orchestra, you must know when to hold on and when to let go, when to engage and when to let others engage. Asking people to let go of what they’ve always done in order to do something differently, or maybe even having different people doing it, requires leaders to really think about the human impact of change. If you don’t manage this well don't be surprised if performance dips considerably.

Influencers are everywhere: Find advocates to galvanise the wider group and remember that change agents aren’t always in obvious positions. Don’t overlook people who can influence others just because they aren’t in senior or obvious roles – the cleaners talk to the people working late – don't under-engage parts of the workforce.

Collette King is transformation director at First Ark