‘Change' is one of those terms that tend to be bandied about without too much thought on the part of managers, or without too much explanation on the part of the management consultants that package and sell it as a service. As a management consultant myself, I feel I can say this with some justification. Too often I have seen the true intention and meaning of change management programmes obscured by a performance of smoke and mirrors.
It is also an unfortunate fact that most change initiatives fail. Recent CIPD research showed less than 60% of re-organisations meet their stated objectives. This is a worry when you consider the overwhelming feeling prevalent in business today is that things will never quite be the same again. Some kind of change, for the vast majority of organisations, is inevitable. Almost as inevitable, I suspect, many of the change implementations about to be undertaken will founder by getting off on the wrong footing.
My first piece of advice to companies considering a change programme is not to be distracted or put off course by over complex definitions. The objective of any change management programme is simple: to create a measureable improvement in business performance that is sustainable. Such a change usually includes working on people, process and management systems, although too often the people element is grossly underestimated.
More importantly, it is vital to consider the readiness for change within your organisation before you begin to think about implementation. Without understanding this, the project is likely to either drive the change too hard (which causes more issues) or, more commonly, drive the change too slowly (which doesn't create sufficient need to work differently). Understanding the readiness for change increases success rates by informing the design and approach, creating momentum by starting in an appropriate area and generating larger and quicker wins.
Take one step at a time. Take a look at the checklist below. Should any of these questions highlight improvement opportunities, you are in a position, perhaps more than you thought possible, to start thinking about change implementation today:
1. Corporate strategy
How clear is the corporate strategy and direction to staff and how can they contribute? Many organisations don't work hard enough to make the strategy ‘real' for their people. Regardless of the climate, employees who understand how they can contribute to the greater success of the firm and see a link between their role and the direction of the organisation will make better decisions, prioritise more effectively and be more motivated. Could your strategy be more overt and consciously managed?
2. Management systems
How structured and accurate are your management systems? By management systems we mean the accuracy and appropriateness of information, the forums in which it is reviewed, the decisions taken based on that information and, ultimately, the resulting actions. Could you provide better information to the right groups of people in an environment of action?
3. Efficiency reviews
What opportunities are left for improved efficiency? The low fruit has been picked in most organisations. Although there are always opportunities for improved efficiency, they often require difficult decisions that conflict with other agendas or motives. These decisions have usually been discounted in the past or are seen as being too unpalatable to consider. Could you revisit every option and be more open about the trade-offs for your business?
4. Talent management
How is talent being managed through these difficult times? People are staying put, for the moment. Identifying the core talent and ensuring their capability development over the next couple of years will be key to longer-term success. There is lot to do if an organisation is to emerge from the recession ahead of the competition. These high potentials, provided they don't leave, could lead the charge. But beware, because many recruitment experts are forecasting a boom in business when the upturn begins. Could you provide your talent with new challenges, experiences and learning opportunities?
5. Future proofing
Are resources being geared for the future? This is not the time to hang on assuming that the future will be like the past. It won't. Having an objective view of the environment in six months, a year, two years will help to make some decisions about resources that will strengthen the business now. It could be an under-utilised warehouse, a group of under-performers or an R&D agenda written a year ago.
Could you address these issues now, with a pragmatic eye on the future?
6. Leaders, look to yourselves
By definition, areas that need addressing will be those that the organisation is not naturally predisposed to change. It is therefore imperative that an honest, objective view is taken. What has worked well in the past? What hasn't been done well? What capabilities will be required? The implementation of successful change requires skillsets and experience that span people engagement, rigour, relentless results focus, process and system expertise and many others. The most important facet, however, is the ability to win the hearts and minds of a significant number of people towards a common goal. Can you step up to this definition of true leadership?
Simon Axup is an account director with Berkshire Consultancy