How to harness change successfully

In the ‘good old days’ you could line up your people, tell them how it was going to be and they’d go off and deliver it. But things have changed. There’s certainly a lot of change afoot right now – you only have to look at some of the high street hospitality businesses to see that. Many businesses are finding it really difficult to adapt to change fast enough.  Economic tensions, environmental challenges, political fragmentation are the language of the modern economy and it’s causing great uncertainty and volatility all round. And as technology and globalisation continue to advance, the speed of change can only increase.

Long-term business plans are a thing of the past; organisations now face the almost impossible challenge of planning for change. Business is failing to embrace the opportunities (and threats) driven, most significantly, by the technological revolution and changing consumer demands. In the retail world, Blockbuster, HMV and Agent Provocateur are all examples of businesses that failed to adapt – over-expanding to a formula because it worked before, cutting costs until they couldn’t cut anymore.

The drivers of successful change could be split into two components; organisational (such as product, process, structure) and individual (people related). The first is driven by the second yet it’s the people side of change that is lagging behind and often the most difficult to bring about. It’s no surprise, therefore, that 70% of change interventions fail.

Change is almost universally poorly led and managed.  Ask a room full of people if they would like things at work to change, most hands will be raised. Then ask them if they’d like to make things change (hands go down). Lastly ask if they, themselves, would like to change and see what happens….

Change starts at the top and, in turn, that starts with senior leaders being open to change; to understanding that the brilliant formula that worked 5, 10, 20 years ago, might no longer be up to the job. Reacting to change will only be successful if you take your people along with you so they’re swimming with, rather than against, the tide.

Many businesses are still taking a ‘top down’ approach to the way they manage their people. This is understandable as relinquishing control and allowing people to be creative around the ‘how’ is uncomfortable for many. However, that discomfort is nothing, compared with the pain of dealing with a failing business.

Harnessing the power of your people is a powerful weapon in the fight for survival, profitability and growth.  The people on the front line know more about your business than anyone. Consulting them and enabling and empowering them to solve business issues is a good place to start. This represents a big culture change for many and this is why, rather than investing in the future and do something different, business leaders often opt to plough on with established disciplines. Here, success is often measured on the input (tick box mentality) rather than the output (tangible business improvements).

OK so talking and writing about change is nothing new so, in theory at least, business leaders should be adept at dealing with it by now and focusing on pragmatic, creative and high-impact ways to improve their organisations.

Making the decision to change is uncomfortable, difficult and requires effort, bravery and drive. Even more so when people lack the skills and knowledge to deal with change in the right way. It’s easy to understand why some business leaders feel it’s easier to stay as they are, not rocking the boat or attempting to fix something which, in their eyes, isn’t really broken, waiting for a magical force to change their luck rather than approach it head on.

Cost cutting is widespread in an attempt to stem the pain associated with decline. All too often, hearts are ripped out of perfectly distinct and successful businesses. Yet this is so frequently counter-productive. While short-term wins are achieved, it’s the long-term losses, which cause the real challenges. People are required to do more with less. It’s unsustainable. Some lose their jobs. As a result, employee engagement starts to decline; corners are cut, impacting customer service. Lower engagement results in lower productivity and lack of motivation. Ideas and creativity are stunted. And so, targets continue to be missed, resulting in further cost cutting. More decline in employee happiness and engagement. And on it goes –a downward spiral until they crash and burn.

Unless businesses do something differently. Unless they make the decision to change. Where to start? Here are five questions to ask, debate and examine:

  1. Culture: is it distinct, authentic, well articulated, universally understood and working for (not against) the organisation?
  2. Strategy: is it nimble, creative, sense checked frequently and based on what’s really going on internally and externally?
  3. Approach: Are you moving from ‘transactional’ to ‘transformational’, bottom up and not top down?
  4. Leadership: Do seniors leaders ‘get it’; are they role models for the business and making it their business to listen, engage, enable and empower?
  5. Clarity: how clear is direction, communication and the process for change? It’s difficult to be agile when a lack of clarity is stifling the organisation

We recently launched the findings of a qualitative study into the topic of change. Subscribe to our blog to receive a copy

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2018-03-20T10:14:40+00:00 March 20th, 2018|