There are quite a few burning platforms in our corporate world at the moment. These are acting as great triggers to mobilise big transformation efforts in our organisations.
However, are these burning platforms enough to ignite a successful business transformation?
If all key constituents in the organisation feel the need for the change, is this enough for the change to be intrinsically accepted? Well some Programme Directors clearly think so! But I would beg to differ.
Having accepted and understood the need to change, whether that be the need to improve your cost : income ratio; or replace a dying payroll system that processes 20,000 employee salaries each month; or to expand into a region to exploit the market etc… This simply isn’t enough to ensure that key constituents engage enough. To make it successful we need them to engage with heart and mind.
Accepting and understanding a logical and intellectual situation appeals to our rational traits. In the business world, we all choose to activate this rational side of us in a mostly professional manner and show ourselves to understand the situation and accept it. However, the very nature of asking one individual, let alone 000’s of individuals to change evokes very irrational traits within us and this is why we need more than just a "felt need" to help individuals engage with the change to level where they commit to it rather than simply comply with it.
If you imagine the typical pattern in the launch of something ‘big’ in an organisation it usually goes like this…
"We are going to simplify our structure"
This is a message about ‘What’ – it’s a top down tell. It grabs attention and starts evoking the rational thinking in the organisation; it works as a trigger because typically it is an announcement from a leader and this means that it will be noticed!
“We are going to simplify our structure because we want to empower the regions to make the necessary priority calls for their customers. This will allow us to speed up our to reaction to the ever changing market conditions and customer demands.”
A helpful build because now we are starting to help people understand why. The earlier statement will have grabbed attention, but this one now starts getting everyone to align on why this is important and what it means for the business, the customers and perhaps for themselves. This is also where the irrational behaviours start getting evoked because the ‘Why’ statement won’t necessarily resonate with everyone particularly if only voiced in a need which is in the interest of the business alone.
And this is where most organisations stop!
After this point a Programme Team typically takes charge and cracks on with figuring out how to get it all done. A ‘Change Workstream’ is usually set up which spews out 1-way communication every so often. A stakeholder map is drawn up and the senior individuals from these groups are put onto a Steering Committee. Then we wonder why people are not engaged and why resistance is building!
In an age of knowledge workers where experience and judgement are in abundance, people want involvement. They want to have some say in the end solution design and how that is implemented. They want a part to play in the team that takes the organisation from A to B. Remember those school plays where teachers made every effort to give EVERY child a role to play (even if it was to stand as a tree in the background!) There is still some logic to this strategy for the business world. Give people a role to play, allow them to feel part of the journey and to have a say in how the change will be designed and implemented and not only will they be more committed but you might find you have a more robust solution that actually defys the odds of the project slipping its timescales or worst still not hitting that magic number!
This excellent Ted Talk by Jason Clark explores embracing change and the quote that resonated with me as he discusses implementing a transformation is this; “Am I invited to the change or forced to make change? Real change which is cultural and offered works! Fake change which is structural and foisted doesn’t and shouldn’t work!”
Finally, consider this. Are you in ‘tell’ mode or ‘sell’ mode? Both modes have a part to play, but how about ‘inviting in’ those who you need to make your change successful!