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Building sustainable change capability in your organisation

“Change is like the British weather – something that gets people talking!”

This article looks at how to embed change and make it an acceptable way of life that helps sustain and future proof you organisation.

quote_benjamin_disraeli As the “fight for margin”, “war for talent” and “drive for sustainability” continue in many organisations there is a sustained pressure to manage the costs of change tightly and this usually includes reducing the support of any external 3rd party consultants. Having an external change partner to support the ‘business change’ agenda is still seen as a luxury that few organisations feel that they can afford or need in these times of austerity.

The net result is that organisations adopt one of two general approaches. Approach one – don’t bother with all this business / organisational change ‘soft stuff’, we will drive the change through the #currentfad programme. The CEO and board have said ‘go for it!’ Therefore everyone will have to buy-in…..

Approach two. Manage the change internally using the organisations existing people stepping into the change agent role.

The first approach is destined to result in organisational failure and potentially, depending on the scale of the change programme, a few sharp exits by less sharp executives. The second approach has to be the way to go. Whilst success with change is never guaranteed leading change from within, using people who know the existing operational culture and organisational constraints has a far better chance of success so long as the change agents are properly supported, trained and given the time to do the job well.

In the context of this article ‘managing change’ is about the management of all the activity that ensures the aspirations and benefits the change programme is designed to deliver are actually realised. There are some credible statistics available that point to the widespread failure in most organisations to deliver the benefits associated with change effectively. A study in the US concluded that “in a survey of 1,000 employees, more than 8 out of 10 people said their company had some organization-wide initiative underway that they believed was likely to fail; 78% also reported that they currently were working on a “doomed project.” A McKinsey study a few years ago showed that 90% of organisations failed to deliver the benefits they predicted from change initiatives despite varying degrees of change management activity; the 10% only achieved success through exceptional change management activity.

However take heart, remember the Mark Twain quote:

Mark Twain QuoteWhat is not a lie is that the people who can lead change well within an organisation are nearly always over stretched as they are in high demand. Expensive ‘remedial’ external change support, sought at the last minute from trusted external consulting organisations is often used to compensate for this reality. What is also common is a lowering of engagement scores and the knock on impact to productivity and customer service as organisations transition through the change process. In some organisations it is also common to see successive repeats, re-launches and reframes of change initiative as they fail to land in the organisation well. As a result people become jaded and cynical as they await the next change initiative to sweep through their area. “Will we get a T shirt and new coffee mugs with this initiative”? is a common comment from the jaded majority as yet another change programme bursts into life.

Suffice to say that effectively managing change is still a ‘today’ issue for many organisations and one that needs to be considered carefully by those leaders contemplating how to do this well.

At a recent conference there was an interesting discussion with senior leaders from a number of organisations debating this very topic. Only one was firmly of the opinion that effective change needed an external organisation as an ‘outside in’ perspective was needed to shake the well embedded prevailing paradigm. Most of the other leaders in the discussion were actively developing  internal change capability within their organisations. In effect they were building an internal change team to lead and drive change. They admitted they had mixed results as the organisation and all its core people processes is designed for steady state more than it is designed for dynamic change. In these times of austerity this is as much a Public Sector issue as it is in the Private Sector.

The leaders all realised that building an internal change team will not, by itself, change the startling statistics that we shared earlier in the article. For change to be managed effectively requires an organisation capable of managing change, not just a team of people with ‘change’ in their title. In order to truly embrace change, the organisation must have ‘managing change’ as one of its core competencies. Akin to any other core competency, it should not be outsourced or insourced, it becomes something that the organisation does really well at every level and across all functions. It becomes built into the culture and values of the organisation in a meaningful, pragmatic way and far beyond just rhetoric and hype.

5 key steps to building sustainable change capability

1. Create a clear and compelling strategy – that explains where you are going and why successfully managing change is core to what you have to do. This tight, simple and easy to articulate rationale for why it is imperative to grow this capability can be used internally to secure funding, investment and clarify priorities and as a consistent way to start engaging your people.

2. Identify role models top down and bottom up – find and recognise the people at every level in your business that are natural change agents. They have the aptitude, ability and passion to manage change effectively. Celebrate their existence and elevate their organisational importance. Every organisation has influential characters in their midst. They have positive energy, passion and most importantly the ability to take people with them. Look for them up and down the organisation as often they emerge from the most unlikely of places. Once found, train them well and use their natural abilities to inspire and lead others. This will be crucial to your success.

3. Assess your organisations change capability – in order to establish the barriers and the opportunities across your people, process and systems. Especially identifying ownership and accountability overlaps. If the organisation does have a ‘change function’ then be clear where their accountability stops and starts so you do not create a dependency culture in the rest of the organisation. The Sensei Human Performance Index™ is an excellent tool by which the human interactions and the adaptive challenges involved in growing change capability can be explored.

4. Spotlight exec time and focus on change management – managing change should be built into senior leaders objectives; your performance management approach and your reward and recognition mechanisms. It should also become another reference point for finding and developing the leaders of the future in your organisation. With managing change as a core competency then leaders need to be chosen that embody and can develop this ethos throughout the organisation.

5. Manage your strategic change portfolio and start saying NO! – it does not matter how great your internal change capability is, if you are overstretching the organisations inherent capacity for change, something will fail. Most organisations are slow to say NO to existing activity and quick to say YES to new initiatives. Too many organisations are trapped by the operational treadmill and the senior leadership team need to develop the capability and focus to manage the strategic agenda as effectively as they do the month to month operational agenda.

If you want to find out more about how we can help you with these challenges then please get in touch.