Four “Must-haves” to Unstick Your Change Programme

Four “Must-haves” to Unstick Your Change Programme

In Uncategorized by Roger Lewis

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Recently, I was speaking with a colleague about one of his clients. He was relaying a story about key customer-facing initiatives, many years in development, that were languishing in his client’s organization. While some elements had been activated, the entirety of the scope had not been realized. These next-level initiatives were planned to improve how customers operated internally and engaged with various solutions and ongoing support from his client. As we discussed the challenges, a number of realities came to light.

The first reality is the impact and interpretation of a “customer first” culture. On its face, the concept sounds right. However, in this case, execution is the issue. For his client, customer first means “drop everything and solve the immediate customer need,” which often means sacrificing focus on the longer-term initiatives that would greatly benefit customers on a present value basis. There is a lack of a priority-driven process that determines how these two needs are balanced and integrated into their workflow. The risk is the initiatives continue to languish and, eventually, existing solutions may not be enough.

Secondly, the functional areas operate in vacuums with the expectation of, “If I do my part and you do yours, it will all work out.” Unfortunately, with a lack of continuity and clarity of how things move from development into operations, and then how customer support will manage inquiries or issues, this compounds the first reality. The risk is that siloed operations will often fail when a large, unexpected stressor or set of stressors causes something to break. In his book Great by Choice, Jim Collins refers to this as failing to zoom out and analyze the risks.

The third reality is about “who owns what?” A new level of management had been created under the senior leaders to own and drive both ongoing customer needs and initiative development. They are frustrated that the senior leaders are fragmented, misaligned and unwilling or unable to participate in setting clear business priorities and align capabilities for optimized workflow. Simply stated, this new level of management is now taking the heat and acting as a blame shield for the senior leaders. The risk is the emergence of serious disengagement and a growing cultural malaise of dissension.

Fourth, and finally, there is no champion to corral the first three realities and drive change. This also relates to the second reality in that the chief executive appears to expect things to flow on their own — for his people to own their lanes — and he likely fails to see the need to create clarity and accountability on an integrated basis throughout the organization. So, nothing is changing. The risk of not evolving and changing with market needs is a fundamental risk to any organization. In his seminal and still relevant work from the late 1970s, Michael Porter made it very clear how market forces, if not strategically anticipated, can derail a company.

I asked my colleague what the board of directors thought about the delays. He stated, “They’re happy — all key measures are positive. The customer base continues to grow, the customers like the work the company does for them, revenues are up, employee engagement scores are positive overall and turnover is reasonably low.” “So, what’s the impetus for change?” I asked. He then noted that the urgency is coming from one of the key contacts within the company who sees the realities, is concerned with the lack of movement on the initiatives and is anticipating the long-term risk if they start failing to meet customers’ needs.

As I probed further about the key contact, it occurred to me that this person may risk political suicide as an isolated voice trying to push this particular issue. Especially given the lack of support from the top. In my experience leading efforts like these, several things are required to make systemic change happen:

1. Urgency. There needs to be an agreed-upon need and urgency for change. Without an identified risk or set of risks to the business, no one will be compelled to step out in front and drive action where need and urgency are unrecognized.

2. Champion. Either the top person or someone nominated by the top person with commensurate authority must be in charge and leading the effort. A key leader may be pulled from a functional role for the project and given the authority to work across the organization, removing roadblocks and creating necessary outcomes.

3. Accountability. A clear road map for change is established and communicated, along with measurable outcomes that are reported on a regular basis. People in the organization need to know that they are being measured by how they help (or obstruct) the changes the champion is driving. This can, and often does, include compensatory elements like tying impacts to bonuses.

4. Resources. The champion cannot do this alone. It is common that project teams are established that include some of the best and brightest. This can often be an exposure opportunity for up-and-comers. Through the project, they can learn how to influence across boundaries without authority and create positive change. This can provide broad business learning and exposure and prepare them for future roles.

As we ended the conversation, it was clear that none of the elements existed in his client’s organization that would create the impetus for change. Unfortunately, it may take a cataclysmic event to make that happen. If you are a CEO or a person of significant influence, I encourage you not to wait for something to happen — especially if you are investing the time and resources into major initiatives. Why invest in change if you are not going to create accountability for it?

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