How to accelerate when delivering change

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The last few years have seen the disruptive influences of the “Startup” economy, shaking up established business models and delighting customers through an improved customer experience.  Google is transforming the advertising sector, whilst Uber has streamlined the taxi industry, Alibaba carries no stock but is one of the worlds biggest retail outlets, I could go on, but I am sure you have read the coverage before.  Times are changing for every industry and company out there, being aware of their core market and transforming to provide a greater customer experience is an imperative.  I recently watched a clip from David Rowan, the Editor at Large of Wired magazine and he reached an interesting and alarming conclusion when talking about industry;  

“The world is never going to move this slowly again and if you don’t move at the startup’s pace, you are going to lose market share and lose revenue in ways that may surprise you!”

We all know managing change can be really hard, painful at times, but standing still or ignoring the competitive threats is no longer an option.  No change initiative or transformation is risk-free, unfortunately, this causes many managers to hesitate or lack the courage to make the necessary decisions.  The chances are that however fast you think your change programme is progressing, it is not fast enough. Being able to rapidly respond to market changes through new products or services, will be critical to developing greater revenue opportunities.

Lessons have been learnt in every organisation, where projects that have tried to ‘boil the ocean’, taking on too much scale and complexity, ultimately collapsing under the sheer effort required to keep the behemoth on time and to budget.  It has now become accepted practice to design smaller projects, attempting to change a single process, often something that will run in parallel and not disrupt too much of a workers familiar day.  Then over short time periods, additional processes can be transitioned allowing for delivery teams to learn and pivot from the experiences encountered. This technique will be familiar to most as an Agile delivery model but is often described also as Lean, Feature Driven or Dynamic project management.

Experimentation can be key to delivering a successful change project, after all, every company has its own unique mix of processes, systems and company culture.  Often project management or change management methodologies are rigidly followed in the belief of success, however, every management framework out there needs tailoring to the needs of the organisation.  Running experiments, such as trying multiple methods for delivering training or getting communication messages to the organisation, are required to gain an understanding of the most effective channels.  Run lots of inexpensive experiments, review often, stop the ineffective ones and learn from the feedback.

Finally, you need to provide the focus, so that employees understand what is expected of them during the change.  You may have heard the term “Change Fatigue”, where staff are overrun by projects and change initiatives constantly telling them to change process or attend training, causing prioritisation and efficiency challenges.  I have heard examples, where a CEO will ensure that only one change programme is running at a time, therefore he/she can give it their full attention.  This also has the benefit that all of the executive team are also only focussing on the single activity with their full attention, rather than trying to deconflict and juggle a number of other sponsored changes.  The theory is that if the whole company can see a single change initiative sponsored from the top down, with a clear message on why it is so critical to the future of the business, the delivery can be accelerated as the feedback from the business is more focused and open.  Although this may not work in your organisation, there could be some truth to the phrase “less, is more”.

So in conclusion; pick up the pace, there is a reason why many large traditional global companies are building innovation centres with agile working methodologies, to ensure they can work at the same unconstrained speed as startups. Review each change project against the company strategy and ensure as few as possible are delivered in parallel, otherwise, you will risk sponsor dilution and change fatigue. Good luck, be bold and keep experimenting, checking that the change will indeed provide value to the business.

Product Innovation, a CIO-led learning community for manufacturers, we cover how leading organisations are managing the transition to a digital enterprise. Digital innovation and smart manufacturing has been enabled by the recent advances in network infrastructure and computational power. Join PI at our industry conferences to learn how peer-organisations are addressing the challenges of a digital economy.

Paul Empringham, VP Research, PI – a CIO-led learning community for manufacturers.

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