7 Tips for Leading Change & Transformation in your organisation

As a Leader you will inevitably lead change during the career, and it can be a very challenging prospect as it’s very different to managing day to day activities. The critical thing you need to do is to take people on the journey with you. Consider these tips that will assist you as a leader in bringing people with you on the change journey. 

Change is all around us all day every day and we mainly cope with it – from the macro BREXIT, US Elections, Middle East, European/US/China trade tariffs, Irish Elections & Referenda, to more localised traffic, desks, team members, weather, illnesses, etc. – so we each can and do adapt and change daily! So, that says the base capacity is there to some extent in all of us, but the reality is much of the bigger stuff just floats past us largely unnoticed and a lot of the day to day is fleeting!

It’s only when it gets very personal and with a longer term impact that it matters enough for us to really actively tune-in. Because a job with our colleagues is where we typically spend over 1,900 hours a year and it impacts on family life also it’s very personal to us. Any change threatens the existence we know and have today – be it positively or negatively impacted, it’s still going to be different. I believe that this in part explains why the emotional and fundamental protectionist (fight / flight) reactions emerge strongly in many organisational projects and change programmes and this needs to be managed.

In my role in BDO Eaton Square, we deliver change and transformation programmes for a range of clients every month, quarter and year. Our role varies depending on the client needs and can range from being pure advisors to really actively engaging with leaders to plan, manage and own the delivery execution of aspects of a project.

We’ve gained a huge array of valuable learnings through this and from prior industry experiences and I aim to share some of that learning here. If you want to follow up with me on how we can help your business deliver successful transformations, change projects or strategic programmes then please get in touch on email, contact us via the website, or simply phone the office.

In business today, as it has been and will be for years, change is inevitable in these VUCA times (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity & Ambiguity) – a crisp short article on VUCA is on HBR and this also shows that while the catchphrase/acronym has become mainstream, it’s incredibly important to understand that the solution to each of the 4 needs to be different.

Typically, businesses have a Vision, develop a Strategy, create a Plan and Implement the strategic projects in line with that plan– processes, things, market focus, products & services, technology & systems, structures, etc. It has been very much “thing” focused and less “people” centred. In our VUCA environment, we still tend to be “thing” focused but the reality is landing now that “people” make it happen and enable the business agility to adapt and change to meet the VUCA impacts.

I describe this as we traditionally we installed changes but now ever more increasingly leaders are recognising that to get the most out of the changes they install they need to embed the change too. Embedding needs to focus on connecting with people and taking them on the emotional journey not just the practical journey that change and transformation requires. 

The difference between Installing (project delivered the outcomes and deliverables) and Embedding (project aspirations being met, embraced and exceeded) can be explained in these examples:

  • Installing a new system in a business with users trained and those users actually embracing it and driving performance with it (embedded behaviours)
  • Creating a new product and sales people selling it in to customers (installed) to the new product being everywhere with a energy and passion that drives momentum in the market that beats plans (embedded).
  • People doing their new jobs to effectively meet targets (installed), and people pushing performance to new levels at their desire(embedded).
  • Rolling out a culture and values program to everyone (installed) and people actually living those values and culture daily and challenging others to (embedded)

As you can see in these examples, the big value really only emerges when the embedding happens but all too often the effort ceases when the installation is done.

Leaders are now becoming more aware of the importance of focusing on people, not just processes when leading teams through times of change – and using metrics to record productivity, change impact, team mood, profitability and customer satisfaction not just project delivery. 

I see Irish Leaders learning (often repeatedly!) this lesson the hard way from bitter experience or from frustration with expectations not being really met on previous change / innovation / technology / etc programmes. As a consequence, I am now getting more requests for support from organisations who are trying to strengthen their investment in the toolkit that their leaders need to turn potential barriers into opportunities.

My 7 Tips to leading change and transformation

Tip 1 – be authentic and inspire

Face the challenge and be yourself about it. Your team will smell anything other than the truth and it will damage if not obliterate everything else you say. Have the courage to face the challenges – don’t ignore the bad news elephant in the room, as they will see it or imagine it. If you can rule out certain bad outcomes (e.g. job losses, plant closures, etc.) then do that quickly, Be clear on what the challenges are, why that’s not sustainable, and what needs to happen now as change is needed now.  Calmly delivered in your own style with empathy so that everyone can see a clear path forward. You and your message need to inspire momentum and positivity / ‘can do’ (even if this takes time to really get moving).

Tip 2 – Minimise surprise if you can.

Many people think Change Management kicks in on the day of the big announcement – it often does but it shouldn’t if it can be avoided! Seed underlying the challenge / issues messages in well in advance to prepare the ground for change.

This isn’t always possible, but when it is, consider ‘seeding’.

Tip 3 – Know what matters to your people and leverage this for you and them!

Motivation ignites change and will drive your organisation to success. Without strong motivation any change programme is unlikely to really get off the ground. You may install the change but it will never truly embed so the results will be sub-optimal at best.

Oh and we’re all different – so it’s not one approach for everyone. Pragmatic reality does kick in though and you can’t deliver positive utopian outcomes on everything for everyone but at least if you can appeal to many it does ease the change journey. Identify as many material pain points (material to them not the business!) that you can address with this change and explicitly engage teams on this.

Tip 4 – Listen to your People.

You need to connect with your people and take them on the emotional journey that change and transformation implies. You cannot do this if you treat it as a once off task that just needs to be done or if you’ve never done any engagement before this – they’ll sense it’s just a charade! If this is the case, then you need to enlist trusted support from other leaders who have this credibility and you join them. Your senior managers may be the perfect ally for you!

You need to know how your employees are feeling during uncertainty by listening so have in place the opportunity for feedback, staff engagements, group talks, manager 1-2-1’s, email, instant messenger, etc and give them the confidence to professionally voice what is important to them without reprisal or judgement if it’s clumsy.

Listen to your team’s concerns on the changes happening around and to them, ask them questions, engage them in the HOW they are going to achieve change, inspire and empower your team to take positive action to make the change happen at pace.

Tip 5 – Be agile, adapt the plan if it’s the right thing to do.

Don’t get emotionally locked into an immovable plan – be focused on the outcome of successfully delivering a transformation for the business not on getting the plan ticked off. If you can deliver a better result 2 weeks later, you have a duty to consider this. I stress this emotional lock-in and some dates can’t be physically changed (e.g. Bank Holidays, Christmas, Easter, Customer Trade Shows, Global Trade Conferences (eg Mobile World), fiscal year ends, etc.) but many other dates are purely emotional – ‘we said we’d do it then so I want it then!’ Always ask yourself it the drop-dead date is real or emotional and then ensure you deliver the optimum outcome for the optimum date.

Tip 6 – Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.

You need a plan for high-impact tailored communications delivered with impact so that your core message is delivered repeatedly and becomes well understood in the organisation – what is happening, why it is happening and their roles in the change. Tailored communications to each group is key but the core message stays the same – one single core truth always.

Tip 7 – Ask for support as you probably don’t know everything or haven’t got the bandwidth to do it all confidentially while running your business.

Many of our clients ask us for some guidance and to be a trusted Business Advisor to them. After this initial conversation they decide how much or how little they can do in house themselves and what they want our support on. With BDO Eaton Square, our approach is to:

  1. Always to deliver the agreed client outcome with minimum usage of our resources to optimise your investment.
  2. Tailor our methodology to the clients project, needs (and budget if needed)
  3. Use Senior resources for best outcomes. we don’t flood projects with junior resources, you will get senior resources to do work as they get it just get it done better and quicker. Using lots of juniors is false economy for a client and we’ve proven that over and over again.
  4. Agree our role and costs up front – no surprises.

If you don’t want to talk to myself or the team, do still consider talking to someone you trust with real experience in delivering and embedding real business change of various scales before you find you have a problem!

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