Change management programmes fail to deliver due to a lack of clarity and conviction within the leadership team. The original ideas put forward to improve performance become lost in the miasma of short-term agendas, petty politics and stonewalling. Small wonder then that ‘change fatigue’ is a big issue for businesses as it’s easy for employees to become disillusioned when they think they’ve heard it all before.
Criticaleye spoke to a variety of business leaders to find out the three crucial areas where leaders fall down in their approach to launching a change programme.
1) No context
“The first mistake that’s so often made is not having a clear understanding of the reason for change and failing to set out some very clear goals of what you want to achieve by making a change,” says Richard Oosterom, Executive Vice-President of Group Strategy & Business Development at communications provider Colt Technology Services.
Marcus Hayes, Joint Managing Director at consultancy The Storytellers, comments: “What often happens is that the senior management, in developing the strategy for the change, spend a lot of time looking at the big picture… then they move towards the ‘how’.
“As that gets disseminated down through the organisation, the danger is the ‘why’ and ‘what’ get lost and the energy gets focused on the ‘how’. In my experience, if you give people the ability to see the context, to have an opportunity to explore why the change is taking place, not only does it provide the motivation for the ‘how’ but it also allows them to approach the change with the right mindset.”
2) Lack of engagement
Not everyone will see change as an opportunity. There will be winners and losers as roles are altered and jobs may be lost, so the pressure is on during a change programme to identify your advocates.
Thibaud de Saint-Quentin, Executive Vice President & Managing Director for EMEA at gaming concern Activision Blizzard, who came into the role in 2009 following a management reshuffle and large scale business restructuring, says: “We created a change agent network, identifying the key ambassadors for our strategy to help us drive changes throughout all levels of the organisation.”
According to Samantha Barber, Non-executive Director at electricity company Iberdrola, “your leadership team needs to identify those who are best able to be conductors for that change… those who can be pioneers in that area and encourage others. [Likewise] some people will need additional support to make that transitional move, while others will need to move on”.
Neil Wilson, CEO of recruitment consultant Stanton House, says: “Sometimes the communication isn’t as effective across the organisation as it probably needs to be. You need the line management to be absolutely engaged in what’s going on… If they’re not quite onside and they feel as though they’ve got other priorities, then of course, that’s when it all starts going wrong.”
3) Too much, too soon
The pace of change will need to be judged carefully. For Ian Stuart, Chairman of Aspen Pumps, the formula for success when he was President of the Latin American division for Black & Decker was to trial changes step by step.
“Global organisations should manage the risk by implementing changes in one place and [refine accordingly] before rolling it out,” he says. “I had about ten different companies around Latin America reporting to me and we wanted to bring in a new enterprise system…
“We took it to Argentina first and they messed it all up because they tried to change everything and make the system fit the way they operated; then we went to Colombia and learned a lot from that experience… [and] by the third one we were ready to roll it out globally.”
It’s often a case of less is more, says Samantha: “Remember, you’re not trying to change too much. Sometimes you need to go for the two or three big wins [that impact] cultural change and, if you can secure those, then other things will follow.”
This is a lesson that was learned the hard way at Colt Technology Services, where its change programme, now in year four, was intended to improve customer service, drive growth and increase efficiency. Richard explains: “We have done another strategic review in the last 12 months because we have not achieved the goals that we set out at the start of the change programme. We had too many programmes and we have been trying to do too much…
“You need to allow yourself to really focus on the things where you can make the biggest difference… and just stop doing the rest.”
The overall performance of an organisation is the best metric to use when determining whether a change programme has been a success. That said, change is not something that suddenly stops – the leadership team should always be looking at ways to disrupt the status quo and improve the business in order to drive success.
In that sense, it’s a never-ending process.
I hope to see you soon.