By Sean Riordan
Change can scare an organisation of any size. Teams get stuck in their ways; what appears to be a herculean effort can seem greater than the benefits that would be realised; many might have experienced change programmes in the past that have veered of course, went stagnant, or halted altogether – fuelling their fear of change.
I enjoy the challenge of partnering with organisations often steeped in old ways of working as they undertake ambitious digital transformation programmes. Working primarily in the private equity market I see portfolio companies that are challenged with value realisation goals, post-merger integrations, or leadership shifts that demand a thoughtful approach to programme implementation. Through our extensive consulting experience designing and implementing many change programmes for our clients, we have established five best practices for undergoing successful digital change.
1. Understand the objective and right-size the solution
More often than not, the genesis for change is unlocking growth. This could be through internationalisation, rethinking the customer journey, or by increasing efficiencies – to name a few strategies. In our experience, when firms consider growth strategies, they either think too big or much too small. For example, they might engage a partner to refresh of their homepage, ignoring the bigger picture shift of the entire marketplace away from their core offering; or they throw the baby out with the bathwater by trying to rebuild their entire sales and marketing platform when minor process implementations will do.
Without a rock-solid vision to refer back to, transformation programmes can meander into nothing. To ensure objectives are met, all teams must be aligned from the beginning on what they hope to achieve, how they intend to reach their goals, and how they’ll measure success.
2. Identify what success looks like
Innovation in a silo won’t get far. Change begins with an individual or team that will champion the effort. Said champion understands the value of the shift for the team or organisation, but can advocate on its behalf past internal and external hurdles to bring the project to fruition.
To propagate the programme requires a core team that has deep knowledge of the processes that power their organisation and industry.
Digital programmes in regulated sectors, such as life sciences or the public sector, for example, will face heightened legal and regulatory scrutiny. In smaller organisations, input from a select few executives can dominate company-wide decision making. Rather than a change team disappearing until a big reveal, embrace potential blockers and bring those people into the co-creation process early and often. Spending time to educate broader stakeholder group will spread the ownership of the program, but can likely reduce go/no-go headaches later down the line.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to change – but considerations of the decision making process within a team is system are crucial for bringing an entire organisation along on the journey.
3. Take a systems-thinking approach to integration
As self-driving cars emerge from test tracks onto the highway, auto manufacturers are full-steam ahead to build their next generation of vehicles. The benefits are obvious – free time given back to drivers, potentially fewer accidents too. But, how do dense urban areas, highway networks, and other traffic infrastructure which have been designed for traditional car-and-driver use, absorb the new innovation?
The impact of introducing new products or services will vary: a shift in production speed, eliminated wasted time or costs, or generating a wealth of new data to improve decision making. Being blinded by a new approach’s top-level benefits without planning for how they ripple across an organisation’s operations, may cause it to fall flat in the long term or risk users not adopting it.
For example, a new case management tool allows a service team to process a higher volume of service requests in less time. Are measures being taken to either increase the volume of cases for the existing team? Or is the organisation prepared to reduce or redistribute that team’s headcount in the light of new efficiencies? A savvy change management team will think about the broader system to design for the operational and cultural implications of a new product or service.
4. Practice governance
Let’s be honest, for most programme management isn’t the most exciting part of a project – to many it’s a necessary evil seen as burdensome admin. At a baseline, governance keeps trains on time and the project within budget and resource, but when efficient, digitally-forward governance is put in place, it can up-level the entire team’s ability to deliver their best work.
The key word here is efficient; an exhaustive 90 minute all-team once a week may cause a progress to stale in the interim, instead why not daily stand-ups within each team to overcome blockers or tackle group decisions on the spot. The depth of a programme plan should be reflective of the scale of the project and built in a tool that isn’t onerous to maintain. Reporting too should be nimble and adapt to the audience – would a bulleted email prove more effective than a multi-tab excel report? We find the best evidence of effective programme governance is when you see it copied by other teams. The key is finding the balance between strenuous and effective.
5. Give yourself space to fail (and learn)
Finally, acknowledging that things don’t always go as planned – but designing programmes to mitigate the impact of missteps, will ensure that hiccups don’t sour the entire effort. Palladium favours an agile methodology; structuring our work in manageable sprints, prioritising and estimating tasks as a team, and adjusting plans in-flight keeps projects adapting to changing conditions. Pressure testing new tools or ways of working through pilots is a small step towards building an innovation and change-friendly culture, enabling teams to demonstrate results in safe environments before investing further. If an organisation that demonises failure, the willingness to adopt change will disappear.
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