The 2020s have brought uncertainty, change and challenge to many organisations. Carolyn Hicks explains why it’s essential to stay co-ordinated and put the right enablers in place in times of change and transformation.

We know that what sets a successful business apart is mastery of agility, resilience, and cost-base (ARC), and getting the balance right across these three elements. This balance varies across organisations, depending on a number of factors including the operating model, risk appetite, and financial position.

As we continue to explore how organisations strike a balance between agility, resilience and cost, we know those with built-in agility can adapt more easily to developing circumstances and challenges. Throughout the pandemic, the ability to pivot, make changes and embrace new business models, channels and ways of working helped businesses survive, thrive even, in the face of unprecedented circumstances.

Leadership and culture drive change

What binds these agile organisations together is the spirit and action of the leadership. They're aligned in their vision, brave enough to try to something new, and have a desire for change. They have clarity on how they need to balance ARC in their organisation, making difficult trade-offs as necessary and testing these trade-offs, tweaking as necessary as market changes change necessitate. The role of leaders in the agility of an organisation can't be underestimated. They set the tone and shape the culture. And when the culture says that it’s okay to try, test, learn – and fail – this breeds a confidence to push the boundaries of change and really make a difference – testing the balance and pulling levers across agility, resilience, and cost base until the optimum solution, at least for now, is reached.

Aligning individual views, challenges and motivations across complex organisations is no easy task. But it's an essential step, and indeed an ongoing activity, if change or a broader transformation is to succeed. This alignment needs to permeate the rest of the organisation. Every organisation has a culture – recognised it or not, carefully curated or not. Culture is shaped by everyday behaviours, conversations, and attitudes as well as more fundamental areas, such as an organisation’s purpose and employee value proposition.

Businesses that thrive have leaders that pay attention to culture. They hire appropriately and use interventions deliberately to reinforce the culture. They're clear what their culture is, why it's important and how it engenders success. Even if they never use the word culture.

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Setting up a transformation programme for success

Successful business transformation is about proactively delivering strategic outcomes, such as: 

  • improving performance, including profitability
  • creating competitive advantage in chosen markets
  • making your business more attractive to your customers, potential investors, and talent
  • strengthening enterprise resilience and building a basis for continual improvement.

To deliver on your goals effectively, you need the right infrastructure to execute and manage change.  The ARC principle still applies in this context. Setting this up, in the case of large transformations as a temporary, agile team, including permanent programme roles, part-time subject matter experts and third-party advisors, as well as appropriate processes, tools, governance and ways of working.  Taking time to design this infrastructure carefully at the outset can  save time and money in the long run, ensuring the right foundations are in place and in particular ensuring it has the right levels of controls in place to maintain the resilience not only of the programme but the wider business as change is deployed. Establishing the engine room of the transformation, AKA your transformation management office and the supporting enabling functions – people change management, programme management, business architecture, operating model design, and benefits tracking – will be key. Almost every programme will have these elements, but it's how you execute across these areas that counts. Alignment, collaboration, and agility are essential. Being part of a much wider ecosystem makes alignment and breaking down silos paramount in reaching your desired outcomes.

For example, people – and the impacts of business transformation on people – isn't simply the domain of the people change management team. Change here also affects the operating model design team, the business architecture team, and others. Proactively putting people at the heart of your approach and tapping into their natural motivations for change helps create a pull for the change rather than a push. Alignment and collaboration across enabling functions supports the sustainability of the change and allows for fuller realisation of benefits.

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Getting a failing transformation back on track

What if you are part way through your transformation and it’s not going to plan? Spotting the early signs of issues and acting on them is the first step to getting your transformation plans back on track. This isn't unusual, and many programmes face bumps in the road, the key is to understand the root causes and tackle them proactively. If you're facing into this, a pragmatic next step is to do a health check on your overall programme. Assessment needs to look both inside the programme itself and out into the business where the change will be felt, and provide a clear understanding what's working well and what needs to improve. A holistic review should include the following actions and review points:

  • Assess alignment to the vision across the leadership to ensure everyone is crystal clear on the direction including where that balance lies between agility, resilience, and cost base
  • Workstream lead and transformation enabling functions one-to-ones – to get a view from the inside as to what is working, or otherwise, in the programme
  • Sponsor and key business stakeholder one-to-ones – to get an outside-in view from the business perspective
  • Colleague focus groups – to get a view on how colleagues are feeling and where areas of change or support are needed
  • Observe lived experiences and everyday practices by attending a selection of programme meetings
  • Review key programme documents

So, be bold, be brave, get aligned behind ARC.

For more information or advice on business transformation and change, contact Carolyn Hicks.