Five bite-sized strategy tips for sustainable change management

This morning I had the pleasure of catching up with a business friend. He runs his own PR consultancy and shared with me his desire for change. He wants to take his career in a new direction away from PR but found his efforts to make this change happen somewhat frustrating. This was encapsulated brilliantly for me when he said the following: “Johnny the PR industry is like a maze once you get into it you can’t get out of it” There was certainly an interesting conversation between us on that!

On reflection I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, I had seen it coming through talking to him over the last year. In addition we are now in December again and there is something about this time of year that makes many of us suddenly reflect on the past year and make promises of change for 2016. It did get me thinking though on how we can make business change truly sustainable. After all a return on investment in a change programme can only be fully achieved if the change introduced works. Change is one of those things that is easy to talk about but often harder to make happen. Indeed this is highlighted by the fact that many of the New Year resolutions and promises of change we make fail.

It struck me that the same is true for corporate and business change programmes. In his book called “Leading Change” Professor John Kottler from Harvard Business School revealed that nearly 70 per cent of large change management programmes do not work. How can we make our promises of change happen and succeed? Perhaps one answer to this question is we need to look at change management from a different lens than before. I believe that real change management starts well before a change programme is even started. It starts with developing an organisations readiness, capacity and capabilities for change. This thinking I have developed aligns tightly with the field of organisational development which is similar to but, crucially, not the same as change management. I believe that we should place greater focus on the intersection between change management and organisational development to drive an integrated strategic approach between them. In doing so we can make change more sustainable. We need to increasingly look at change through the lens of building the capacity and capabilities of your SME business and as a continuous cycle. Not just through the lens of just change management once a change programme starts. Below I outline my five bite-sized strategic tips for building the capacity and capabilities of your SME to make change more likely to succeed. 

Bite-sized Strategy Tip One:

Building capacity for change through strategic networking 

shutterstock_147144224If we stop and think about it the UK economy of today is a knowledge intensive economy with an increasingly growing global outlook for our SMEs. One way knowledge can be built, enhanced and developed is through networks and strategic business collaboration. Networking can happen at an individual level for all employees regardless of grade. Your SMT (Senior Management Team) should proactively encourage external networking because it indirectly aids the building of knowledge for an increasingly knowledge centric global economy. Networking at the individual level also helps develop employee interpersonal skills and confidence. Both of which are arguably soft skills that are critical for effective business change.

Strategic collaboration is a form of networking and partnership between two different organisations for a mutual benefit can also help. It can help bridge skills gaps when tendering for high value contracts. Through strategic collaboration you can benefit from a shared learning experience and developing your capacity. Strive to continually promote a strong networking and collaboration culture in your business do not be afraid to learn from others knowledge and experiences outside your sector.

Bite-sized Strategy Tip Two:

Building capacity for change through strategic training and mentoring 

shutterstock_276651980Identify skills gaps in your organisation and close these gaps through investment in training for your employees. It is not just about building capacity through up-skilling your employees on hard business skills or through qualifications. Soft interpersonal skills development and mentoring is also equally if not more important but easily overlooked today. Achieve a balanced training and development investment in developing your SME employees individually across both these areas.

If the organisational change you are planning for your SME business will require a change in behaviour from your employees or managers (and most will) it is important to recognise the limitations of training courses. What I mean by that is this if you are seeking to change employee or manager behaviour a short one or two day training course in itself will rarely achieve sustainable employee behavioural change. The reason I believe this is because as soon as the course is over there is always the temptation to go back to “old habits”. These will be stronger than the new learning or behaviours introduced in the training course. What this means in my view is that investment in a tailored ongoing individual mentoring and coaching programme after the course to support true behavioural change. The content and form of that mentoring and coaching should also be dual aligned – meaning aligned with the development needs of the individual employee and your future change management and business vision. The investment needed in this mentoring and training programme to support and enable change management can often easily be underestimated. Change in behaviour needs to be driven at micro level in the business as well as at strategic level simultaneously through both formal and informal mentoring. In reality this requires detailed and clever investment of both time and financial resource that can often be underestimated in an SME business.

Bite-sized Strategy Tip Three:

Recognise that communication and engagement are not the same  

Communication and engagementCommunication internally in an SME business is key to business development and driving employee engagement. Communication and engagement are not the same though are easily mistaken sometimes as being the same with the terms being used interchangeably. Engagement goes deeper and is more resource intensive but also more valuable. It involves getting to really know your employees, what motivates them, what drives them, how they really feel and leveraging that to get buy-in for change and through that insight achieving competitive advantage. Focus and invest in regular sustained face to face engagement ahead of business change. Sell the benefits of the change to them as individuals first and the organisation second. 

Bite-Sized Strategy Tip Four:

Continually develop the creativity and perspective of your employees

CreativityI read a book last month from Alexandra Horowitz called “On Looking Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes”. In it Alexandra talks about bias of perspective being rooted in the expertise of professionals. She demonstrated this through walking around a city with different professionals each one seen and experienced something different based on their professional and career training. For me in the context of change management and organisational development it highlighted and brought home the huge value of different professionals learning from different individual perspectives.

Developing the creative capacity of your employees as individuals is closely related to this. It can help build organisational problem solving capability during both change management and business as usual. The excuse you will commonly hear to this suggestion which is “I am not creative”. I believe we are all creative. Those who do not consider themselves to be “naturally” just need a mechanism to develop and aid development of their creativity. Three established mechanisms to develop employee creativity and help strengthen problem solving skills are brainstorming, lateral thinking and distortion. All of these techniques can be fun and through being fun help simultaneously improve workplace mood and break down silos across teams.

Google have long embraced creativity development for their employees. In their IPO letter in 2004 Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin said:

“We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.”

We do not all have to become like Google but there is increasing recognition that creativity and innovation can often happen through quiet space collaboration. We need to facilitate that process to leverage competitive advantage from it to fuel change driven by employees from the root up who are closest to the customer.

Bite-Sized Strategy Tip Five:

Don’t forget business as usual when planning a business change programme

Business as usualWhen planning a change management programme it can be easy to focus much resource on planning and managing the change programme at the SMT (Senior Management Team) level. Allocation of resource to manage change is important. However, of equal importance is the challenge of managing the normal operational day to day work of the business that generates income here and now. Ensure that your SMT (Senior Management Team) have a balanced perspective and an eye on both preparing for management of change and maintaining business as usual.