Four ways to improve the success of change transformations

22 January 2020 5 min. read
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Over half of large-scale business transformations fail to meet their goals. According to consulting firm Quintop, if firms are to change this in today’s fast-paced digital world, transformations need to be dealt with in a more agile and hybrid way than they have been historically.

During today’s turbulent political and economic times, many sectors and industries are going through fundamental and on-going change in order to stay ahead of the competition. Successfully implementing and embedding transformation is no easy feat, however.  For one example, as it stands, less than three-in-ten European businesses have managed to significantly digitise their business models, processes, products and services.

In line with this, consulting firms are increasingly being tasked with helping their clients find the best practices for their own business transformations. Linda Elfrink and Anouk den Ouden, change consultants from HR consultancy Quintop, spoke to to outline four essential methods of navigating a business-wide change project.Four ways to improve the success of change transformations

Understanding the problem

In the heat of the moment, organisations typically dive into solution-mode when they think something is an issue. But research has shown that in the preparation phase, it is critical to dig deep and first really grasp the actual needs and problems.

When starting a transformation project, it is important to consider methods such as design thinking, in order to make sure there is a direct business need addressed by such change, rather than falling into the trap of transforming for the sake of it. Lean start-up provides a good example of this, as they look to find and validate an actual problem that needs to be solved, instead of holding on to prior assumptions of what problems a business should have.

Sense of urgency

Without establishing a feeling in the company that change is necessary sooner, rather than later, people from top-to-bottom may well drag their feet on the matter. By creating a sense of urgency and convincing every one of the need for change, it accelerates the drive to enact the change, while also helping to set a clear vision, direction and outcome.

This urgency must be felt from leaders all the way down to professionals on the work floor. Elfrink explained that this means a firm must be agile enough for its different levels of staff to send feedback and guidance back and forth.

 Elfrink: “The biggest weakness of Kotter’s well-known 8-step model for transforming organisations is its inevitable inflexibility. As a result, organisations will fail to adapt to the fast pace of change they have to cope with. Moreover, its top-down style runs the risk to turn off employees by simply telling them what to do. It is of great importance to involve employees as soon as possible to enhance their engagement and limit resistance.”

A fluid approach

Leading on from this, a fluid approach to change is essential. Organisations and their leaders need to respond to continuous change, so managing transformation with fixed project plans and traditional hierarchies will therefore not work.

Instead, den Ouden elaborated, what is needed is “a dot on the horizon,” or an underlying strategy with a distinct end-goal. The process to reach that point can only emerge “as you go,” and for many organisations this means a shift in mind-set and behaviour is required. Without adapting to new behaviours, any other element of a transformation “will fail to deliver.”

But how can organisations achieve this ‘inner’ shift? According to Quintop, one practical and proven guide to change mind-sets and behaviours comes from McKinsey & Company, which has defined four key building blocks. First, employees must see leaders and colleagues lead by example in adopting “the new way.” Second, employees need to have a certain degree of understanding and belief in the change.

Third, employees need to be equipped with the right skill set and feel confident to behave in the new way. Finally, organisations must correctly reinforce changes through formal mechanisms.

Hybrid approach

To be efficient and effective, and successfully deal with the ‘unknown’, today’s organizations adopt approaches relying on the agile philosophy. Originally stemming from the world of IT, Agile was born at the turn of the century as a reaction to the slow, bureaucratic and sequential waterfall method of software development. As a result of its success, Agile’s values and principles have expanded into other industries and functions, and today the methodology – together with numerous approaches developed in its slipstream including Scrum, Kanban, SAFe, LeSS and the Spotify model – is applied in most of the globe’s larger organisations.

“Adopting agile elements into a change approach will achieve significant results,” said Anouk. “Working in sprints with multidisciplinary teams accelerates delivery, decreases response time and increases overall adaptability.”

Anouk concluded, “In practice, many times a hybrid approach is the optimal way. This means leveraging on the best practices from traditional models and enriching these with elements of agile ways of working and lean. Applying a hybrid model ensures that a change or transformation manager creates the project plan according to the classical waterfall method (ensuring clarity over scope and phases), whereas the execution and delivery is based on the agile way of working.”