Implementing change in your organisation without risk

We work with a lot of great leaders, but even the most confident among them feel the heat when attempting to execute a serious change agenda.

What makes leading change so demanding?

From your own personal efforts to change a habit or transition from the top of the curve to the next, you know the effort and personal commitment required to make change stick. When you extend that across your organisation and through to your customers, the increased complexity of the groups combined history and entrenched views of the world makes the process much harder. At the same time, your people are instinctively assessing where they will win or lose.

Your executive team may engage and debate the direction you want to take, but it’s easy to confuse agreement and head nodding with a commitment to take the action that delivers real change. If you have good people in your organisation, the chances are they aren’t willing to adapt to every new initiative that comes along.

The pace of change can also be frustrating and non-linear. People need time to absorb what it means for them personally. Teams need additional time to plan how supporting processes, tools, behaviours and culture align to ensure change is embedded.

Let’s assume you have mastered the basics. You have a strategy that tackles key pain points, shaped a vision through consultative engagement, people you trust lead the change and you’ve defined the metrics that will determine success.

These are all essential ingredients, but not a guarantee for success. As you’ll see from the two stories we selected, even with a focus on driving change and some basic principles in place, things can still go wrong.

We have a problem in Houston

We arrived in Houston in the middle of summer. The first mistake was venturing out on foot. Sidewalks often stop for no reason and crossing a parking lot can feel like crossing a desert.

We were implementing a new system and thought most of the challenging engagement work was behind us. We were starting testing when someone had said, ‘you should reach out to the team in Houston’.

We discovered they only had a team of 25, but importantly a team that would be responsible for 95% of all transactions and the majority of data input for the next year. With tight timeframes, the design team had focused on future state, so we had a patchy view of what really happened today. The reality was that this small team was critical to the current stage of the process, but was not a part of the future state vision, hence their limited involvement.

The agenda for the meeting in Houston was to outline the six-week schedule to go live and get commitment for testing. The response we got from a team that had no input to the scope or design was rather abrupt.

In the end, the IT team had to build additional infrastructure and migrate an extra 100,000 documents to ensure that the implementation didn’t cause massive disruption across the organisation in the medium term. The project not only blew out the budget, it was delivered 6 months later than planned.

What was the cost of overlooking a small middle office team that was going to be a phased out in 18 months time? Two of your scarcest resources – time and money.

We’re shutting it down

We were asked to look at the health of a joint venture of two financial firms. The risks posing a threat to the success of the change were flagged to the executive team – culture and leadership. Because both organisations were steeped in years of service guided by the principle of ‘client first’, the leadership team viewed these as internal issues and low risk.

We spent some month’s road showing a combined set of business and leadership principles, including the need to lead by example, and that’s just what happened.

Shortly after the launch of the new business model in the largest division, one of the smaller offices walked out. The media took hold of the story reporting rumours of two other offices at the door. The Chairman took matters into his own hands. He decided the firm’s reputation was at risk, called an ad hoc meeting and announced there would be no new financial model or change to the reward structure, and that the new business model was merely a guide. The CEO was forced to stand in the shadows and watch.

If key metrics rather than instinct had been applied in that pivotal moment, they would have discovered that they were only halfway towards achieving the target size of the new enterprise in line with their strategy – a strategy that depended on voluntary attrition.

But that wasn’t the real price paid. How does one value the cost of leadership that is undermined?

What’s the true cost of getting change wrong?

The senior sponsors in both cases underestimated the complexity of the change and the need to honour a process. They ignored key transition activities, didn’t take the time to consider potential change risks and were unable to hold steady in the storm. Ultimately, they paid a price.

How do you implement change in your organisation? Do you expect your CIO, head of people or project management officer to have the capacity and skill set to anticipate and act upon potential change risks? Do you seek an independent perspective or regularly monitor the health of the change itself to ensure you haven’t missed something that could de-rail the process?

When the cost of change to your organisation, your team and your own legacy is potentially so high, it might be time to take a fresh perspective and re-evaluate the cost of getting it wrong.

Written by Tiffany Jones and Adam Sanford.

Tiffany is a master speaker for The Executive Connection, with twenty years of experience advising institutions and family offices in the art of leading with confidence and building momentum. Adam is a strategic change advisor, with significant experience leading complex, large-scale transformation programs.

Adam and Tiffany work at Momentum Advisory Group, an advisory boutique aimed at helping individuals, teams and families in business to lead with confidence.