Posted: Tue 14th Sep 2021
Having delivered business transformation projects over many years, I’ve become increasingly convinced that it not only matters what we achieve but also how we get there.
My business specialises in delivering operational change, focusing on ways in which we can empower your people, processes and performance. I call this responsible change.
In this article, I’ll outline what this means and why it’s important.
What do we mean by responsible change?
Responsible change is about delivering excellent results through transformation while managing the impacts of change well. So what does that actually look like in practice?
In my experience, both the process and the results of change can open up new opportunities. Through change programmes, I have seen people gain skills, grow in confidence, have a voice and ultimately deliver more value to customers in improved ways.
However, I recognise that the process of change can also be traumatic, so it’s important to find ways to minimise the harm that change programmes can cause.
Throughout the lifetime of any business, there will be periods of great adjustment – from introducing new software to wide-ranging shifts in business culture and direction. Change is a fact of (business) life so it’s vital that we take it seriously, seize the opportunity to create better businesses and also to handle the process with care.
Here are my top tips for delivering effective change, responsibly.
Share responsibility for leading change
Effective leadership involves rethinking who should be powerful in defining and driving change. Your team is full of specialists, each one with valuable insight into their particular group of customers and the highest chance of knowing how to meet their needs.
Responsible change involves giving your people the opportunity to get involved in change, make decisions and have a hand in shaping outcomes.
As their leader, you will need to use your influence to motivate, grow confidence, build skills and encourage boldness.
Are there ways in which your people could take the lead in designing their own solutions?
Replace communication with involvement
Whatever your change initiative, you will need to communicate extensively, start early and continue throughout and beyond the course of any project. People are interested in what your project involves and what challenges you’re grappling with, so your messages should be open and authentic.
However, even responsible and extensive communication doesn’t equal buy-in – communication is just the starting point for inviting and encouraging involvement.
Give your employees, customers, partners and suppliers the opportunity to have a true stake in the project, freedom to speak up and confidence that anything they share will be taken seriously.
Involving people deeply in the project makes them responsible for considering the impact of any changes on their own ways of working. In turn, this will increase the likelihood of change success.
Is your change programme getting the best value from your stakeholders?
This involves giving your people the freedom to challenge, play, push boundaries and make mistakes in the pursuit of better results.
I believe that our role – as managers and business leaders – is to encourage people to imagine radically different futures. But we also need to give them the freedom, support, time, space or whatever else it takes to figure out the solutions to build these futures.
There will be some mistakes made along the way, but let’s embrace these as progress towards a brighter future and as opportunities to learn.
Are you encouraging your people to be playful – and are you prepared to tolerate messy progress?
Protect what is most precious
People have a remarkable ability to adapt, but not everyone does this in the same way or at the same pace.
Protecting what is most precious starts with recognising that your change programme might well be incredibly hard on your people. You will need to invest the time and effort to understand how different people will be affected by change. Once you understand this, do whatever you can to remove obstacles, reduce workload, avoid stress and bolster resilience.
What could you start – or stop – doing in order to support your people through change?
Consider all types of risk
It’s vital to understand the full breadth of ways that your change programme could impact people inside and outside the organisation, on society and on the planet.
Understanding all of the areas of risk of your project is just the starting point – managing risks effectively needs to be front and centre of your project at all stages. You will need to keep a close eye on risks and manage these before they become actual issues.
Are you concerned enough about the potential impacts of your change project?
Monitor what matters
In order to understand what is working (or not) and to increase the likelihood of your project succeeding, you will need to monitor the performance of your change project. Use measures that are both relevant to your project goals and meaningful to everyone involved in the project.
It’s critical to find simple but insightful ways of measuring and sharing performance. Transparency will help with managing expectations and may even encourage people within your business to bring fresh thinking to project challenges.
Is your project performance giving the right message?
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