A Successful Change Programme is…

At The Change Maker Group we often encounter organisations with a change programme built around a strong “make your numbers” culture whether the targets are increased sales and profits or X% cost reduction over a period, Y% customer of customer queries resolved first time or something else. Attention is paid to “What?” but insufficient to the “How?” The old adage that people create success is often forgotten. Many leaders are under pressure to get immediate results and are not accommodated for the time change takes to be successful.  At The Change Maker Group we can help by creating Change Makers who are enabling change through people and by measuring your transformation in real time. Monitoring change success is critical.

“People Do Not Resist Change. Companies Do”

My approach has been informed by a couple of thought provoking ideas.  One was a remarkable Linked In article by Paul Cobban, Chief Transformation Officer at DBS Bank and an Industry Fellow at MIT. The other is The Change Maker Group’s new solution to help organisations measure change.  They are not connected but made me think twice causing me to have  new perspectives on change and monitoring success,  and its impact:-

Cobban’s article starts with this image and the title “The Fight Against Corporate Inertia” The provocative opening reads, “People do not resist change. Companies do”

A company is nothing more than a social construct. Organisations keep going by standard processes to drive productivity and policies to guide people, making sure they don’t cross too many lines.  But development is driven by human beings – and all too often people design for inertia.

Higher performance targets are set each year.  The default mechanism is to work harder rather than to change the way we work. Cobban suggests that to drive improvement in this environment is to push against the very fabric of the organisation. Brute force is destined for failure, so aptly illustrated in Cobban’s graphic above. I would argue that sometimes capitulation has the same outcome as well, so there is a need for balance.

Cobban suggests leaders need to become the enemy of the status quo and create an expectation and culture of improvement so it becomes a corporate norm. He offers three essential focus areas:-

  1. Create an expectation to improve.

In a Japanese manufacturing plant Cobban was escorted by a Sensei (quality guru) who screamed at a supervisor. He had not updated his work and had found no improvements on how to do the job.  The Sensei said there were two important questions:-

“How are you performing to standard”

And “What experiments have you run to move to your target state?”  

The message, Cobban says, is people should be rewarded for improving how a job is done, not just for performing it.

  1. Create the bandwidth for change and then move to BAU

Cobban recalls the poor levels of customer service in his own workplace and the negative fall-out from it. His team set up (PIE’s) Process Improvement Events and the results were communicated to the top of the organisation. Cobban recounts the large number of events they ran and the number of improvements achieved.  These he says, were episodic not continuous. The process took many months but with patience the results were outstanding.

I love this approach because it reminds us that there is a need to be brave and appreciate that change takes time.

  1. Create a safe environment for change

Even the most empowered teams can hit a brick wall. Cobban speaks of mechanisms put in place to challenge safely and putting the right people in the right teams.  He set up a Kiasu Committee (a Singaporean term that refers to missing out by being too conservative) insisting on improvements. Change and challenge became a stimulating and democratic environment for his teams because they were encouraged rather than left to feel daunted by the tasks ahead.

The Cobban article made me reflect on how we help teams bring in new ideas and deal early with challenges.  You can read about these in many other articles on our website.

Measuring Change – Leading and Lagging Indicators

In most cases, change programmes, training and coaching are measured by the end results.  Costs reduced by 10%, Headcount reduced by 20%, Sales up 15% profits and market share up by Y% etc. These are all admirable but they are all “lagging” indicators. When you know them it’s too late. It’s a case of either “mission accomplished” or “mission not as good as expected”.  Worse still “our people didn’t like it and we stopped.” What a waste of time!  Underperformance on a change programme can have dire results.

Industry, commerce and the public sector are littered with stories about change programmes where high expectations were thwarted by below par responses. Teams misunderstood the change programme, resisted it or over complicated it.   Leaders have in one way or another backed off. Few admit that the initiative failed – it is not psychologically safe to talk about it. Everyone struggles to work harder to achieve bigger numbers. Soon the capacity to perform can stretch no further leading to stress, burn out and loss of talent.

Identify the Leading Indicators

A lot of this can be avoided in the first place. By identifying not just the lagging indicators but also the “leading” indicators you can assess early and see if your change journey will have the anticipated productive ending. Even if the leading indicators might include a monitoring of people’s attitudes and behaviours in the way they approach change, these can still be measured.  Every change programme requires people to bring their energy and their competence as well as their ability and desire to embrace something different and try it.

As a part of our programme we call The Change Maker we launched a scoring system for managing change projects (The Change Maker 5×5) to enable change teams to assess leading indicators in any change programme.  Monitoring change success is built in. It is based on five change making proclivities (Game Changer, Strategist, Implementer, Polisher and Play Maker).  Plus the way the change is given five focuses of attention that we call DELTA (Diagnose, Engage, Lead, Transform, Accelerate).  It identifies early where aspects of the change programme are embraced and where elements are stalling. Thus enabling a coach to work with individuals and the team to put things right early and keep the programme on course.

Conclusion – Monitoring Change Success

Everyone talks about change and everyone agrees change is an integral part of our lives. Until recently, insufficient attention has been paid to the preparation for and progress of change programmes. When they are 100% successful they are happily accepted. People just move on to the next project. When the programmes don’t deliver people don’t want to be associated with a failure and leaders sometimes find it easier to back off and start again maybe with different people.

Early warnings of slippage can be detected by The Change Maker 5×5 measurement.   This makes it easy to introduce “course correction” earlier and deliver a change programme through engendering an improvement culture rather than exclusively pushing a performance culture uphill until the project can be pushed no further.

Stephen Newman is an executive coach and management consultant. Get in touch with him [email protected] or contact us.