April 2, 2019 | Change Management, Continuous Improvement, Process Management, Transformations

Everybody is talking about transformation these days! Whether your company is starting the process, in the middle of a significant change or concluding a big milestone it’s happening all around.

Companies are living organisms that need to adjust to the influencing factors around them for survival. In an age of mobile phone access to services and products, the pressure is on to provide immediate and efficient consumer value. I set out on a year-long journey to talk to senior executives and industry professionals across a wide range of companies and fields to explore what transformation means to them.

Let’s get to the good stuff. Here are the takeaways for transformation success:

1. Big Bang and Continuous Improvement are Cousins

Big bang comes in with the hammer to implement new software, processes, organizational structure and policy, while Continuous Improvement (CI) makes it all FIT together. They need each other as CI can only move in small increments, installing signposts and painting laneways, while Big Bang has the heavy machinery to build brand-new highways.

Regarding CI: Asking staff to make microchanges from the corner of their desks doesn’t provide substantive value. Working on the urgent before important for later on…never really happens. It’s a hard mindset to switch between operational and improvement. Great ideas are blindly added to a backlog with no time to implement the change. To make it stick, block off a few days a quarter and dedicate them to CI working days (bring whiteboards, laptops, music and snacks). Alternatively, dedicated CI teams (SWOT teams) are very powerful. They focus on the efficiency of how the service delivers (i.e. time, cost, resources, processes, quality) and the effectiveness that the outcomes are producing organizational and consumer value.

2. Make the Cut

Don’t hesitate to make the bold cut to process, technology and people if something is not working. Delaying the inevitable can be a slow and painful process of finger-pointing, soft restructuring, introducing barely improved products, and staff turnover followed by collapse. Fail fast to enable a strong course correction.

Regarding the staff: Serve the people and enable them to lead the change; however, the focus is on the success of the company providing value-added services. Despite this, the service may be losing or has lost its value, making it an essential cut. Before making the cut to staff remember knowledge of company culture, mission and values is invaluable. Retain and retrain are more cost-effective than net new hires. Letting knowledgeable staff go is money walking out the door. Repurpose them in spots where they can be part of bringing new value to the company. Not an easy path to follow from a staff retention perspective, but a large percentage of people will be amenable if they feel valued and part of the future.

3. Installing Software is Not a Success

We purchase software to enable outcomes. I get it. There is a lot of energy, excitement and momentum created with design, communications, testing, pre-production, training users and the big “Go Live” date. Stay focused, as this is just the beginning of the journey. It’s all about the capabilities and the value produced as a result of leveraging this new technology.

Keep the original business plan from a technology purchase handy one year after implementation and evaluate. What percentage of the organization has adopted the new technology? Are they using all or part of the system’s capabilities? Are they implementing new learnings (automation and process simplification) as a result of higher learning on these teams? How do users measure success? How do the decision-makers measure success?

4. Gotta Keep Your Mindset Right

The change of mindset from status quo -> to challenging comfort -> to struggle through change -> to success is a lengthy journey if not focused on the end game. One can’t have a mindset of success alone; it needs to spread through the organization in an intentional way. Mindset and value have to be one and the same for the message to resonate. Your change management strategy consisting of frequent communications, training, and opportunity to hear voices, needs to be omnipresent before, during, and after the change. Complaints are an asset. A mindset of challenging existing processes, technologies and policies every day will bring about the right energy to keep the ship moving forward through rough waters.

Complaints are an asset

5. Check Emotions at the Door

You absolutely cannot have any untouchable processes, tools or teams that go without periodic re-evaluation. A lot of time, energy and years of work went into the capabilities already built. It’s a wonderful feeling to be very strong in a well-organized team who has been doing the same work in the same way for several years. Even harder to re-evaluate a service or team if it is currently producing a lot of money! However, time waits for no one; your competitors are in their dorm rooms designing the next Facebook. Come into work every day asking, ‘Are there any ways we can make improvements to our work?’

Staff need to feel safe to take risks and disrupt the norm

Here are a few leading indicators to know if your business function will be valuable post-transformation:

  1. Are users willingly adopting? (if not, the WIIFM value is misunderstood)
  2. Do users learn once without retraining? (if not, it’s not easy enough to use)
  3. Has the business function noticeably improved? (if not, complaints haven’t been treated as assets)
  4. Is it quicker or easier to produce a product than several years ago? (if not, the service should be evaluated for continuous improvement opportunities)

6. If the project is part agile and part waterfall, Embrace it!

There are many best practices in both styles that can be leveraged at key parts to move the project along. The overarching project can have a waterfall implementation schedule; however, how some deliverables come together can be agile. Micro apps, manuals, lunch-and-learn training sessions, information-gathering workshops, or even system configuration spreadsheets can be timeboxed activities. These types of activities can be executed as agile and allow for multiple test cycles within the same range of time as if done through a waterfall method. The trade-off is a higher degree of requirements implemented in the design.

The people will fall into one of two camps; the disciplined waterfall soldiers or the refine as we go agile ninjas. The waterfall soldiers will bark and feel confused in an “unstructured” agile style. The agile ninjas will feel their creativity boxed into a singular design-test-implement waterfall style.

As the leader, it can be a daunting team to manage as you can easily be considered too ridged for some or too lax for others. Stay the middle line, value all expertise and support outcomes. If you tow that middle line, you will be their Khaleesi, holding the respect and allegiance of two separate armies.

7. Deeply Integrate Teams Across Business Lines

Real gold is available when teams get deep into each other’s ways of working. Whether this is learning handy tricks using Excel, gaining insights on employee perks you didn’t know existed, sharing each other’s techniques for processing data, leveraging a team’s purchased software, or even repurposing each other’s snazzy PowerPoint slide designs. The fact is several lines of business work together as a value stream to produce outcomes. Yes, filling in forms, submitting documents and attending intake review meetings may be a norm. The real gold is in the appreciation of what goes on when we submit work to another team to process. This insight into the work our partners do leads to a treasure trove of efficiencies. Break down the silos.

Many teams don’t know how business works in other departments.

Some organizations foster this by allowing key staff to move around to various lines of business. Whether the learnings can be built upon or shared across teams is then left to the leadership style of the individual. Sharing needs to exist with frontline, middle management and senior level staff for meaningful learnings to really sink in. Start with partnerships, then grow to a network of deeply integrated lines of business.


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