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Leading change

Curium Solutions

This article is part of the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce’s Raise the BAR (Business Adaptability & Resilience) Campaign, sponsored by Western Union Business Solutions. For more campaign content click here. This campaign provides Chamber members with a platform to share learning and inspiration on this agenda. All views and opinions expressed below are those of the author only. 

By Andy Dawson, Director & Co-Founder, Curium Solutions

As part of GBCC’s Raise the BAR campaign, Curium Solutions’ Andy Dawson argues that leadership is the essential ingredient for successful transformation.

Brace yourselves. Here are just some of the challenges facing today’s organisations: competition, disruption, Brexit, cyber-attacks, cash-strapped consumers, global economics, climate change, talent mobility, artificial intelligence and automation.

It’s a bumpy time to be in business, but those best placed to change at pace will come out ahead. Unfortunately, research shows that up to 70% of transformations fail. Contributing factors include insufficiently high aspirations, lack of engagement within the organisation and insufficient investment in building capabilities across the organisation to sustain the change.i

If, as some economists think, we are heading into recession, it’s more important than ever that companies improve their chances of delivering successful change. Here’s how.

In our change survey, we asked respondents to say which three factors they consider most important to achieving lasting and effective change. They are:

  1. Strong direction and leadership
  2. Organisational culture
  3. Buy-in from the senior team and managers

Strong direction and leadership are about establishing a compelling vision and then setting the direction for how this vision will be achieved. It doesn’t stop there; the CEO and executive team need to stay close to their vision and how it is being perceived.

Having the right mentality instilled from the outset in all groups affected by change is vital. In my experience, organisations where the executive team understand their role in delivering change are much more likely to implement their strategy and realise benefits.

They take time to understand what the change means to them and to their people, they explore what mindset shifts are needed and they actively model the desired behaviours.

Change only happens when people do something different to what they were doing before. That sounds obvious but most projects stop at the point of implementing a new system or process, not the point at which people are behaving in the required way.

While the CEO and executive team have an accountability to set the vision and cultural direction for change, the day-to-day leadership of change delivery most often falls to the senior team who report into them.

The challenge is to have these leaders operating inter-dependently, out of their typical silos, and committed to achieving the overall goals of the organisation. Their role now embraces sponsorship of transformation projects, embedding the change as it is implemented; all while maintaining focus on business-as-usual performance. It needs personal and business resilience.

More than half the people who completed our survey strongly agree or agree that change initiatives have appropriate sponsors with active involvement in their performance. That, however, leaves a sizeable minority (34%) without enough senior support.

Leaders may not be completely in touch with the reality of the shop floor experience, which can lead to a disconnect between the project as envisaged and how it is realised.

Sometimes, project sponsors are engaged at the start, setting the scene and giving rousing speeches. Then, perhaps because other issues come to the fore, or because they have moved on to the next exciting idea, their attention wanes.

The biggest threats organisations face when meeting their strategic goals coalesce around resources and skills. Or, in other words: people. Organisations cannot change unless the people in them change. How are organisations mitigating the threats posed by insufficient skills or an inability to deliver sustainable change?

People are skilled at what they do now. Development or training is typically designed to enhance their abilities in relation to their current role rather than to help them become agents for change. Organisations who understand that they need to invest in helping their people to change will have more success when it comes to embedding change than those who don’t.

Compare the fortunes of Atari and Pixar. While Atari failed to maintain a culture of teamwork, collaboration and quality, ultimately leading to its downfall, Pixar creates “teams of people that work well together”. Pixar focused on culture to build a strong organisation. Results follow: 15 of the 50 highest-grossing animated films are produced by Pixar.

Curium Solutions is supporting Raise the BAR, the GBCC’s Business Adaptability and Resilience campaign. Like Curium, the campaign aims to challenge and inform organisations about approaches to managing risk and being agile and responsive to change.

A leader in people-led change, Curium specialises in buying people into change. This creates value from accelerating the adoption of change and the earlier release of benefit. Clients include corporates, partnerships and public authorities in the UK, US and elsewhere in the world.

Curium is a current Business Master and finalist in the Best HR / L&D Consultancy category at this year’s CIPD People Management Awards. Earlier this year, it published a report: Empowering inclusive leadership for a diverse age, which provides an original take on diversity, inclusion and leadership; and sponsored the GBCC Growth Through People campaign.

i ‘Why do most transformations fail?’, McKinsey, 2019