Jason West and Joe Ales at river bank

Joe Ales & Jason West


Joe Ales: Welcome to episode five of the Underscore Transformation Podcast, my name is Joe Ales.

Jason West: And I’m Jason West

Joe Ales: And together, we’re the founders of Underscore.

Jason West: This week we’re diving headlong into the single biggest challenge in any transformation programme, and that is stopping people doing what they’re doing today and getting them to do something different tomorrow. That’s it: the single hardest thing you have to do. And you know what’s surprising, is that in that so many transformation programmes, change management only gets thought about of the very end.

So as a line manager the first I hear about this amazing change initiative that’s going to revolutionise the way we partner with our suppliers, or how we manage our people, or how we gain true insight into our finances so we make these better informed, data driven business decisions, whatever that change is, it’s an email that lands in my inbox telling me that I’ve got to attend mandatory training in some new system that we’ve just implemented. So surely, Joe, there has to be a better way.

Joe Ales: Absolutely Jason, you’ve hit the nail on the head just then actually, which is: don’t leave it until the absolute end to do the big reveal. You have got to bring the business along this transformation journey with you. Engaging the business as early as possible, because ultimately these are the individuals that are going to be affected by what it is that you’re changing, so engage with them: ask their opinion as you’re designing new ways of working, and they are more likely to embrace it.

Jason West: And there’s also the issue of what is it that you’re changing, and we’ve talked about it in a previous episode: problem definition. We’re talking about a complex, adaptive system of people, process, and technology and you’re making changes to it. So, if you haven’t engaged a broad group people to understand what it is you’re trying to achieve then there’s a pretty good chance that you’re going to land something that perhaps doesn’t work so well. And at the end of the day, in most transformation journeys, what you’re trying to achieve is a true change in the culture of either the business overall, or that function that you’re focusing on. So it’s got to go beyond just communicating with people or training people, it’s got to be a two way, genuine conversation, right from the beginning.

Joe Ales: Absolutely, and there are organisation out there, implementing change programmes that confuse comms with change, and they hope that they’re going to change people’s behaviours and ways of working by purely providing an instruction on how to do something different. And guess what? You’ll probably get there; you’ll probably, eventually get individuals to operate in our new systems or a new process. But, my word it’s going to be a lot more painful that way, rather than engaging the organisation, and those individuals who are going to be impacted by what it is you’re changing from as early as possible in your programme.

And knowing that actually when you’re engaging the organisation at the very outset as early as possible, that you don’t have all the answers to all their questions and it’s normal, it’s fine. It doesn’t have to be that big “ta-da”, that big reveal like I said earlier. It’s okay to sort of go into an engagement piece, where there are still some unknowns, and actually if you engage the organisation in that dialogue up front, they’re going to challenge you to answer the questions that they truly have, rather than you coming up with a set of comms material or training material that actually doesn’t answer the exam question that end user is going to be faced with.

Jason West: Yes and I think you’re absolutely right: it’s being honest upfront and saying: “We’ve got this vision of where we’re going.”

When you hold your first big kick off meeting, which you know is typically a month or two into the programme where you get a large group of people into a room, and hopefully you get the CEO to stand up and talk to people. If it’s not the CEO then it needs to be the sponsor of the programme, whether that’s the CFRO, CFO or Chief Operating Officer, whoever it is, but they have to do that big stand up and say “This is why we need to change. This is why this is important to me personally, and this is where we’re going.” They kind of outline that vision for future ways of working. At that point, when you’re describing this change and what’s going to happen, is being honest about “well we know these things, but we’re not too sure about these areas here, and we’re probably not going to know about it until maybe three months, maybe six months, maybe a year down the line.” But asking people for their genuine input and help in defining where we’re going is key.

Joe Ales: It creates buy-in and engagement from the audience that you’re asking to engage in your programme. People feel if I take part in this programme, I am actually going to shape the future that’s better for me. Guess what? They are going to be much more engaged, and much more willing to adapt to new ways of working, than if you rock up at last minute and say “Hey please do this process in this way.” So yeah, we’ve got plenty of experience of programmes where kick off has happened and the programme is largely being successful because it creates this momentum in the organisation about “Okay, wow things are going to be different in the future. I’m excited about that. Nervous at the same time.”

Don’t get me wrong, people will naturally be nervous about what the future holds, but they’ll be excited about being able to shape it. And if you don’t do that, the likelihood is that the change will be a surprise; the business isn’t quite ready. And actually, there might be a number of priorities in the business that your is now directly conflicting with those operational priorities. And as a sponsor, it becomes really difficult to ask the business to prioritise your communication or your training over some other critical activity that’s going on.

Jason West: Absolutely. It’s a really good point that you need to think about when you’re going to land certain things. What is that regular drum beat of activity that’s going on in the business? And then overlaid with that, what are those other programmes that you’re hoping to land at the same time?

I think this is where having a really strong portfolio comes in, ideally that there is some sort of overarching transformation management office or some sort of portfolio view of all the different programmes that are happening within an organisation. It’s got to be said: more often than not there isn’t a particularly strong portfolio view, so as transformation practitioner you’re often having to look outside of your programme, and engage with other programmes, other projects that are making change happen, and effectively run your own interference to make sure that you know you’re not landing something at the wrong time.

It can be a real challenge. But ideally you do have that overarching view with somebody, with that mandate to make sure everything – all the deliverables – are lining up across the different changes.

[INTERMISSION: you’re listening to the underscore transformation podcast this podcast is brought to you by underscore the transformation capability specialists to find out more visit underscore-group.com.]

Joe Ales: I don’t think there’s any business out there, considering the context in which we operate today, there is not a single business of size that won’t be undergoing some sort of change. So if you’re initiating any form of change in your business and your function, you’ve really got to be looking at what else is happening across my organisation, and how is what I’m doing going to change the behaviours that I’m hoping to achieve? And how is this going to conflict with everything else is going on the business?

I’m sure there’s plenty of people out there that are very experienced and will be able to work through this, but you can’t forget that you need to do this exercise. We talked a little bit earlier about how you need to have that big kick off, and it is so, so important – any sponsor out there listening to today’s episode please really pay attention to this – it is really, really important to engage business right up front.

But it’s not a one-off event. You’ve got to absolutely find away of continuing that engagement with that community that you’ve kicked off with. And your governance structure, whatever governance structure you put in place – that has your exec steerco for your project for etc. – you’ve got to find a way of keeping the people that you’ve engaged during the kick off, engaged throughout the programme, so you’ve got that continuity throughout the lifecycle of the programme. That’s really important, so sponsors out there: really think this particular point through.

Jason West: To those people that turn up too initial kick off meeting, you definitely want to be inviting them into requirements gathering workshops or certainly members of their team if they’re particularly senior. But it is important when you run those workshops, to have senior members as well as people who are perhaps more operational. Involve people in procurement decisions; one of the things that worked in particularly complex organisations is this idea of an operational steerco. So when you’re producing new designs, new solutions that you can push those through a collection of people who actually have some decision making power within the government structure, and really they’re there to sense check that what you’re doing will work operationally in this business unit, in this country, and provide that feedback and constructive challenge. And they need to be the people that the members of the exec steerco fundamentally trust, to ensure that things are going to work on the ground. And that’s been really helpful – I’m drifting a little bit into governance here – but you know all of this is interrelated.

We looked at some of the things that you can do. But if we focused into that change management process, I think there’s lots of good to change management methodologies out there and you’ve got to use the right one for the organisation. The important thing is to have a change management methodology; my own personal preference is Prosci, because it just gives you this nice range of tools that just make your life easier. But what would you say are those key steps, along the way, that are just sensible approach to managing change?

Joe Ales: You’re right: having a methodology is really important. Why is that important? Because it actually brings a little bit of structure and process to what you’re trying to achieve. It forces you to think of the right things, it forces you to think about the vision: what is it? What’s the destination that we want to get to? Have you described that? Have you described the journey? Do you truly understand the impact that your change is going to have on, or across the organisation and on different individuals? And people in different geographies or different cultures will react differently to what you’re trying to do. Be cognizant of that.

And one size, in any transformation, will not fit all. It might be a little bit provocative to some people out there that are actually trying to design a common process globally, and in some cases absolutely you can. But you’ve got to be mindful that there will be different interpretations of that, in different parts of the world and for good reason.

The other piece is that as part of your governance structure, as part of your sign-off, make sure that you include in your regular executive exec steering committees etc. the evolution of your change. Impact assess the change, and don’t do it at go-live. Don’t do it as a checkbox exercise to make sure that we’ve done all that: trained all our managers, and our employees, our executive have bought into the idea: tick, tick, tick.  Don’t do that. Have changed management as a constant agenda item in your executive steering committee meetings.

Jason West: Absolutely, yeah. I think that when you look at that that piece around segmenting people into different groups, we’ve mentioned country. But what other elements might be worth exploring? Well, there’s functions, local geography – because people will be impacted in a different way in one location than another potentially. So really thinking through those different elements and really planning the change. Actually have a plan, start building a plan while scoping out the programme. And I think the other thing is that just this whole approach of: as you’re building up your understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve, you’re designing future state, you’re gathering requirements, you’re putting a business case together – if you do it in the right way this isn’t a huge additional effort to do change management. That’s just embedded in the approach because you’re being genuine in how you’re engaging people, and understanding where the pain points are, what they see as the opportunities, and you’re building that into the transformation programme, that is evolving overtime.

Joe Ales: In summary, reflecting on what we talked about, there are probably four key takeaways from this discussion really.

Number one: don’t confuse comms and training with change. They are absolutely fundamentally different things.

Number two: engage people across the organisation, as early as possible. Don’t give them a big surprise, the big reveal, at the very end because it’s less likely to be successful.

Number three: Use a methodology. We have got a preference around Prosci, but actually there are others as well; others are available. Find one that works for you because it’s going to give you structure around your change activities.

And number four: make change management a priority topic during your executive steering committee discussions. And don’t wait until the very end, before you go live, as a tick box tick box exercise, to make sure that you’ve done all of your change activities.

Jason West: Can I add a fifth?

Joe Ales: Oh, go on then.

Jason West: I think the fifth is around managing change across the organisation, so either integrating your changes in with a wider change management portfolio, or PMO of some description. Or if one of those isn’t available then making absolutely sure you’re managing up and out, and that you’re coordinating your activities with other programmes.

So there we go: five out of four summary.

Joe Ales: An extra sweetener for our listeners.

Jason West: Yes, bonus summary material, only here on the Underscore Transformation Podcast.

Next week we are going to look into the future, with an episode on vision, objectives, and design principles.

We hope you found this episode useful and we’d really love to hear your feedback, so please contact the show via our WhatsApp group or via our website underscore-group.com. If you enjoyed the episode, please remember to like and subscribe are your favourite podcast app.