Now more than ever, when the pace of technological improvements means that what is possible, and what our clients expect of us, moves forward faster and faster.
At ea Consulting our business is managing change for clients – but going through some major organisational shifts of our own in recent months has given us a valuable opportunity to reflect on whether we practise what we preach, and pick out the most valuable lessons for growing businesses like ours.
Just because we can change something, it does not always follow that we should. ‘Change management’ is a concept linked to a multitude of academic theories, and even many different definitions.
For us it is simply the process of taking an operation, a culture or a business from one normal state to another. The starting point for any change project then should be a clear analysis of whether that end result will better fit the business to deliver for its customers.
In our own case, the impetus came direct from our clients, who said that they wanted to deal with us on a more local level, with decision makers spread throughout our network across the country, not centralised at headquarters.
Being very clear about your aims from the outset will also give you a valuable framework for judging how well you have achieved those goals by the end of the process.
Once you know what you want to achieve, next you must prepare the ground. For change to happen, the environment must be right. We picture it like this – to create a beautiful Spring window box, you know you will need high quality bulbs. But just as important are the environmental factors: light, drainage, compost.
Without them the bulbs will not fulfil their potential. To deliver complex changes in a business it’s the same. For example, your environment must allow for quick reviews and decision-making, detailed short term plans as well as broad-brush longer term ones, and the flexibility to use your most able people across the organisation, even in roles outside their own area.
It’s a cliché, but it is impossible to communicate too much. For most people, times of change can be daunting. If you can make sure everyone affected understands the reasons for change, and give them the opportunity to get involved and contribute solutions, it can go a long way to easing the pain.
It’s not enough to just tell people, they have to feel part of it. This is not a one off activity, but a process that runs through the whole project and cuts across every part of it.
For us, it was about demonstrating that the new approach we wanted to introduce was client-led, and so would benefit the business and all of us in it. Then we could begin to introduce the new systems we needed to devolve our expertise through our network and create a new culture, which empowered our local teams to make decisions and act entrepreneurially.
Knowing you have reached the goals you were aiming for is relatively simple if you have defined them well at the outset. But then what? The period that comes afterwards is just as important.
Reflect on how well those aims have been achieved, but more than that, keep at it. Even (or especially) where the project has been a success, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open, ask employees to continue to report on progress, set new milestones, make sure the new approach is reflected in every aspect of the business.
Today employees and business leaders have come to accept change as a constant. We are all expected to be more flexible and adapt fast as markets and technologies evolve. This does not mean that we should take the process for granted though.
Guard against losing sight of the end goal, or worse, losing the will to control and manage the process. Even though we are all more open to the need for change, we should still demand it to be justified, well planned and clearly communicated.
Jon Murphy is an executive director of ea Consulting Group
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