A large transformation programme takes time and a lot of money. However, it can become a huge waste, if parts or all of the organisation revert back to old systems or resist the change adding further to delays and costs. In the worst case the programme may end.
Therefore, instilling a change culture is almost a no-brainer before kicking of a major change programme. This is not just me saying this, the likes of Kotter and Gladwell (if you want to look up some leading voices in this space), champion small changes which can paves the way for more effective long term large change initiatives. Especially when you have to pivot quickly.
So, I want to set out some (I hope) useful points for small change projects at a tactical level, you can do without breaking the bank but also encouraging a culture of ‘nipping things in the bud’ and embracing change. This assumes at a strategic level the C-suite are leading the charge. While I talk about large organisation, the same principles apply to small business.
If anything, developing a change culture as you scale your business will prevent the woes large organisations face when they grow too quickly and ignore their corporate culture.
I have set this out below under 4 interlinked areas. You certainly can't focus on one area in isolation.
At the centre is time management. Without which, addressing the other aspects will be a struggle. Investing in external help gets around the problem of time. However, you want to make sure your own people continue with the change after the consultants have gone.
This is the hardest element of change management. But it is central to any long term change to be effective, to get their buy in.
So, in the short term, when trying to get your teams onboard to embrace change, how can you kick start the process?
1. Start the tiny projects- You may be fortunate to have a great team to start with and they just need to be given the autonomy to be change focused. Empower them to come up with small improvements. It can be as simple as justifying the ending of a report, or creating a better version.
It doesn’t matter what the improvement is, anything that allows them to think about how they can control change will be positive. Consider having a 1 hour session on Fridays or even once a month to let you team test things out and failure should be embraced. They will fear change more if they feel they will be blamed or have their career hampered for taking a leap of faith with you.
2. Transitioning out of the team – If you are finding some individuals are obstructive and creating disruption in the team, this may manifest in more serious HR issues.
Therefore, if there is sufficient evidence of poor performance have a private meeting before official review points, do not let things fester. Present the evidence of your observations and listen to their feedback. If it’s easy to fix, i.e. you inherited a team that were not trained fully in a certain system, and they are embarrassed to try new functionality. Get them the training they need. Resistant can be just fear of the unknown.
However, I have come across those so disruptive that maintaining them on the team will risk the loss of some excellent talent. It is not a pleasant part of managing people, but let them go (legally and fairly).
3. Hire the new attitudes you need, not just a technical fit - look after your skills mix, but look for people who have demonstrated change in previous jobs or have a variety of interests. The chances are, they could be the positive fresh influence you need to build energy. Also, make sure, if you do have some difficult employees, protect your new person. Watch out for isolation and bullying. You want to make sure their positive drive is not extinguish.
B. Process innovation
Create a culture for continuous improvement. This involves encourage people to look at processes and not being afraid to suggest changes.
1. Encourage small changes – as mentioned in point 1 in the above section.
2. Celebrate these small change, highlight the benefits – encourage the C suite to send a thank you to the staff member (or get a respected senior person in the organisation). You need to create positive re-enforcement to encourage more great ideas.
3. Delegate small changes to the team - As the leader you need to work on the longer term strategies and let your team look after the short term fixes. Don't be afraid to build trust and support them when they have set backs. Encourage learning from mistakes.
4. If you do not have the time, consider bringing in a temporary resource. There are plenty of us in change management who are happy to do a few days, to kick off your journey and ripe of the plaster for you.
5. Governance- make sure any changes are not going to break something else. Don’t ignore compliance and legality. Plus, talk to other teams and functions to make sure there are no unforeseen impacts that could cause headaches for others. You also want to build alliances from outside your team.
C. Time management
You can blame budgets and resources but sometimes I think the biggest barrier to change is – time:
1. Be proactive- If new in post, you can hit the ground running here, but either way, take the smallest possible issue first and address. You will:
- Build Trust from your team
- Show that change can work
- You mean business
2. Make time for change strategy – purposely ring-fence an hour in your diary weekly to take a strategic look at your team, what medium to long term changes do you need to get the ball rolling on? Set the goal of at least one item a week to instigate or follow up.
3. Challenge the format of meetings – could you peers do standing meetings instead, could you set up an online forum for your peers to escalate matter to the C suite. That way when you do meet they can have answers in advance. Did you actually need that meeting??
4. Delegate - Can you sent a member of the team to a meeting?
5. Address your own role? - If there are activities that have passed onto you from a predecessor, it doesn’t mean you still have to do them. Lead the change.
6. Do not waste time that has been freed up- As you team makes time saving, reinvest that time.
7. Set out timetables and check points to support the changes you want to implement. Also, this helps to reinvest time saved.
The cloud is making it more affordable to have better systems. However, your will fail to implement this technology, if you haven’t addressed your current processes and data to adapt to future needs. “Garbage in Garbage out”. This element is very depended on Processes, without knowing your processes you will will struggle to standardise them.
1. Start with the basics, what is been manually booked in your system? Can it be automated? Can you work with vendors/customers to improve how you get this information?
2. Do a walk-through of that process – look at each step, are there any obvious duplication's of steps that can be automated with existing tools, e.g. a functionality within Outlook or Excel? Or any steps that are now redundant? With more working from home, this could have a major impact to a process.
3. Ask outside your team- ask your IT team. Or a past team members, now in another part of the business. They may know a reason why you cannot do something or might have a solution that was lost when they left the team.
4. Ask the vendor – Once you have all the detailed facts (you do not want to waste time with back and forth basic trouble-shooting) go to the vendor. What can they offer, re upgrades, training? Do you need to think about a new vendor?
5. Annual system training - People rarely read technical updates, let’s be honest. So arrange mandatory training for key staff. A two hour session annually hurts no one and they may pick up a tip that save hours per week.
6. Redundant reports – just because it’s always been done, doesn’t mean it is right. So, get a list of all the reports your team produce (you can delegate this or get a data dump from IT). Find out who gets these reports and ask them:
- Do you need them?
- Could the frequency be decreased?
- Could they be combined with another report?
- Are they fit for purpose (opening a longer term issue here but you need to think holistically as a leader)
- Set a 4 week period for responses. If no response assume you can switch off.
Get the appropriate sign off and discontinue/rationalise these report as soon as possible.
A real life example was when our main printer was in use for 30min each morning, printing reports for IT (an important time for scanning in my department). So I asked IT and they were more than happy to reschedule their print jobs and actually they kicked off a paperless project, when they admitted they didn't use the reports!.
7. Document processes- you should have a basic manual, with as many screen grabs as possible- far easier for people to ‘see the actual’ process then read the narrative. However, if you record an issue with a process, timetable an action plan to address, get the business case ready for larger improvements and try and get the short term fixes in, as soon as possible by the team.
There are always small things that can be changed. Instead of having team meetings where people complain, change the dynamic. Tell everyone in advance, that if they have an issue think about the fix. Encourage the smallest changes first, as this in turn frees up the time for the bigger change.
Also you have to lead on this. If you can demonstrate making a small change makes a different, what impact this will have on your team?
Most organisation have a training mandate, why not use this time for system training or other soft skills? Have a 2 hour working lunch (provide food) and set the goal for the team to tackle one small change and start off one larger change.
It will take time, but do you really want in 6 months to say, if only I had set aside a couple of hours?
Do it today!