By David Ferrabee, Director of change management specialists Able and How
General elections are notorious for the turmoil as well as the sense of renewal they generate. Despite all the grievances that get aired and the abuse that gets hurled, there is real excitement and hope that things are changing. This is a time for big visions and promises, and that is something which business leaders, who often have to transform their businesses, can relate to. The all-important issue of ‘trustworthy leadership’ can become a flash-point when those affected by the change fail to understand what is at stake as the promises are implemented.
Later this week, after the election results are in, the hard reality of getting from the compelling vision to the desired end result will need to be faced. And that will lead to some big questions, as the dust starts to settle. For example, how will the new leadership of the United Kingdom drive the ‘transformation’ that they have promised through the election campaign?
Explain the Transformation
In this regard, politicians can learn from successful business leaders. Successful companies know that a key factor of any large change programme is the way the transformational element is achieved. The real skill, for any leader, whether in the political or the corporate sphere, rests in having a compelling enough view of that transformation that it does not get diluted in the day to day running of business.
In our experience the change programmes that deliver real value are ones that break their approach down into three key components: Transformation, Change and Business as Usual. Transformation is the high-level and universally compelling view of the change. In political terms this is what voters have been motivated by. Whereas ‘Change’ is the engine room that focuses on all the key initiatives, project and programmes that will drive the Transformation. And Business as Usual is the on-going, day to day work which never misses a beat.
If you take your eye off the Business as Usual you will hear about it quickly.
Years of experience shows that one of the biggest challenges organisations face when going through any type of change management programme, is their approach to these three components: Transformation, Change and Business as Usual. Too often they are seen as deliverable in a linear way, with time spent on each component consecutively and then set aside. However, to be truly effective, all three components need to be addressed continually and simultaneously, with varying degrees of emphasis, throughout the process of delivering the promises.
As leaders in the corporate arena know from experience, the opportunity to capture value is in the simultaneous and continuous delivery across these three components. To be effective, the transformation must continue to be front of mind and drive the support of people affected. At the same time change initiatives must be successfully built on each other to deliver that transformation.
Once a newly constituted government (be it one party or many) is in office, they can’t afford to let up on the promised transformation. And in outlining the implication and the changes that are now required they need to ensure that they are taking the nation with them without losing traction by diving too deeply into the details of specific changes.
Take People With You
This then becomes a key element of the change plan from day 1. Like in business, leaders must keep the core transformation view in their own mind’s eye, as well as top of the nation’s mind. That way they can more rapidly address the areas of resistance which will undoubtedly crop up on a regular basis. By keeping their focus on transformation goals, the process of delivery – the changes – can remain dynamic and should more readily deliver the desired results.
Rolling out purely legislative of political solutions on their own will not be enough. The public will only recognise that value is being delivered when they see the successful adoption of the proposed changes. And if those who are going to be impacted by this change, in other words, the nation, don’t embrace the change, then it will have failed and the potential value will be lost, regardless of how clever the strategy, how cutting edge or progressive the concept is.
Just like politicians, leaders of organisations who have great transformational plans but fail to take their people on the journey with them, set themselves up to fail.
Manage the Change, Engage People in the Transformation
Introducing new policies and repeatedly connecting them back to the initial transformation plan is an on-going process that should never lose sight of the three core elements mentioned above. Yet like many other implementation activities, such as project management and risk, this is all too frequently viewed as something which can be delegated. That can result in leaders distancing themselves from the challenge of implementing the details of the transformation they once championed. In business, like in politics, this is something which will almost certainly allow the initiatives to falter.
From our experience in developing and driving change management programmes for major business clients worldwide, we know first-hand that real and sustainable progress happens when employees are fully briefed, engaged, encouraged and incentivised to achieve results (irrespective of whether those results are small or wide-ranging) and the communications and engagement processes operate effectively.
It is no different in the political environment. The stakes may be higher and the audience wider, however it still comes down to ensuring that business as usual does not get in the way of reaching for new heights, while dealing with every change element required.
Ensure business continuity, manage the change carefully, and engage people in the transformation.
David Ferrabee is Director of the change management consultancy Able and How. He works with clients on issues ranging from organisational change delivery and change strategy through to leadership development and stakeholder engagement. His clients are usually looking to gain competitive advantage through change. David has worked closely with many leading international businesses, including BP, GE, HSBC, Rio Tinto, Santander, Sony Ericsson, Shell and T-Mobile. He has consulted to global industry for nearly 20 years.