Article published in City Security Magazine
The start of this decade has seen unprecedented levels of disruption around the world. Climate change, terrorism, increased cyber threats, the US elections, not to mention the political fall-out of Brexit, and most recently, the global pandemic with coronavirus. The full consequences of these individual disruptions are still emerging, but we can be sure that the ripples will be felt for years to come.
What is becoming increasing clear is that the concept of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity), that originated from students at the U.S. Army War College to describe the world after the Cold War, is gaining new relevance. It characterizes the current environment and the leadership actions required to navigate it successfully.
The impacts of the VUCA world on business owners and suppliers from the recent and ongoing coronavirus outbreak have been well documented. The increasing trends of working from home, resulting in the hollowing out of the city centres, the need to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and mental support, as employees embark on their journey back to work, along with the now ubiquitous face masks, to name only a few.
Throughout these challenging times, the disruption has meant that we have to change at pace, often without all the required information. In many cases without the skills or competencies required to do so within our organisations. These achievements have come partly from people working faster and harder, but one could question for how long people can sustain working faster and harder.
What is also becoming increasing clear is that in the new VUCA world, we need to build the muscle in our organisation to be ready to change and monitor and measure our readiness to change. We also need to assure ourselves we are capable of adapting to the disruption.
We must ensure we take this opportunity to not look to get back to the OLD Normal … it no longer exists! But to embrace the idea that we should build an organisation that is capable of innovation at PACE and is in a state of Change Readiness.
According to McKinsey 70% of all Change programmes fail. In order to ensure you are in the all so important 30%, there are five key elements that all businesses need, to ensure they are Change Ready and can successfully embark on the change journey, assured that they will not fall in with the 70% of failures, with all the associated costs – both monetary and human.
Lots of small business leaders believe these only apply to large business, but they are relevant to all businesses both large and small.
- Mindset – People have a mindset to support change
- Alignment – People are aware of the organisational strategy and how they contribute to it
- Plan – There is a current organisational strategy with associated plans at all levels
- People – People have the required competencies, skills & behaviours to make the change
- Systems – The required structure and processes are in place to support change
The first element of ensuring you are ready to change is ensuring that the team have the right mindset in place to support the change. The behaviours modelled by the leadership team need to support the teams, helping to build trust and resilience.
Trust in leadership is a critical element in getting our teams onboard and we need to lead in a new, more positive and impactful way. How do we expect teams to challenge themselves and try new ways of doing things when we don’t allow them to fail?
We can only grow as a business by learning from the mistakes. The teams must not be afraid to make mistakes and have the resilience to bounce back quickly when they do.
A recent Gallup poll suggested that over 70% of employees are actively disengaged at work. Our teams clearly need to understand the benefits of the change for them or they are likely to resist, play lip service or look elsewhere.
People need to know what they do fits into the overall plan and what part they play. As Howard Schultz of Starbucks put it ‘When you are surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything can happen’.
Learning and adapting are as critical to change as water and oxygen are to human beings. We also need to create the environment for learning in the organisation, be aware of our teams’ limitations and understand what beliefs or long-held assumptions we explicitly need to reset in the organization. What do we say no to, or stop doing, to create the additional space to go change and grow?
Encouraging involvement and commitment is a practice we should ensure is alive if we are to be change ready. Old style command and control leadership won’t cut it anymore. People in our teams need to have a clear vision of what direction the business wants to go in, but also have a part in how they might get there.
We as leaders need to create the environment where people can participate and collaborate on how the plan will be delivered. In the new complex uncertain world, we need to understand that we can’t own the finite details of the plan but are facilitators in ensuring our teams have their own plans in place and space to bring them to life.
Once we have established what needs to change in our organisation, we need to understand two clear areas. Firstly, we need to establish what skills are needed to move forward. We should start by looking at our current teams in terms of, who has the skills and who could be developed, before we automatically look outside. Secondly, we need to understand the capacity of the organisation to deliver the change, not only the skills required but also in terms of capabilities to deliver the other priorities and the change.
Too many organisations fail to deliver because they layer changes on top of changes, without working out what skills and capacity are needed and what they can stop doing.
In our experience, the more complicated the change the less likely it is going to stick. We need to look for what we call ‘keystone’ habits; changes we make that have significant knock on benefits.
A large change programme we delivered, was about getting a retail business to focus on the customer. The simple keystone habit that we changed was that whatever level of management you were, you walked the customer journey when you first arrived on site. The previous habit had been to always operate from the office, thus reinforcing the perception that HQ was the focus of the business not the customers. It not only got retail teams move focussed on the customer, but also got head office teams interacting with the retail teams, developing better products that the teams could deliver, and customers wanted.
All too often in change programmes, communication is left to chance and is not integral to the plan. An external marketing department constantly communicates with the customers about new products and benefits of doing business with the company.
As leaders we need to think that our role is to keep our teams updated on progress and also to listen for feedback on how changes are progressing, enabling us to remain agile and adapt to how people feel about the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity the changes create.
In all of the change programmes we have delivered, part of this process involves creating a change forum where different voices and parts of the business can come together, creating the shared vision, breaking down the silos between departments and creating alignment behind the plan. Critical in the forum’s role, is to measure and evaluate the change process and ensure it is on track and that reprioritisation takes place when it is not.
MAPPS (Mindset, Alignment, Plan, People, Systems) is the acronym we have developed for measuring Change Readiness. Change is not a one-off intervention but a constant process of measurement, to evaluate whether your organisation is ready to embrace the challenges VUCA’s disruption creates.
Failing to be ready not only takes its toll on the financial health of an organisation, but also on the all so important people in the organisation.
Creating the right mindset, aligning the right team behind the plan, with the right processes and systems to support them will ensure that you do not become part of the 70% of change programmes that fail or the have 70% of employees who are actively disengaged team.
Stuart Ewen Is Partner in Mindset Associates who help Businesses Deliver People Led, Customer Focused Change and Growth.