Chance and change

As a Board Member, when did you last think, “Something HAS to change.”

For many boards, the next natural inclination can be, “Let’s commission a report.”

But wait.

The fact is that many reports are commissioned, and then just gather dust.

They often turn out to be an expensive indulgence, rather than a real step in the process of change.

Here’s what boards of the most successful companies know needs to be in place for real change to happen.

#1 Support from the top is essential

The boss launches an initiative and then assumes it has happened. 

Knowing an organisation needs to change requires insight AND on-going support.

Sustainable change involves investment in time and resource.

The good idea will not succeed unless the boss actively endorses it, explains why it is necessary and the benefit that will follow.

What’s more, they need to be prepared to make it part of the day job rather than a token exercise.

Successful change programmes take time and require an up-front commitment to the programme, rather than a piecemeal approach to the work required.

Objectives must be explicit, the work programme reviewed and modified as required, progress monitored, and the purpose of the work frequently reinforced. 

Where the boss has made and reinforced the commitment the assignment has achieved the required outcome. 

Where the boss has made a token commitment, the project is likely to be derailed before completion.

The Health & Safety Executive recruited Kennedy to review whether four specialist Divisions were fulfilling their role in reacting to serious industrial incidents. 

They were found to be operating in silos and not responding in a coordinated and comprehensive manner.

Work was undertaken to create a new, integrated Division that brought the expertise of staff together. 

The response was, “Why didn’t we do this to begin with?” and proved to be very successful. 

The new arrangements enabled HSE to integrate other workstreams without the need to redesign the fundamental structure of the Division.

#2 Failure to assume nothing, challenge everything

Whether an assignment is undertaken by an internal group or an external consultancy, it is too easy to accept that the presenting problems are the ones in need of a solution. 

The assignment author needs the authority to challenge all assumptions and have permission to integrate the documentation, meetings & individuals deemed relevant to the work. 

The old adage says, “They take your watch and give you the time.” If the solution to the problem raised is so obvious, there is little point in commissioning the work. 

A chemical company commissioned Kennedy to look at the decision-making of the Board as they sought to raise new funding. 

The Board thought a move to e-procurement would enhance their reputation as an international provider of specialist chemicals.

E-procurement was not the crucial issue. 

The priority that needed to be addressed was agreeing on the business model for an international business where raw materials were produced in different Continents, the manufacture of the final product in the UK, and sales distributed across Europe. 

A new business model was agreed and work undertaken to create the organisational structure and working practices that would implement the model. 

The new focus was instrumental in allowing the company to raise the external funding and new ownership it required.

#3 Imposed solutions are unlikely to work

Recognising the need for change, an external consultancy is frequently recruited to make recommendations to address the problem. 

This often involves commissioning a team of specialists used to working in the particular sector, and familiar with solutions that have worked elsewhere.  

With the range of experience, it is very easy for the consultancy to recognise the problem and assess which solution would be appropriate.

The recommendation might be the best possible, but it may not be implemented as intended. Where a solution is imposed, it can create resentment and lack of ownership.

This is particularly pronounced when staff feel they have not been involved in addressing the issue, and have not had the opportunity to contribute to the solution.

Kennedy was unsuccessful in its bid to undertake work in the Department of Health. 

The work went to a large consultancy that assigned a large team of consultants to map the changes required. 

The Department wanted to focus on policy development, and outsource delivery of its policies to various Agencies.

Once the work was completed, Kennedy was surprised to receive a telephone call asking for help to determine how the recommendations should be implemented in a regional office. 

The consultancy had not involved staff in developing the recommendations, nor had they provided support to ensure that the recommendations were implemented as intended.

#4 Building on the past is no guarantee of success

Analysing how work has been organised in the past may not be an ideal basis on which to determine what is most appropriate for the future of the organisation.

It will highlight the arrangements that appear to have worked well and will look to the perceived strengths of individuals.

It will assume that current strengths are the limit of what is achievable.

Undoubtedly those involved in the analysis will be committed to the task, but they run the risk that current working practices will be moved like the deckchairs on the Titanic. 

The opportunity to cut out duplication and overlap, or to address significant gaps in current working arrangements, is likely to mean disrupting the status quo. 

Often it is assumed that the disruption to the individual and the organisation is just too great to contemplate.

Such assignments require independent facilitation, whether from within or without the organisation. 

They need permission to challenge tradition and to dismantle the traditions that no longer make the organisation ‘fit for purpose’.

In the right setting, staff can be like turkeys voting for Christmas and build an organisation for the future, whether or not they have a continuing role.

The staff can:

  • Identify the impediments that make the organisation ineffective;
  • Identify better ways to do business that cut across traditional structures, roles and responsibilities
  • Lead the organisation in its quest for a new and more effective focus.

Kennedy was commissioned by a Housing Association to tackle a dysfunctional and bullying culture. 

With access to staff at all levels, the problems were readily identified. 

The cultural issues were confronted head-on, and at the end of the assignment, a number of key individuals opted to move on saying, “This is right for the organisation, if not for me.”

Kennedy became aware of an extreme example of resistance to change. 

The public sector organisation wanted to implement a paperless office. 

Unbelievably, the individual responsible for the archive documentation photocopied the documents before shredding the originals. 

The tale might be an exaggeration, but it does remind us that people will go to extreme lengths to protect the familiar.

#5 Nothing lasts: plan for change

The most elegant of reports can become a historical artefact unless it has been designed to accommodate a changing environment:

  • Government or regulatory policy
  • Shifts in market conditions
  • Changes in key staff, and many more aspects.

A significant piece of work has to:

  • Look long-term and anticipate what could destabilise the organisation or open up new possibilities. 
  • Think beyond the immediate concern and think as broadly as possible.
  • Make recommendations that are understood at all levels in the organisation. 

Staff will ask, “What does it mean for my team and me?”

Unless the changes required are clear and of benefit, they are likely to be ignored, resisted or distorted.

Recommendations also need a clear implementation plan. Adopting new ways of working takes time and require adequate support.

All too often the solution is presented, the invoice sent, and the consultant departs as they say, “Goodbye and good luck.”

If the implementation is too difficult or unsupported, it won’t happen.

Kennedy was commissioned to undertake a Board Review of Greater Manchester Passenger Transport in order to clarify the differing roles of the Board and the Executive. 

Subsequent work sought to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the Senior Executive and to align the structure throughout the organisation.

The key to success was the fact that the new arrangements were sufficiently robust to accommodate changing circumstances and demand. 

Resource could be refocused, increased or decreased without the need to change the management arrangements. 

Ten years on, the report recommendations are still being used.

Your Next Step

If you’re determined to achieve real sustained change within your organisation, we should talk.