Implementing Real Change

Why coming up with the right answer to a business problem often isn’t enough in a large organisation – and what you can do about it

Change Ahead

“WHY won’t people in this organisation realise that this new approach could make things so much better? Why won’t people implement this idea? This is so frustrating…”

Creating meaningful change at any large organisation can be one of the most challenging things to accomplish – as many new employees or consultants have found out the hard way. It’s also one of the most valuable skills to have.

It’s not hard to see why change can be so difficult. Most people inherently resist changes to their environment – it often equates to greater risk, more stress and exertion of energy in order to adapt. Additionally, large organisations are usually complex, inter-connected and political, with decisions requiring the buy-in of several stakeholders (each having their own personal egos, agendas and fears). No matter how sound your idea, it’s likely to face some form of resistance.

Consequently, while being able to come up with a fantastic solution to a challenging problem or identify an improvement opportunity is certainly a valuable skill, it is just the starting point. The real value comes from being able to turn these ideas into reality and convince key stakeholders to adopt them.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to tip the odds in your favour. Next time you have an idea for a solution or improvement that may require considerable change, consider adopting the following approach.

1. Expect resistance – so prepare accordingly

As great as your idea might be, begin with the presumption that some people will require some convincing before your idea can be implemented. As a general rule, if it requires significant effort or potentially the loss of reputation or influence of a stakeholder (even if it’s relatively minor), then be ready to face resistance.

Consequently, it’s a good idea to spend time developing the idea on your own and with the help of other people whose opinions you value. Your idea should hold up from multiple angles and be logically sound before you begin approaching the right people.

2. Understand who you need to influence and how to win them over

In large organisations, there are often a few key people who need to be convinced before significant changes can take place. You don’t (and probably can’t) convince everyone affected, but you should ensure that most of the key stakeholders are on board. In particular, keep a look out for those who may be inclined to block your idea and identify how they might be persuaded.

Position titles and seniority are a good indication of who needs to be won over and in what area of the organisation, but be ready to look beyond that – some people who have the greatest influence (either directly, or indirectly through influential relationships with the right people) aren’t always the ones you expect. This is where an understanding of office dynamics and connections become helpful.

The next step is to understand what the key goals or concerns for each of these stakeholders currently are – they may be different and occasionally opposing. You’ll need to position the message in a way that explains the benefit to each of them, and this is where proper communication is key.

3. Communicate Effectively

Now that you know who you need to talk to, here comes the tricky bit – identifying how best to deliver your message persuasively.

There is no shortage of information about effective communication, but as a starting point, you should aim to clearly explain how the idea is likely to be to their benefit. Make sure you understand what issues are front of mind for them so that you can link it to your suggestion if possible (this is where listening, emotional intelligence and an ability to read between the lines are helpful).

As for style, consider the language, tonality, location, timing and channel of communication – don’t underestimate the difference these can make. You’ll need to adapt depending on the person and culture of the organisation, but a good approach is to mirror their preferred style of communication. If they like to be short and to point during formal meetings, be short and to the point. If they like to talk about family, friends and everything else over a coffee, do likewise.

And of course, perhaps you might not be the best person to communicate directly with the stakeholder. Consider whether someone else should go in to bat for you who may have more influence.

Regardless of who communicates, hopefully you’ll have buy-in after a few conversations, (and if you’re lucky, create some advocates for your idea too). But there’s still a way to go.

4. Bring them on the journey

As change is implemented, make sure the key stakeholders are taken with you on the journey and are given an opportunity to have their say.

Seek their input on the approach and take these on board where appropriate – chances are they’ll have something helpful to add if you take the time to ask.

No one likes surprises either (when it comes to change, at least), so aim to keep the key stakeholders informed throughout (although adjust your communication frequency and detail according to their engagement level).

5. Be patient. And resilient

Sometimes your approach won’t work the first time.

Perhaps you won’t get all the stakeholders on board. Perhaps a bigger issue will arise and become a greater organisational priority. Perhaps a stakeholder will change their mind for reasons you can’t fathom. Perhaps you’ll start to implement your idea, but it just doesn’t stick over the long term for some reason (…that’s a long article in and of itself which we’ll save for another time).

And sometimes you’ll find out that your idea just wasn’t that great in the first place.

These things happen, but it pays to be persistent, especially if you and others still have faith in your idea.

If your timing was off, perhaps try again later when there is more appetite for change. You can also try running with a smaller segment of your idea that may be easier to implement than the whole – maybe your idea was too “big” in the first place. You may also want to communicate your idea differently, or build on it further – perhaps it just needs to be a bit more persuasive. At the very least, take the lessons you’ve learnt from the experience and apply them next time. It’s a skill which takes time to develop.

Ask anyone exposed to an organisation for any length of time if they can identify ways that things could be done better, and chances are they’ll have no trouble reciting a long list. However, ask them how they’d go about actually making these changes happen and more likely than not, you’ll receive a long story about how it can’t happen or, if you’re lucky, how they’ve already frustratingly tried and failed (and of course, sometimes you just get a blank stare).

Follow the above, and you might join a small category of people who know how to effectively make a change and are able to bring the right people along for the ride.

New Editor: Shishir Pandit

IShishir Pandit 7NTRODUCING Shishir Pandit.

We are delighted to welcome Shishir to join the Consulting Blog as an Editor for 2013/14.

Currently based in Melbourne, Shishir is a Management Consultant at Deloitte and a Strategic Advisor at the Global Consulting Group (a non-profit consulting organisation).

He was a finalist in the Victorian Young Business Person of the Year Awards, and holds a combined Commerce/Law (Hons) degree from Monash University.

Shishir has a passion for social causes and likes to play in the intersection between corporates, non-profits and social enterprises. Above all, he believes in helping others develop a questioning, positive and socially-responsible mindset.

One of his passions is his work with GCG, an organisation which provides free management consulting advice to non-profits and social enterprises. His focus has been on sharing his expertise to help guide the direction and expansion of the organisation around the world.

Shishir has a wealth of practical insights gained through his work as a Management Consultant and Strategic Advisor, and we look forward to benefiting from his unique perspective over the coming year.

Please join us in welcoming Shishir!

Giving and Growing

Business can step up by reaching out, but it needs to adopt a new approach

Shared Value

THE OLD MODEL of corporate giving involves the CEO championing a particular charity, and then writing a cheque.

The old model is broken.

Broken because it relies on the whim of the CEO, who could change her priorities at any time. And, while the generosity continues to flow, the beneficiaries of this corporate largess become dependent on hand-outs rather than learning to catch their own fish.

Broken because it fiddles shareholders, who pay the CEO to reinvest profits or pay a dividend. And, if the CEO instead uses shareholder money to champion her favourite charity, then there would seem to be a problem. Would it not make more sense to pay a dividend and allow shareholders to decide which charities to support?

Supporters of the old model will tell you that it works just fine, so long as the chosen charity prominently displays the firm’s logo on the charity’s website or at a high-profile community event.

We agree. This works. But it’s not charity. It’s advertising, it’s marketing, or it’s a PR campaign.

Call it what you will.

If you care about charity, there is a better way.

Shared Value – the new approach to charity

The new approach to charity is to tie it in with what your firm already does, and to use your existing resources and capabilities to reach out to the community (people, charities, government agencies, and existing suppliers and distributors). For example, if you run a private healthcare centre, or a pharmaceutical company, then there may be opportunities to help the growing number of people who are struggling with substance abuse problems.

The naysayers will tell you that charity is for the Church and solving social problems is a role for government (and fortunately there are already public support services for addiction), but this kind of thinking is both defeatist and short sighted.

There are three good reasons why reaching out to help the community makes good business sense:

  1. Motivation: By giving back to the community, you can create a higher purpose for the work you do and increase employee motivation;
  2. Learning By Doing: As early as the 19th century, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus identified that (as you would expect) people become more efficient the more times they perform a particular task. And so, by helping the community, by doing what you do best, you are actually helping your employees learn by doing;
  3. Connections: Friendships are valuable, and you never know who you could meet by reaching out to help others.

So, take some time to consider your core values, investigate what your competition is doing, and consider your options for embracing the new model of charity.

Who do you plan to help, and why?

5 Steps to Creating Great Strategy

Developing excellent strategy consists of just 5 steps

Creating Great Strategy

HERE are five steps that you can use to formulate great strategy:

  1. Diagnose: assess the lay of the land. Understand the company, the competitive environment and the broader economy. What is the company’s business model? Who are the competitors? Who are the customers and suppliers? And, what are the current market conditions?
  2. Forecast: accept that change is constant. Identify industry trends and potential opportunities. What’s the next big thing?
  3. Brainstorm: think of a range of options. How can you provide more value to customers in a way that takes advantage of industry trends? Can you provide existing solutions in a new way or in new markets? Or, are their options to tackle new problems?
  4. Commit: select a strategy. Set SMART goals to help you achieve the strategy, and commit organisational resources to support it. Hemingway once said that you should “never confuse movement with action.” And by committing to a well thought out strategy, a business leader can help to ensure that she is taking meaningful action rather than just going through the motions of day to day business.
  5. Commence: the final step is to begin. Decide on the next step, and take it. While starting can be scary and may not immediately lead to results, remember that “action is the foundational key to all success” (Pablo Picasso). Or, as Goethe once said, “Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”