How to manage major change in the business

Every business goes through a phase, sooner or later, where major change is required. Whether that change is to do with business models, infrastructure, product delivery or perhaps adapting to shifts in the overall market landscape, we can’t afford to stand still as the world evolves around us. Let’s take a look at how change management can be used to drive substantial improvements across an organisation.

Where does change begin?

In a modern business, the need for change is typically born in one of three areas; technology, culture, or service. But equally, starting a journey of change in either of these areas will also affect the other two. In fact, you won’t be able to successfully support change without taking a holistic view of how all three areas interact with each other.

Technology change

In business as well as in our private lives, we’ve become used to seeing technology rapidly change the way we live, work and communicate.
Often, we don’t even get the chance to choose our own changes – but are forced to adapt as software and hardware is phased out or upgraded.

Of course, as well as keeping up with the various technology trends and market progress, technology change often comes from looking at ways to innovate and improve the business with the help of IT. Businesses that adopt new tools and systems can achieve better collaboration as well as more cost-effective service delivery – but only if you successfully manage the shift in operations that come with it.

Example: Cloud adoption
The shift from on-site to cloud computing is not something that is done for the sake of technology alone. We do it to enable the organisation to work more efficiently, improve the speed of delivery and lay the foundation for future growth. But even when business efficiency is the key driver behind the decision to migrate to cloud, it often also has a direct impact on internal processes.

How to achieve change
The fundamental key to successful technology change is to set out a very clear vision for how the business will adopt it. But equally important is to also manage stakeholders across the organisation. These are people who can champion the change and help to successfully incorporate the new technology into daily operations.

The cultural aspect may not seem like it’s very important when it comes to adopting IT, but it can actually play a crucial role. Depending on how disruptive the change is, you may need to work closely with staff and pay attention to any resistance, while recognising that it may take some work to overcome it.

Culture change

Culture is a difficult thing to measure and assess, making it notoriously hard to change. Still, it’s a powerful force that can have huge impact on things like productivity, customer care, product quality and staff wellbeing. Culture is one of those things that we quickly notice when it’s gone wrong – but may not appreciate when all is well.

Example: Addressing a silo culture
Many businesses are waking up to the fact that they can start working more efficiently by collaborating across silo borders, especially as practices like DevOps are becoming proven success strategies.

This means that the rigid grid of the traditional business often makes way for an agile matrix of key functions working together – but this culture shift requires leadership that clearly guides people in that direction.

As well as departmental silos, there can also be informal divisions within the business. Older and younger people, men and women, people of different origin – all have a lot to learn from each other, but it can be difficult to take the first step to mingle.

How to achieve change
There are many frameworks for addressing silos in the business. Possibly the most well-known approach for cross-functional collaboration is the Scrum methodology. Although Scrum was born in the software development world and typically encompasses designers, analysts, developers and testers who work together in a self-organised way, it can in theory be adopted in any part of the business. By becoming new, agile units that work towards key targets, each scrum can deliver optimal performance through collaboration. With a few tweaks, any business can adopt a scrum-like approach to any part of the organisation.

As for informal silos, this can sometimes be addressed in such a simple way as changing the layout of the office, or adding new break-out areas where people can get together. It can also be worth encouraging a social club where the business sponsors fun activities and team building.

The most important thing to recognise is that cultural change takes time. It requires patience and respect for your team members. Be clear about the reasons for change, and allow everyone the time they need to catch up.

Service change

The most successful organisations throughout history are the ones that have been able to evolve in line with market requirements. Our ability to change the way we provide our products or services is often the one thing that distinguishes us from the competition.

Many businesses start out being flexible, but gradually become more rigid as they grow and become established. But as we have seen many examples of in recent times, it’s easy to become obsolete by resisting change. The world is moving quickly, and the business needs to keep an ear to the ground in order to stay in touch with changing market needs.

Example: Adopting e-commerce
The biggest retail shift of modern times is doubtless the e-commerce revolution. Today’s consumers expect everything to be available online, at the click of a button, and vendors often find that they need to capitalise on that buyer behaviour – or perish. A traditional brick-and-mortar retailer will always struggle to compete without adding an online element to their business.

How to achieve change
Adding an online element to a business will change the perception of it, both internally and externally. There may be cultural resistance, where people want to hold on to the legacy of what the business used to be. Others may worry about initial expenditure, security or other issues. As with any change, it’s important to keep an open dialogue across the business and ensure that all those involved in the service delivery are bought into the change.

One thing that must be a part of service delivery change is internal training and onboarding. Every customer-facing team member must be entirely clear on how the changes impact the customer, so that they can manage user relationships and monitor the service experience.

In business, change is inevitable – whether we choose it, or if it happens to us. Change never stops. Rather than the term ‘change management’, we should perhaps be talking about ‘flux management’. It’s our ability to understand that what has worked in the last five years may not work in the next five years that defines our journey towards a continuous readiness for change.