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Written and published by Miranda Wheatley Price
Director of Organisational Change

Reason 2 for stuck business performance (our change management consultants share how to become unstuck)

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As a change management consultancy, we work with many businesses who are seeking to deliver change to improve underlying performance. After all, constantly challenging underlying performance and seeking to deliver change is the sign of a great leader. One such example is Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, where in 2016 he outlined his vision of technology as transformational and challenged business leaders to “make a difference”:

"When I think of our challenge today...let's take what we are good at and rethink it. That’s not a side project. That is the very company itself".

Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

But in reality constantly challenging underlying performance and seeking to deliver change is a challenge. Why? When our change management consultants work with leaders they observe that the problem arises when underlying performance is stuck and the ambition to ‘make a difference’ is regarded as unlikely. One of the key reasons for this is leaders having limited time to focus on making a long-term difference, as they get sucked into managing multiple and significant challenges such as short-term earnings, customer engagement strategies and improving capabilities whilst simultaneously trying to drive efficiencies. This leaves little capacity to challenge underlying performance and deliver change i.e. ‘make a difference’. 

Our change management consultants cite the 3 barriers for why this happens:

  1. Lack of clarity and short-termism: The new growth strategy, priorities and measures are unclear so the organisation is both misaligned and ineffective in delivering change (making the difference) to the new operating model because managers grapple with competing priorities.
  2. Complexity and barriers: The current complexity of the organisation is underestimated and therefore barriers to change are not anticipated nor overcome easily; business complexity is having several interdependent and interconnected stakeholders, systems and organizational structures which make it harder to get things done.
  3. Legacy behaviours: ‘Legacy’ leadership behaviours pull the organisation back to traditional ways of working. This is amplified when short-term profit ‘shocks’ hit, resulting in leaders resorting to traditional ways of working - known to some as ‘organisational stuck-ness’.   

In a series of short articles our change management consultants explore each of these barriers in turn and how to navigate around them. 

The barrier: Organisational complexity

In 2016, our change management consultancy survey found that on average 63% of strategic goals set by leaders required them to lead a change to achieve the desired outcomes .  Yet, the Economist reports that leaders find it difficult to lead these changes and bridge the gap between strategy creation and successful implementation as the complexity of their organisation is underestimated. Subsequently, 70% of strategies fail to meet their stipulated objectives .

How to overcome the barrier: plan, focus and measure a change

Our change management consultants advise that to navigate organisational complexity it’s critical the changes needed to deliver a step-up in performance are clearly identified, addressed and measured. Such changes should be led as outcome focused change goals, not standard priorities where a ‘usual’ approach would suffice. This is important to note, as our change management consultants often experience teams being able to focus on the area that needs to change, but underestimate the transformation required to deliver a shift in performance and build readiness, activate and enable the change to deliver value quickly.   

Research shows that proactively aligning and focusing the organisation on a new growth strategy and the change it requires is more likely to drive momentum. Yet companies consistently struggle with unclear direction on strategy and optimal behaviours which leads to conflicting priorities. In addition, leaders often assume that leadership buy-in and company alignment via a strong communication strategy is enough to embed new ways of working. Yet research shows that managers firstly need permission to stop projects that are not aligned to the new priorities, and secondly require help in operationalising the new priorities.

Our change management consultants offer 3 techniques that will enable a business to overcome this:

  1. Use results mapping to easily identify the strategic goals that will require change so they deliver successful performance outcomes. 
  2. Take a systematic view of the change required and assess disruption i.e. the ‘ripple effect’ it will have across the organisation to ensure you adequately prepare and manage for the impact. This prevents dips in performance as people adjust to either new roles, structures or processes. 
  3. Use a well evidenced methodology such as PuMP to put in place meaningful measures. When done well, it helps align people on what the step change in performance is and how to know when it is achieved. It also creates a feedback loop so you can quickly assess where strategies are progressing and where a bigger shift is still needed. 

Want to read about all 3 barriers and how to overcome them? Download the full guide by completing the form below.

Transformational Change To Shift Performance 9

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  2. 3 ways to ensure change initiatives deliver the value they promise; 2017 https://rubica.co.uk/insights-...
  3. Economist Intelligence Unit. (2013); Why good strategies fail. Lessons from the C-suite. Closing the Strategy to Execution Gap, 2017. CEB
  4. 7 Change, -Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution”. Fisch,R, Watzlawick,P, and Weakland,J.H. 1974
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  6. PUMP; 2016 https://rubica.co.uk/change-ma...