Belfast Telegraph

Organisational change is like your first marathon

When feeling daunted by navigating transformational change programmes, you may find adopting the principles described below helpful in getting to the finish line, even if there are a few bumps along the way. 

Since I began my career in supporting organisations transform how they operate, I have been fortunate enough to have worked on many different projects across the UK, Ireland, Europe and North America. These projects have included technology implementations, operating model change and national talent management programmes. At the beginning of such projects, there is often unease regarding the uncertainty of what lies ahead. I had very similar feelings when I decided last October that I would run the 2019 London Marathon!

During the months that followed, I was able to apply the same four key principles, which have served me well during the numerous organisational change programmes I have faced.

Purpose. If there is not a clear business case, which articulates the benefits to be delivered, don’t be surprised if your programme falls down at the first hurdle. I was hugely motivated to run the marathon for Marie Curie and Sarcoma UK. This purpose was core to my motivation to keep going when the going got tough.

Goal Setting. Moving into a new way of working is risky. However, if you peel your overall goal back and set an ‘acceptance criteria’, which determines if your organisation is ready for change (e.g. a technology Go-Live) you can manage your risk. In my case, I was able to stand on the start line in Greenwich and feel confident, having achieved my smaller goals of target body weight and target times for 5km, 10km and half marathon distances.

Subject Matter Expertise. Successful change will not be based on guesswork. A Change Manager must leverage all the expertise available within the different stakeholder groups. This may include working with a behavioural economist to understand how customers might react to change, taking recommendations from process owners, engaging with those who have run similar programmes previously and adopting a robust governance process to seek input from specialist areas such as compliance and legal. I knew virtually nothing about marathon training, clothing or nutrition, but I sought advice and listened to those who did.

Resilience. Things will go wrong during an organisational change programme. A supplier might not meet expectations, an IT system might fail, or a stakeholder group may not fully buy in. Planning needs to include contingency. You need to be creative in problem solving and ultimately tenacious in finding a way. Thankfully, I was able to make adjustments when I faced injury, fatigue and bad weather.

When embarking on a new change programme in your organisation it is worth thinking about lessons learnt from previous initiatives as well as challenges you have taken on in your personal life. You may find similar approaches apply.

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Scott Baxter, Manager, Finance Services Business Consulting