Changing while maintaining business as usual is the norm for many organisations. Guest blogger Kathy Coleman looks at how leaders can start to make it easier for their people.
Earlier this week I had a number of client meetings planned in London. Leaving home on an early train I wrapped up warm for the morning chill. Hours later I found myself running behind schedule and having to get across London to a client meeting at a pretty brisk pace. Feeling mildly anxious about being late for my next meeting and by now decidedly warm in the spring sunshine, I decided to take off the woollen jacket I had on under my coat.
Not a difficult manoeuvre you might think! But with my mind half on the task and half on not being late I tried to do it on the run, including dashing across traffic lights as the counter was on 5 heading quickly to 0. Just a few feet from the pavement the traffic started to move and a “friendly” taxi driver held his hand on his horn! I leapt the final few feet and smugly congratulated myself on making it safely… until I realised the jacket I had been trying to remove was now lying in the road, being run-over by my friend the taxi driver.
As I waited for the traffic to clear so I could retrieve my beautiful jacket, a group of workmen hanging out on the corner of a building site helpfully offered their opinions on my predicament. Of those I can repeat the most helpful seemed to be along the lines of “that will teach you… trying to run and change at the same time”. I smiled my thanks through gritted teeth, stuffed my ruined jacket in my bag and hurried on to my meeting.
Later, as I was sitting with my client, she was recounting the changes in her organisation over the last three years. Three major acquisitions that have quadrupled the number of staff and clients, relocation to new offices (twice), new systems, new processes and a shake-up of their old, well-loved culture.
She described how difficult it was proving for everyone to get through this and, in particular, how they were struggling to continue to meet targets, especially their precious customer service target, which had always been exceptional.
“It just feels like we are constantly changing while running to keep on top of business as usual,” she commented “and something has to give”.
“Like my ruined jacket”, I thought ruefully and then refocused my attention back on my client and her changing organisation.
I reflected on the conversation and how every organisation I have ever worked with is “changing while running to keep on top of BAU”. How should leaders respond to this? How do you avoid staff burn-out, dips in performance and unhappy customers?
Three simple things can really make the difference:
- Take time to think about “what can give”
In today’s challenging environment of more for less, most leaders simply expect their teams to absorb change and transformation without any reduction in BAU workload or performance.
Leaders need to take time to sit with their teams, set priorities and agree what can give and how far can it give. In other words, what can we stop doing or stop doing to the same level of quality, what will be the impact and are we prepared to accept that impact for a given period of time? Conscious attention, agreement and decision making on “what can give” avoids breaking those things that really shouldn’t be broken.
- Really prioritise and phase change over time
There is often a view among senior leaders that if organisations are to be market-leaders, then change has to be transformational, rapid and difficult for everyone. And of course there are some elements of truth in that.
But leaders should be prepared to challenge the detail of change programmes – are all the components of equal importance? Does the 80/20 rule apply here – can we get most of the benefit from a smaller amount of change and would that be quicker anyway? In the rush to plan and commit to deadlines many of these questions don’t get asked and teams are put under too much pressure.
- Allow people to make mistakes
It is the paradox of change that when asking teams to embrace new ways of working and new ways of thinking, leaders expect their people to do it perfectly first time and then get angry when it doesn’t happen.
Of course people resist, pull-back and cling to their old ways in that environment. Expect mistakes to be made, create an environment in which this is acceptable, and more importantly create a culture in which everyone pulls together to sort out the problem rather than seeking to blame others.
Changing while running – it isn’t ever going to be any different but maybe leaders can start to make it easier for their people.
Oh and my jacket – my local dry-cleaner assures me it will be as good as new on Monday!