COVID Accelerates Everything: Including Change Fatigue

How can our organisations cope with a coming tsunami of burnt out workers? The signs are all there that the transition to hybrid/remote working is not as painless as the Zoom and Teams enthusiasts are making out.

How can our organisations cope with a coming tsunami of burnt out workers? The signs are all there that the transition to hybrid/remote working is not as painless as the Zoom and Teams enthusiasts are making out.

Just under half of managers believe their employees may be at a higher risk of ‘burnout’ due to changing work patterns. ‘Burning the Candle: Strategies to Combat Workplace Burnout’ found that 47% of managers fear their employees may suffer from ‘burnout’ due to the challenges COVID-19 has brought.

Despite 35% saying they have been more productive whilst remote working, 87% have felt more pressure to keep productivity levels high to prove the case to their employers to allow remote working to continue.

Separately, in a survey by Perkbox, more than half (58%) of employees said changes to the furlough scheme and future uncertainty over the world of work had negatively affected their mental health, leaving them with rising levels of stress and anxiety. 46% said they had felt disconnected from their team and business over the past month.  Only 15% had experienced no negative effects on their wellbeing in the past month.

Ouch.

Admittedly these are the early days where we are still pushing through the pain barrier – but it does seem that we are seeing the rise of a kind of e-presenteeism with the assumption that remote work means always available. Why is it that employees feel the need to prove their worth to employers by going above and beyond working hours?

For me there are a few factors at play here:

Managing Through Uncertainty

COVID-19 is a complex problem in a complex system and we haven’t done the best job of training middle managers about complexity and uncertainty. A lot of people are unsure about their future right now and one of the ways people deal with stress and uncertainty is to make themselves busy. Busy is the new status quo. Ask anyone how work is during COVID and I pretty much guarantee the reply will be “really busy”.

The problem is that busyness isn’t productive. And it makes everyone else busier.

Instead of fuelling a culture of busyness we need to encourage leaders to make sense of our complex situation by acknowledging the complexity, admitting we don’t have all the answers, and reflecting collectively.

Being A Digital Leader Has Never Been More Urgent

Five years ago I posed a series of questions for prospective digital leaders.

  • Do you actively listen and respond to what internal and external communities are saying?
  • Do you use digital technologies to source new ideas for your organisation or team?
  • Do you put opinions out there rather than press releases? Are you known for provoking debate?
  • Do people you’ve never met come to you for advice on the strength of your online presence?
  • Do people tell you they value the resources and information you share?

Arguably we have failed to prepare our leaders – which is why people are mistaking two hour Zoom meetings for collaboration. COVID has accelerated them into a future they were wholly unprepared for.

As Matt Ballantine writes “We urgently need to do something about how we meet. I have a hunch that most meetings were rubbish before lockdown, but that the side conversations and sense of being with others that happened alongside the business of the meeting made them valuable. Zoom and Teams has stripped most of that side benefit away, so we are just left with the useless meeting. We’ve lifted and shifted office working practice into digital tools, and it’s left us wanting.”

I like Zoom and Teams – but they are not digital transformation. If you think you’ve mastered digital leadership by being able to change your Teams background you’re sadly mistaken.

Understanding that digital leadership is now just leadership is an urgent requirement.

THE ONSET OF Chronic Change Fatigue

Many people had change fatigue before COVID, but post-pandemic we need to review how many things we can conceivably handle at any one time.

No organisation, large or small, can manage more than five or six goals and priorities without becoming unfocused and ineffective.The best organisations don’t try and do everything. They focus on a few differentiating capabilities. Doing less, not more, requires a cultural shift. It involves finding your ‘irreducible core’ of services and then constantly refining and innovating against it.

There’s a window of opportunity here for organisations to pause and reflect before they go full steam ahead with their existing strategies. Otherwise we risk returning to the old normal which most people want to get away from.

And let’s remember that some change is manufactured just to give people things to do rather than being strictly necessary. In the post-normal preserving the things you truly value is more radical than constant tinkering.

Nobody resists necessary change. So the final word has to go to Peter Vander Auwera:


Cover photo by Christian Englmeier on Unsplash

How Can We Move Towards A Better Normal?

We are living through an era of intense turbulence and disillusionment. Even before COVID-19 we were faced with circumstances which the scholar and critic Ziauddin Sardar has described as uncertain, rapidly changing and chaotic.  

He describes this as a period where the old orthodoxies are dying, but new ones have yet to be born, and very few things seem to make sense. In a word, the postnormal.

In any period of uncertainty, never mind a public health crisis and economic downturn of this scale, a company’s inclination can be to buckle down and focus solely on maintaining business as usual. And if there’s one thing we can be certain of at the moment – it’s that the last thing anyone truly wants or needs is business as usual.

We have seen some great examples of innovation and collaborative working across the social sector.  Just days after the virus was declared a pandemic many companies managed to get upwards of 90% of people working remotely. Jobs that we never imagined could be performed remotely— jobs which people were told couldn’t be performed remotely – suddenly and successfully were handled from home.

Let’s not pat ourselves on the back too hard though. The Bank of England has forecast that the coronavirus crisis will push the UK economy into its deepest recession in 300 years. You can add to that a rapidly ageing population, the increasing automation of jobs, a creaking welfare state and the challenges of achieving net zero. Even one of those trends would hit our communities hard, add them together and the picture can look decidedly apocalyptic. Perhaps hangovers are a daily part of the new normal. 

So, how many of our companies are looking at investing more in community driven innovation than they were pre-COVID? I’m betting: not many. 

There cannot be a board in the country who is not looking to cut costs right now. Offices stand empty, projects and programmes have been derailed and the medium term outlook is problematic at best.  Any investment deemed high risk and low return will be the first to be shelved as all efforts go into securing the bottom line. 

We have to accept that we will all have to contend with increasingly limited resources – but conducted in the right way innovation can thrive under such constraints. 

The challenges emerging from, or accelerated by, COVID-19 require innovation on a scale never seen before across the social sector. This demands that we overcome organisational and sector boundaries and join forces. 

The big challenge for the social sector will be putting aside any organisational ego and working in new partnerships. We need to be open to sharing each other’s resources, linking expertise in areas where one can compliment another. We need to be bold enough to admit that many of our organisations no longer need to exist.

In reality this requires a significant behaviour change – we need to move away from gathering personal career plaudits or seeking awards. The nature of the challenges we face – let’s use climate change by way of example – are not problems that can be solved by individual organisations. They require innovation at scale by hundreds of partners if we are even to make a dent in the problem. 

There’s a window of opportunity here that may last for as long as two years. COVID – 19 has temporarily removed many of the normal barriers to innovation, and sped up regulatory approval, access to funding, and internal decision-making.

So now is the time to accelerate much tighter collaborations between companies, communities, think tanks and start-ups.  Many of these startups are already bringing ideas and solutions to the table and are unhindered by legacy business models or thinking. 

Research has shown that strong innovators are more likely to embrace ideas from external sources and partnerships. Yet only a few companies have built a mature open-innovation competency. There are many reasons for this, ranging from a fear of sharing intellectual property, to perceived regulatory hurdles such as data privacy, to an outright disbelief that external collaboration is needed.

Orthodoxies are widely held and unchallenged assumptions that often start as truths at a certain point in time but aren’t revisited or challenged as realities change. COVID-19 has changed our reality and normal no longer applies.

What we’ve thought of as normal was never natural. Normal was the problem in the first place – and we now have an opportunity to fix it.


Photo by Roger Bradshaw on Unsplash

A version of this post was originally published in Inside Housing

How To Resist Corporate Hoarding

Many companies are still using software built or purchased from a time when Blockbuster were fining us for late returned videos.

Most of the companies we admire for their innovation , your Amazons, your Netflixes or your Apples have no such legacy ways of working holding them back. They either cleared them out years ago or never had them in the first place.

It’s often difficult to have an ambitious organisational clear out – as standardisation and minimalism isn’t seen as very exciting, or innovative. It can be expensive too, just like renovating an old house, and you can understand why many put it off,  or choose not to bother.

Last week I was talking about this with David Anderton the Transformation and ICT Director at Bromford.

It was David who identified the requirement for the Bromford Design Principles as well as the need to have a clear out of what was a 50+ year old organisational infrastructure that was disconnected and messy.

The problems we were set up to solve were once relatively simple, but as organisations get larger there’s more technology, more people, more regulation. We put together processes, controls, reviews, and structures and these factors together create a great amount of complexity.

Unravelling this – at the same time as keeping business running as usual – is no easy task.

  • Some of us simply don’t like letting go of the working practices we have become used to.
  • Some of us don’t see the need for connectivity and interoperability beyond our own functional silo
  • Some of us become overly attached to the tools we use to do our jobs despite them being well past their sell by date (In the same way as I can’t get my Dad to move past a Nokia 3210 – “It still does the job, son”)

According to David there are five factors hindering effective transformation:

  • inertia
  • risk aversion
  • lack of investment in operating models
  • an overinflated sense of delivery excellence
  • too much celebration of mediocrity

Additionally many organisations have become afflicted by a kind of hoarding disorder. This disorder means the organisation acquires an excessive number of policies, systems and structures and stores them in a chaotic manner, resulting in unmanageable amounts of clutter. This clutter isn’t just an aesthetic problem. In an era reliant on the instant transfer of information and data it hoards knowledge and makes it inaccessible rather than opening it up.

This is why the replacement of legacy systems is the modernisation headache, because it’s not an IT issue, it’s all about organisational behaviour.

One of the reasons people can be resistant to change is because – from their perspective – it doesn’t add any value. The case for a simpler operating model is often hard to see from a siloed perspective.

However, standardised and simplified operating models are the bedrock of innovation – as you can’t make a leap forward when you’re disorganised and disconnected.

And that’s what we’ve been trying to do.

  • A new operating model based on services
  • Designed from ground upwards
  • Focused on services required for strategy
  • Then build out a transformation journey with enabling technology

The problem is you can’t achieve this simplicity without a lot of hard work and some resistance.

The innovative companies we all admire have done this hard , boring , work years ago. Which is why they can experiment with AI and VR – they’ve built future ready platforms to which tech innovations can be seamlessly integrated.

Our old model organisations thrive on complexity. Many of the problems we set to solve are indeed complex, but that complexity doesn’t need to be mirrored internally.

Simplicity means saying no to things and doing less. Many of an organization’s activities are misaligned from , or have poorly defined, strategic objectives. We often anchor around the wrong thing. That’s why some big institutions have no chance – they are hit by random plans and transformations rather than anchoring around purpose.

This takes discipline though as it means killing vanity projects and saying no when something doesn’t fit into the plan.

02 (1)Doing more stuff gets people noticed and promoted.

Doing less stuff – but the right stuff is what we should now recognise and reward.

Consistency of operating model, clean data and standardization aren’t sexy.  But every one of the innovative organisations we admire has been through the pain of achieving that.

A future ready operating model eliminates corporate hoarding and replaces it with an agile framework that companies can adapt and morph on an ongoing basis,

They match the speed of today’s change and run with it, rather than constantly trying to catch up.


 

You can get the full set of the Bromford Design Principles here 

Cover photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

People Aren’t Sick Of Change. They’re Just Sick Of Change Programmes

I don’t buy into the idea that humans intrinsically hate change. I just think that by the time we’re in our 30s or 40s, lots of our experience of change – particularly in the workplace – has been more negative than positive. Instinctively rejecting it is a learned response – Tom Cheesewright

People , we hear, are tired of change. They have change fatigue.

We are sometimes told that people will resist our ‘change efforts’ or even need to be assessed for their ‘change readiness’. Change readiness, in case you’ve not had the pleasure, is the “ability to continuously initiate and respond to change in ways that create advantage, minimize risk, and sustain performance.”

Failing your change readiness assessment could be seriously career threatening. 

Despite this so-called change resistance all the evidence shows that people want change on a scale like never seen before , both in our wider society and the workplace.

What is to blame for this apparent ‘change paradox’?

My contention is that there are some similarities with how change – or rather the lack of meaningful change that make people’s lives better or easier – manifests itself in our communities and in our offices.

Simply put, people’s experience of the delivery of change is often far from what they have been promised.  This is put even more simply by Peter Vander Auwera – “people don’t resist change, they resist bullshit”.

The Big Problem With Change Programmes

The birth of the management change movement dates back to the 1960s and 1970s when big consultancy began to see a vast new market – convincing organisations of the benefits of ‘transformation’.

The philosophy proposed that there’s always a better version of you out there in the future and by following a series of best practices, toolkits and templates that version of you can be easily realised.

However change is not just about going from one point to another, reaching a mythical ‘to be’ state and stopping there. The most important thing is what takes place from point A to whatever happens next – and that will almost never be what you predicted or what it says on a Gantt chart. None of us can predict the future and nobody can possibly know the butterfly effect when you begin to change things.

That’s why large-scale transformations become too big to fail – resulting in a ‘wall of silence’ when objectives don’t get met. They simply cannot deliver on what was promised. So what’s the point of doing them?

We Need Trojan Mice, Not Trojan Horses

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Image courtesy of @whatsthepont

Chris Bolton has written an excellent series of posts (links in here) on the concept of Trojan Mice. Trojan Mice is a phrase Euan Semple used in his blog about ten ways to create knowledge ecology .  Unleash Trojan Mice. Don’t do big things or spend loads of money. Set small, nimble things running and see where they head.”

For Trojan Mice think of small safe to fail tests and learning exercises rather than big change. Trojan Mice are small, well focused changes that address a problem but are introduced in an inconspicuous way. without the fanfare of transformation. They are small enough to be understood and owned by all concerned.

This is grassroots change rather than top down. And because the change is being made by people close to the problem they don’t resist it – they lead it. 

Many organisations don’t like this approach though because it is , by definition, unpredictable.  Trojan Mice will eventually deliver rewards; but you may not get what you were expecting.

I’d argue that big change never gives you what you were expecting anyway – so you may as well embrace a bit of uncertainty and release the mice. It’ll cost you a lot less money – that’s for sure.

Towards A Community For Change

Change does not always happen where, when or how we want. Organisations are just collections of people but we often forget that and make it more complicated than it needs to be.

I don’t know how change happens where you live but where I am people just connect with each other over shared interests and they try things out. There aren’t any spreadsheets that I know of.

The problem with employing lots of Change and Transformation people is that they often start changing and transforming lots of things that never asked or needed to be changed or transformed in the first place.

Grass-roots change presents senior managers with a paradox because it means directing an approach to change without insisting on or even approving specific solutions.

However , if we are to bridge the gap between the appetite for change and the experience of change delivery, we need fundamentally new approaches.

People hate change?

No, they don’t. They hate to get changed by other people.

Who Really Wins From Digital Transformation?

The birth of the change management movement began in the 1960s and 70s – when big consultancy began to see a vast new market – convincing organisations of the benefits of ‘transformation’.

Alongside this came the development of a distinctive, pseudo-scientific language of change which the consultants needed to pitch themselves to new clients.

It aimed to take advantage of a sort of corporate narcissism – hoping that senior executives and boards would swoon at the chance to ‘made over’ by slick looking outsiders.

They certainly did swoon, in fact they fell head over heels. As Jacob Dutton writes in a challenging piece – helping companies ‘do transformation’ is now very big business.

“The total size of the global transformation market is expected to grow from $445.4bn in 2017 to $2,279.4bn by 2025. The consulting component of a transformation programme alone is worth $44bn. As a result, the likes of PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY have all reacted and developed their transformation capabilities.”

The size of this market , and the riches on offer, arguably drive three key behaviours:

  • A focus on agile solutions rather than contemplative problem definition.
  • A subsequent focus on low hanging fruit – the easier problem to solve is often through tech, rather than the more complex wicked problems 
  • A focus on benefits realisation rather than value production – which often puts the emphasis squarely on efficiency.  Humans are expensive right?

Which then leads to:  The rush towards technological transformation – as if cheap tech is the only solution.

But what are we losing from our organisations, from our community, when we approach transformation as purely a means to be quicker, slicker and more convenient?

NI Housing - Paul Taylor (2)

We could be seeing the digitsiation of the most important thing your organisation has – the relationship with your customer.

As Gerry McGovern has written, looking at technology as cost minimization results in the hollowing out of organizations into technological shells, in which staff spend far more time interacting with numbers, code, and content than they do with their customers.

These avoidance tactics presume the customer is a cost on your time rather than an opportunity. In our own work we have learned that our customers and communities have many skills, often untapped and completely underutilized by us and others like us.

This change evangelism and the hollowing out of relationships can make us embark on the worst kind of technological solutionism – that risks ignoring the skills, assets and sheer talent that exists in our communities.

Starting With a Clean Slate

At Bromford we’ve done a lot of work on the standardisation of our processes and service offerings. It’s not sexy, but some of the most innovative companies operate very standard operating models. It allows them move exponentially quicker.

Focusing purely on the relationship your customer wants, and the simpler processes that support it,  helps resist the need to transform.

Jacob Dutton proposes that big companies abandon the idea of transformation programmes altogether and suggests some tips for kicking the habit. I agree and would also add:

  • Let’s have more reflection and contemplation rather than lots of management activity.
  • Let’s devolve resources and influence to those closest to the problem rather than outsource them.
  • Let’s change little and often through small-scale experimentation.
  • Let’s not roll anything out until we have evidence that it actually works.

As Neil Tamplin has said perhaps our organisations need to be more amenable to gentle iterative change rather than lurching forward intermittently to catch up?

Being a human organisation means resisting someone else’s idea of best practice.

Who is really winning from transformation?

  • Is it the customer who now has a digital portal and a chatbot with a pre-determined series of options between them and the person they really need to deal with?
  • Is it the organisation who were promised a bright new future but find they have the same fundamental problems they always had?
  • Is it the employee who was told they shouldn’t resist change and that their job would be made easier, but found that their job would eliminated altogether?

The global transformation market will be worth $2,279.4bn by 2025.

Someone is winning and it’s not necessarily going to be you or your customer.

View at Medium.com

 

What Digital Transformation Is Not About

#WAODigital18
I’m hearing a lot about testing multiple small things and spreading what works – rather than investing in single Big Bang solutions. The world is moving too fast…

— Chris Bolton (@whatsthepont) June 14, 2018

“How ambitious can organisations be in using digital technology?” was the theme of two recent events I contributed to for the Wales Audit Office Good Practice Team. 

It served as both a reminder of the issues our organisations are grappling with – as well as unearthing some opportunities we are yet to exploit.

Here’s a round-up of my post-match thoughts:

Success in digital transformation depends on mindset, not technology

The problem is that digital change requires a completely different mindset, not just skill-set. The consumerisation of IT means we are forever playing catch-up.  Employees are using popular tech and devices at home and then introducing them in the workplace, whilst customers are using better tech than most of our organisations can hope to provide.

Redesigning our services around this is cultural rather than technological. It means we need to adopt very different organisational behaviours.

Stop talking, start experimenting

Organisations are still over-thinking digital and being cautious – waiting for the landscape to settle before they decide what they do. Arguably this ‘wait and see’ option is more ‘wait and die’.

When you don’t really know the way forward the best strategy is to spread your bets with small experiments. It’s these low-cost practical tests that show whether the fundamental assumptions are correct and what they mean for your business.

A focus on cost-cutting is a danger in transformation plans

Focusing everything on cost savings is outdated and will ultimately have longer-term implications for business in the digital era. There’s a huge opportunity for companies to broaden the lens and widen their ambition:

  • Rebuilding organisation’s as a platform – enabling people to select the suppliers and services they themselves want
  • Rewiring your organisation for the network era – stripping out hierarchy and management and making a transition to decentralised decision making
  • Automating everything that can be automated. But not before stripping out legacy protocols and systems.  Decommissioning old world services as you launch new ones, reserving your people for worthwhile jobs that add value to their lives and those of others.

In reality, many of us are delivering the same services as we did in 1970,  just with shiny websites and ‘customer portals’. That’s not transformation, that’s stagnation.

Technology cannot solve your organisation’s deep problems

If someone gives you the digital sales pitch as a golden bullet for systems that are fundamentally broken my advice is, don’t believe themShirley Ayres

The problem I have with digital cheerleading is two-fold:

  • The implication that all our problems are easily ‘solvable’ 
  • The subsequent rush towards technology – as if digital is the only solution.

The evidence that technology makes us more productive is weak at best. There’s an ever-increasing gap between technological sophistication and work actually being performed.

This is because we are simply taking existing ways of working and digitising them – effectively just transferring today’s problems to another platform.

‘Digital transformation’ is rarely about digital, or transformation.

It’s actually about the processes by which you change your business model or approach. Some of which will have digital elements.

We need to talk about leadership in a digital age

Digital illiteracy will get you fired long before a robot does. Digital is now not just part of the economy — it is the economy. Rather than it being the responsibility of an elite few surely anyone in a publicly funded role must be digitally literate?

Perhaps leadership in the digital age is less a set of skills and more a set of behaviours.

The challenge for current leaders and public sector organisations is the legacy thinking and a business model disconnected from citizens living digital lifestyles.

What is digital transformation anyway?

If your transformation doesn’t significantly change the customer experience of interacting with you, then it is not a transformation.

Indeed, the first rule of digital transformation is not to talk about digital transformation.

As Tony Colon writes – most employees wouldn’t be confident and nearly a third would be “extremely uncomfortable” in explaining what this concept actually is:

Let’s think about that for a second. The concept that businesses are betting on is something that the general population just doesn’t understand – even though they need to play a part in that transformation at work – and the entire premise of digital transformation relies on people.

Making the opportunities of digital real for people is becoming one of the most pressing priorities for our organisations.

Our biggest challenges are dealing with people’s belief systems, addiction to legacy processes and cognitive biases.

Digital transformation is not a ‘thing’.

It’s a race you can’t win with no end destination.

 


Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

 

 

Avoiding The Yo-Yo Effect of ‘Corporate Change Convulsions’

Speeches you never hear at a corporate conference: “….. Our Transformation Programme is going to be small and imperfect. We are going to do many small things that probably won’t work straight away.’ – Chris Bolton

In the early 1960s, a New York housewife named Jean Nidetch began a weekly meeting with friends at her home to talk about their issues with dieting. She was a ‘cookie addict’ who had struggled for years to lose weight through a succession of fad diets.

Her weekly meetings helped her lose nearly 10kg in a year. So successful was her personal transformation that she turned the gatherings into a programme and ultimately a company – called Weight Watchers.

This began the commercialisation of dieting, creating a worldwide industry expected to be worth 245 billion dollars by 2022

The idea behind most of those diets is straightforward and obvious: eat fewer calories and you will lose weight.

But that’s not what actually happened: instead the diet trend coincided with mass weight gain and the beginnings of the obesity epidemic.

According to research, most dieters will regain almost all of what they lose – which is why the typical dieter tries a new bright and shiny personal transformation plan four times a year.

Change fails, try a new approach, spend more money.

A few weeks ago I wrote The Big Problem With Change Programmes – my most popular post for a year. It drew a lot of responses and messages. Here’s a selection:

“There’s a sense of complete deja vu – we’ve been here before and because the last one didn’t work it’s hard for even the most positive of us to be excited.”

“Change programmes are an industrialized construct and, as such, they are rarely culturally insightful because they often fail to get under the skin of the deep issues around how a group of people adapts and changes.”

” Our organisation are doing ‘change theatre’ – spending a lot of money on consultants helping us address things that will change the organisation as little as possible. The big complex issues are being ignored.”

The common theme – hired help brought in every few years to sort things out – is well illustrated by Ian Watt who describes regular ‘corporate convulsions’ that fail to transform anything – as predictably as a January diet.

Does Big Consultancy Really Work?

One of the reasons it’s hard to evaluate the relative success of change programmes is very few organisations share what actually happened, how much they spent, and almost none share which ones failed.

Similarly, the use of big consultancy is shrouded in mystery.

According to the main industry body in the UK, the Management Consultancies Association (MCA), for every £1 spent on consulting fees, you can expect £6 in return.

However, a new study by Ian KirkpatrickAndrew Sturdy and Gianluca Veronesi challenges that view.

What if consultancy is actually making you more inefficient?

The study – across 120 NHS trusts – showed that management consulting didn’t make the organisations more efficient – it had precisely the opposite effect.

NHS yearly expenditure on management consultants almost doubled from £313 million in 2010 to £640 million in 2014.

The study shows that in some cases spending on management consultants did improve efficiency, but overall consulting use generated inefficiency, thus making the financial situation of clients worse.

Although the inefficiencies were relatively small it doesn’t take into account the amount of money paid to consultants and – perhaps more importantly – the huge amounts of time and resource involved.

It notes that NHS organisations have been either unable or unwilling to engage in the formal evaluation of management consulting, resulting in an absence of ‘rigorous, peer reviewable, transparent data’.

The study also highlights the active role of management consultants in pushing services when there is no need for them. Change for the sake of change.

Perhaps – as Chris Bolton has written – we should instead be seeking minimum viable transformation, and change should be small and imperfect:

“Most Transformation Programmes are about BIG ideas (and BIG language), where there is little room for failure.”

These corporate convulsions are little more than crash diets, where the weight is almost certainly going to pile back on.

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At Bromford as part of our programmeOne approach, we’ve taken time to look at the case for change, redesigning all 31 service areas and mixing larger-scale transformation with small-scale experimentation.

Part of that included a lot of time spent looking at why previous attempts hadn’t worked and getting deeper into problem definition. As David Anderton has said that means convincing your organisation that you’re not that special, and not creating bespoke solutions for problems that don’t exist. We only need change where it makes a tangible difference to customers.

Amazon, so we are told, have never had a change programme.

Just as a permanent lifestyle change is a flexible, ongoing process that involves body, mind and spirit — so changing an organisation is a journey without end and not a fixed point ‘transformation’.

Why Transformation Fails – And How To Avoid It

The concept that 70% of change and transformation programmes fail emerged in the mid 1990’s. There’s actually little evidence that this is true.

The 70% figure seems to have emerged because of a lack of clarity about what success looks like – and that most people have a bad experience of them.

My contention is that programmes fail for three reasons:

Why Transformation Fails And How To Avoid It

When was the last time you heard an organisation openly talking about what didn’t work? The problem we face is that large scale transformations become too big to fail – resulting in a ‘wall of silence’ when objectives don’t get met.

The irony is that this silence is the root cause of failure – as we become eternally doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

Why Transformation Fails And How To Avoid It (2)

Most organisations exist in a fixed state of transformation – time-limited programmes of change (usually 3-5 years) rather than a flow state. 

Amazon, we hear, have never had a transformation programme. That’s because they exist in a flow state – where the culture is accepting that change is perpetual rather than something that – if we just grin and bear it – will be over in a few years.

The danger with a fixed state is that the driver becomes a business plan focused on implementation not experimentation. 

Accordingly we end up with optimisation not transformation.  Or, as Emma McGowan has said, we end up digitising the status quo.

Why Transformation Fails And How To Avoid It (3)

Too often we focus on transforming parts of organisations rather than looking at whole system change. This results in the creation of more efficient silos rather than anything fundamentally different.

There are cultural reasons for this. We have a western bias towards individualism rather than looking at the whole picture. Rice farmers in South-East Asia tend to be more collaborative and cooperative as a successful crop requires a holistic approach to nature and irrigation systems rather than just a focus on the self.

Most change programmes do not look at interconnected systems – they narrowly focus on efficiency.

Accordingly , as Andy Reeve said, transformation gets a bad reputation as it often becomes equated with fewer jobs rather than creating a different world.

The End of Change Management

Perhaps we’d achieve more if we gave up on big change. People lose heart, are daunted by the scale and the programmes lose momentum.

We need to get back to basics;

  • We need a clear vision of why we need to change and what benefit it will bring. If you step behind the rhetoric of transformation you’ll see it is usually about reinforcing existing business models rather than truly challenging them.
  • We need influence devolved to people closest to the change. Change is best served when we devolve power, and institutions and hierarchy get out of the way.
  • We need change through small experimentation. We shouldn’t initiate change without a clear problem statement and some evidence that any proposed solution would result in a net positive outcome.

And we need a new honesty about what’s not worked well. Chris Bolton has suggested a Museum of Failed Products for public services.

Perhaps we need a Museum of Failed Change Programmes too?

Surely the best way we can avoid repeating our mistakes is to put our previous ‘failed attempts’ on show for everyone to see.


This is an edited version of a talk that was originally given at #HQNFlight on 11th October 2017

The Rules of Digital Transformation

In five years time we’ll look back and realise we had it wrong about digital.

Digital transformation was never about digital, and rarely about transformation.

It’s actually about the processes by which you change your business model or approach. Some of which will have digital elements.

The problem I have with digital cheerleading is two fold:

  • The implication that all our problems are easily ‘solvable’ 
  • The subsequent rush towards technology – as if digital is the only solution.

This week I was at the BT Innovation Centre talking about our experience of change. It was a wonderful couple of days but I left with a worry that our obsession with digital transformation is becoming the problem rather than the solution.

I’m at the latter stages of service design across a large organisation and so far one thing is clear:

Pretty much everyone said they wanted a digital or system solution.

What everyone really needed was a hugely simplified business model or process that reflected current strategy.

My issue with digital transformation and the snake oil salesmen that surround us with system solutions is the implication that everything being digitised is somehow better.

The evidence that technology makes us more productive is weak at best. There’s an ever increasing gap between technological sophistication and work actually being performed. Think on that before you purchase that new software.

Also most change isn’t truly transformational – its focus is firmly on improving efficiency and customer experience rather than rewriting the business model.

Research from McKinsey supports the fact that most transformation programmes fail, finding that only 26% of transformations have been “very or completely successful at both improving performance and equipping the organisation to sustain improvements over time”.

Their research goes on to suggest that the odds of making a transformation successful can be dramatically improved by how we talk about change. The way we frame it is an essential element in how people embrace and implement it.

The irony is that continually talking up transformation actually makes it harder to implement. Telling people they are in for big changes invokes their status quo bias – people naturally prefer things to stay as they are and perceive any change as a threat or a loss.

By breaking change down into the simplest possible elements we would boost the chance of success. (This lovely sketchnote from Tanmay Vora sums up my thoughts here.)

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Digital will never be a silver bullet for problems that have beset organisations for decades.

Equally – claiming digital as being the driver for everything dumbs change down. Implying everything can be solved with a system does a huge disservice to our people and the human capacity for creativity and innovation.

Changing your business has many elements: leadership, people, process and, of course, digital.

Ultimately though there’s only one rule to live by here:

Strategy , not technology, drives transformation. 

Digital Transformation is Failing. Why?

“A key reason why true mobile working isn’t being implemented is because of management culture. The case for mobile working has been proven; it is the people who are the biggest barriers.”- 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends report

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The way we work , it seems, is no longer working.

What we’ve long suspected – that organisations are failing to maintain pace with technological advancements – is now evidenced.

It wasn’t meant to be like this.

We were promised that digital would revolutionise the workplace. Although the use of mobile devices is practically ubiquitous, true mobile working is not growing at the rate predicted.

  • Despite huge advancements in video messaging and conferencing workers still spend a year of their lives in physical meetings. If you’re employed in the public sector it’s worse – with nearly 2 years clocked up for every worker.
  • Commuting to work – far from being a thing of the past – is actually increasing. The number of people with a 2 hour commute has risen 72% in the last decade.
  • We spend about 60% of our time on email, a crude technology from the 1970’s. The UK’s biggest employer, the NHS, hasn’t even got that far and still sends pieces of paper to contact patients.

As the 2017 Public Sector Mobile Working Report makes clear – our leadership is certainly in question. There’s a lack of strong pioneering leaders prepared to take the plunge and spearhead change.

The UK is a now a high-employment, low-productivity economy lagging behind almost all of its peers.  Yet despite this and with an obvious skills deficit , seven out of ten people say they receive no basic digital training from their employers.

With such a huge gap in business potential – this appears to be a dereliction of duty by leaders. What’s the reason?

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The diagram shows that individuals are relatively quick and adept at adopting new innovations.

However, whilst you and I may adapt to technology relatively rapidly, businesses and organisations move at a much slower pace.

If it is people who are the biggest barriers – why do we behave differently in a work context compared to our home lives?

The argument – so it goes – is that this may be a generational thing. That those currently at management level weren’t brought up in the digital era and may have an innate fear of technology.

To me this assumption that a new breed of younger savvier digital natives are going to usurp the incumbent dinosaurs is a dangerous one. It’s casual ageism for a start – I know people in their 70’s who can code, and people in their 20’s who can’t tweet.

More importantly though – it lets business leaders off the hook.

What if there’s a deeper problem here , what if it’s the way we work that is impeding progress?

What if work no longer works? 

The practices of corporate planning, organisational structure, job profiles, performance indicators, and management were developed in the industrial age. It could be that some, or all, of these are wholly inconsistent with the behaviours required in a digital age.

It is these legacy practices that any business transformation programme should be addressing. Too often they focus on the digital tools themselves which are largely irrelevant.

Anyone can introduce a new IT system- but as digital organisational models emerge, it’s leadership that needs change.

We are at a crossroads – at the intersection of paths towards a new digital economy or an adherence to the traditional world of work.

Being a leader in the digital era means casting aside old strategic frameworks, processes, relationships and values. It also means being brave and bold enough to step into the fray: challenging every aspect of tradition.

Digital transformation isn’t really anything to do with digital tools.

It’s about redefining the concept of work itself.

Embracing Challenge to Build a Stronger Innovation Culture

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Just as your body is designed to fight a common cold, most of our cultures protect the organisational DNA from any antibodies. Add something new and it can get rejected.

As Chris Bolton has written organisations can have immune systems and idea antibodies. As Chris says – It’s not personal. It’s just an automatic survival mechanism.

The stronger your culture – the more resistant it can be to change.

The challenge then is not to embark upon another change programme , but to disrupt your culture.

I’m writing this on the way to talk to a group of Non Executive Board Members alongside Helen Bevan – on the subject of embracing challenge to build a stronger innovation culture.

We need a system upgrade for sure.

What does a 2.0 version of organisational change look like?

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At Bromford we’ve learned to distinguish between wicked problems which might require widespread organisational change – and the smaller changes and innovations we can introduce from the edges.

Scalable innovation in our world is often about joining the dots & making optimal investments. Marginal gains rather than big bang programmes. This involves less reporting and more doing. Discreet tests and pilots that explore a new world without fully committing to it.

However – larger scale innovation dies or thrives from the top. Accordingly the role of Boards in understanding the process of transformation, and the innovation culture it requires to thrive, cannot be underplayed.

nhf-boards-paul-taylor-2Boards themselves, not just executives, need to reflect on whether innovation receives sufficient attention during meetings, and also consider what role they should play in supporting transformative efforts. Supporting the attitudes and mindset from which effective innovation is born is a responsibility of all leaders.

Establishing a governance that supports disruption

If the culture is risk averse you have a problem as innovation always entails risk. A culture of innovation must accept and even encourage considered risk-taking – including failure.

Risk-aversion of corporate governance structures has the potential to quash innovation.

The organisation of the future will be one that differentiates their customer experience from the competition. Those who rip the rulebook apart, rather than slavishly follow the herd,  will be rewarded.

Giving people permission to create new rules is the quickest way to eliminate fear , the biggest enemy of innovation.

There’s an inherent tension here – and for good reason. Permissions need to be managed or chaos reigns.  The trick is finding the balance – and creating an innovation process that also practices good risk management.

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The first step to change is recognising there is  often a cognitive bias against new introductions.

Most Change Fails because the case for change has not been made strongly enough and communicated well enough.  If it’s only leaders and managers who understand why the change is important it’s doomed.

Our track record of introducing change programmes is abysmal. And yet we now need to rewire our organisations for disruption.

What does a 2.0 version of organisational change look like?

It’s less a time limited programme and more a way of life.

It’s a culture where everyone is actively questioning the status quo and is rewarded for it.

It’s a culture that constantly asks: “How can we do this better?” or “What would we do if we started again?”.

It’s a culture that can sustain as much rapid change as possible without falling apart.

Why Collaboration Does Not Equal Innovation

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Photo credit: Jonatan Pie

Transformation can’t happen without discovery and discovery can’t happen without experimentation.

It’s a new year and at Bromford we are planning a reboot of our approach to innovation (actually we are planning a reboot of everything).

My emerging thoughts are we need less talk of accelerated fast fail innovation and more a systemic and systematic approach to experiments.

Why?

Because innovation is almost never a single event.

As Greg Satell has written it can take decades for new solutions to be adopted widely. People cling to old models out of habit and convenience. Systemwide change doesn’t come easy.

The idea of putting a few people together in a room and expecting them to have some eureka moment about complex problems is , at best, naive.

Corporate away days, brainstorming, hackathons, conferences, unconferences,  all promote the myth that bringing a few random people together solves problems.

It’s good to talk for sure – but let’s stop conflating collaboration with innovation.

Most hacks and conferences do not solve problems – and certainly not big problems. Problems are there for a reason. People are working to solve these problems constantly, spending much more energy and resources than a single group of people ever can.

As part of the programme I’m working on at the moment potential solutions often only emerge weeks, or even months, after the initial creative session.

The reality is that innovation is an ongoing process. A process that requires problem definition, research, creativity and testing. Lots and lots of testing.

Currently only a small proportion of organisations in the social sector incorporate this process alongside the introduction of a wide range of new knowledge, new process and new technology.

Organisations are jumping to the latter. However technology cannot magically mend broken systems or solve intractable problems.

The real opportunity in 2017 is combining experiments with larger scale transformation.

I’m no longer interested in the cheerleading of innovation and transformation as an end in itself. My interest lies in the practical examples of learning and exploration that organisations are able to evidence.

Smart organisations will:

  • Build a portfolio of many different types of experiments from new customer offerings to new business models.
  • View small experiments as a natural constraint to bloated and expensive ‘projects’.
  • Conduct multiple experiments at the same time and be able to evidence their impact and share the learning.
  • Use the governance, scale and resources of transformation programmes to ensure the adoption of proven experiments.

Our job is to set the stage and create the right environment for those experiments.

We need a safe space for exploration. We need permission to cross organisational silos and assemble diverse co-creators. We need to move out of our ivory towers and shift innovation as close as we can to the colleagues and customers who know the jobs that need doing.

Organisational change doesn’t come easily.

A joined-up process of collaboration, research, experimentation and transformation would certainly make it a lot faster.

Resisting the Rush to Technology for Solutions

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Is anyone else getting tired of the talk –  and it is mainly talk – of digital transformation?

The endless rounds of conferences, clubs and lists of so-called digital leaders – all promising a tech utopia.

At a recent event I observed an audience listlessly staring at their iPhones as a speaker described how digital was changing the world.  It certainly has  – no-one was paying him the slightest bit of attention.

The problem I have with digital cheerleading is two fold:

A) The implication that all our problems are ‘solvable’ 

B) The subsequent rush towards technology – as if digital is the only solution.

Organisations are too often focussing on form rather than function , digitising the prosaic and easily achievable (customer portals anyone?) rather than having a fundamental rethink of why they exist. 

As I’ve argued before, transformation is not about the illusion of radical change  – but a reshaping of purpose.

All the work we have been doing at Bromford over the past five years has convinced us of three things:

  1. There are problems in communities but there are even more opportunities. We have learned that our customers and communities have many skills. That even if  they do need ‘help’ they are just as likely to find what they need from a friend or a neighbour as they are from a ‘professional’.
  2. That many of our most challenging issues fall into the category of Wicked Problems like social isolation, health and income inequality. These aren’t amenable to a single organisation, top down instinct to define, analyse, dissect and process.
  3. The challenge is connecting the various players and closing the gaps. Who is connecting the connectors? 

Over the next few months we will be launching a completely re-engineered way of providing our service – an evolution of the Bromford Deal.  

It’s less about Bromford as a single purpose organisation and more of organisation as a platform. Organisation as a super connector.

It’s the result of all the testing , piloting and exploring we’ve been doing over the past few years. The learning from all these pilots has brought us to an overriding conclusion: we can have the most impact with our communities when we truly get to know them and are freed from the shackles of how we used to do things.

Those shackles include silo working, restrictive policies, a reliance on contact centres and customer relationship ‘management’ software. As if customers are there to be ‘managed’ anyway.

Are we just Luddites?  I’d argue not – the principles will be supported by mobile working, collaborative tools and digital networks. However we are resisting putting burdensome technology in the way of relationships.

Digital evangelists too often presume that it will solve all our problems. By doing this we embark on the worst kind of technological solutionism – that risks ignoring the skills, assets and sheer talent that exists in our communities.

Who is connecting the connectors?

Starting now:

We are. 


 

Note: We are recruiting to support this! 

You can see a video of the new approach (perfectly narrated by Lab Manager – Vicky Green). 

Here’s a link to example job profiles of the Head of Locality and Neighbourhood Coach (these are available in different geographical areas – go to main Bromford  recruitment site)

If you’d like any more information or a quick chat, just message me here or via Twitter DM and I’ll connect you to the right people!

Stepping Behind The Rhetoric of Digital Transformation

Fundamentally the challenge for current leaders and public sector organisations is the legacy thinking and a business model which is rooted in serving a de facto purpose which is disconnected from the people and places the organisation or leaders serve – Carl Haggerty

 

Yesterday I chaired an event where the CEO of HACT , Matt Leach, gave us a wicked provocation.

Talk of a digital transformation in housing (he could also have been talking about care, health etc) is rubbish.

It hasn’t happened.

All the talk , all the conferences , all the clubs , the tweets,  all the lists of digital leaders – it’s all rhetoric.

Nothing has changed.

We are delivering the same services as we did in 1965. Just with shiny websites and customer portals.  

It’s a point that Carl Haggerty also refers to in his must read post. Too many people are claiming that there is digital transformation happening – when really it is just automating legacy processes.

It’s improvement for sure. Less time for customers , less money for providers – but it’s not ‘transformation’, a word possibly even more abused than innovation.

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Here’s what transformation could be:

  • Rebuilding your organisation as platform – enabling people to select the suppliers and services they themselves want – rather than the ones that made it through your procurement framework.
  • Rewiring your organisation for the network era – stripping out hierarchy and management and making the,  often painful, transition to decentralised decision making.
  • Automating everything that can be automated. But not before stripping out legacy protocols and systems.  Decommissioning old world services as you launch new ones, reserving your people for worthwhile jobs that add value to their lives and those of others.

Transformation is not about the illusion of radical change (better, faster services , less crap than they used to be) but rather a fundamental rethink of why you exist – and a reshaping of the ways you deliver upon it.

That said, a few events I’ve been to over the past week have reminded me that many of us are a long way from this.

For a lot of people closer to the frontline some minor changes could be truly transformative.

Over the past days I’ve heard the , sometimes sad,  reality of people trying to change things whilst their organisation seems to fight against it.

  • Of organisations where social media is still banned, or at least actively discouraged
  • Of organisations where IT departments tell people resources like Yammer and Slack cost £35,000
  • Of people stuck using digital tools that were last updated when Gordon Brown was in Number 10.

(As an aside I was told great stories of young people entering the workplace not knowing what Outlook is. Not even realising that Microsoft made anything other than Xbox!)

For all the talk of transformation we are in an era of digital haves and have nots. And Matt rightly questioned how seriously this agenda is taken strategically.

  • How many social sector organisations have true digital leaders on their boards?
  • How many Chief Information Officers (or their equivalent) are part of the executive function?

At the end of the conference I collected up some of the evaluation sheets.

The first one had scored my slot , presented in the slides above, 5 out of 10.

My talk of robots, 3D printing and self management was a world away from what they needed. They just wanted tips on how they could convince their organisation that social media had a business benefit.

Transformation, like innovation, is all relative. We need to support whatever makes a difference to people. 

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