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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking

TO CHANGE YOUR BUSINESS, START WITH ‘WHY’

2021-01-06 11:24

Cathryn Barnard

Blog, BUSINESS RESILIENCE, FUTURE OF WORK CONSULTING, WORKFORCE TRANSFORMATION, ORGANISATIONAL PURPOSE, BUSINESS TRANSFORMATION, ORGANISATIONAL CHANGE, TRANSFORMATION,

TO CHANGE YOUR BUSINESS, START WITH ‘WHY’

As a matter of urgency, organisations must transition, away from ‘make-do’, temporary approaches, towards longer-term workforce strategies...

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In a COVID world, organisational change is big business. 

 

The 2020 outbreak triggered a dramatic pivot away from office life and rapid adoption of remote working. As urban centres were abandoned, retailers and hospitality venues quickly shifted to online trade and takeout service in an act of survival. Those lacking digital capability fell by the wayside.

 

Initially anticipated as temporary, homeworking is now morphing into a more permanent feature of work, as virus transmission continues to perplex scientists, politicians and policy makers alike. 

 

Despite the promise of vaccination programmes in 2021, continuous uncertainty is here for a while yet. This has wide-reaching consequences for business of every type and size.

 

As a matter of urgency, organisations must transition again, this time away from ‘make-do’, temporary approaches, towards longer-term workforce strategies that maximise the gains hybrid and distributed working have to offer. Striking the right balance between home working and office life will be key to workforce performance optimisation in the next decade. 

 

Equally pressing is the challenge of navigating new approaches to sales and marketing in the age of social distance. 2020 data already highlights changes in B2B and B2C buying behaviour, and the ability to embrace these shifts will determine longer term business failure or success.

 

Finally, for those of us in the UK, we must discover new pathways for our post-Brexit trading landscape.

 

As we enter 2021, organisational transformation is an imperative.

 

But while the discipline of change management evolves continuously, the fact is that most initiatives don’t achieve their desired outcomes. According to management consultancy McKinsey, 70% of transformation programmes fail.

 

And the primary reason by far for transformation failure derives from lack of employee buy-in. Simply put, if those responsible for deciding the change of tack fail to engage the hearts and minds of those impacted by said change, an innate human response will be to uphold the status quo

 

A clearly articulated vision, and effective, empathic communication are key to transformation success outcomes. To successfully embrace change, humans need two things. They need a well-defined, relatable vision of a better future, and they need to know they’re not alone in their transformation struggle.

 

Anyone who’s tried to embed a new habit – healthier eating, weight-loss, smoking cessation – will know the time and consistent effort it takes to turn a new behaviour into an automated response (a habit). It’s no coincidence that programmes like AA and Weight Watchers ritualise regular meetings, where attendees share the emotional burden of their journey, while gathering inner strength from the support these meetings provide. These gatherings are grounded in emotional intelligence and recognition of the human condition.

 

Yet all too often, emotional intelligence at work is missing. We lack the courage or competence to sit in the discomfort of someone else’s struggle. We fail to acknowledge our differences, to accept that what might come easily to us, might be perceived as a challenge for someone else. At large, we struggle to lay down the foundations of successful community building, because there isn’t a rule book or evidence-based instruction manual. 

 

Simply put, focusing on the analytical and measurable tasks, such as creating a change programme schedule, feels much easier than the messy business of navigating emotion, relationship and community.

 

Before shortlisting the best change methodologies, let’s build a solid understanding of the complex forces that have created market volatility, uncertainty, and ambiguity. Let’s apply foresight focus. 

 

When information is missing, we tell ourselves alternative stories – often catastrophising – which fast becomes our undoing. 

When we take time to build clarity and a shared understanding of why things are changing, we shine a light on uncertainty. We de-risk it. Only then can we successfully focus on how best to adapt.

 

Lasting change is contingent on social influence. We change our behaviour in step with the community around us. Change happens person by person, conversation by conversation. As we consider business transformation in 2021, let’s start with 'why'.

 

By prioritising inclusion, connection and community over Gantt charts, we’ll do a far better job of achieving both lasting transformation outcomes and enduring organisational agility. 

 

Let’s start by remembering the fundamentals. At heart, organisations are clusters of people, all aligned in the pursuit of a well-defined goal.

 

A change strategy that’s centred on world-class inclusive communication and grounded in emotional intelligence will provide infinitely enhanced and lasting results. Our own primary research has shown people to be naturally resilient, adaptive and curious – all traits fundamental to successfully navigating continuous change. 

 

The future may be far from clear, but as social creatures, a strategy built on community and togetherness reinforces psychological safety – the critical component for overcoming our greatest challenges.

 

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Looking to dive deeper into some of the areas covered in this blog post? Check out our Recruitment and Retention and Foresight Focus reports and products.

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