The complexities of continuity in a world of constant change

01 May, 2019

Earthport Chief Operating Officer, Helen Smith discusses how change doesn’t need to be daunting when implementing a business performance improvement strategy, and where key focuses should lie in order to ensure successful uptake.

It seems that when we discuss change today everyone is talking about disruption. The concept of change itself has been transformed into a far more chaotic event than it was previously believed to be, taking a more aggressive and destructive shape. Real change it seems is demonstrated by the deconstruction of the existing building blocks of an industry, company or team and the replacement of them in their entirety to deliver the desired effect - the new world must “rise from the ashes” of the old.

In reality however, absolute reconstruction is rarely required. Instead, understanding and optimising the existing strengths of an organisation is often the difference between success and failure. Within the need for change exists a complex and potentially dangerous contradiction - in business our clients want the benefits of change but not the disruption of the act of such change.  Therefore, the art is in successfully transforming your business whilst also delivering the continuity and reliability your clients demand.

Change does not happen because we know it should, we really want it to or because it is desperately needed. It cannot be forced with threats of what may happen if we fail to execute. Change successfully transforms businesses when there is clear and authentic leadership from the top, underpinned by credible and honest conversation between managers and their people ensuring everyone is engaged in the journey. Correctly managed, leaders of change empower all employees to individually become promotors and owners of the change, sharing in its recognised success.

Sounds simple? When done right it may look simple, but a successful transformation is no easy feat. As a leader you should ensure that you lay out a clear vision for change, both strategically and tactically – articulating what the future looks like and then navigating your business through a complex and unsettling time. You need to engage hearts and minds, articulating a compelling vision in a way that everyone understands and then quickly delivering an achievable roadmap of milestones.  Leaders need to build and maintain momentum, the journey can take anywhere from months to years and engagement needs to be maintained throughout.  You need to ensure that roles and responsibilities are clear, creating ownership and accountability, which in turn promote a rapid spread of the cultural and commercial change you are trying to promote from within.

Working with a clear vision, an operating model to operationalise and sustain the change and a clear path to delivery, you should quickly address the gaps you have from talent to technology. Both will play a critical role in the execution of your plan and you shouldn’t be afraid to bring in short-term experts where knowledge is lacking or remove any individuals whose skills may be relevant but whose attitude or behaviours aren’t aligned. Short term senior resource can be hugely effective in fast tracking progress whilst building the capability of your permanent organisation.

Transformation doesn’t need to be supported by a layer of never-ending committees and forums, you need to establish governance with purpose based on clear priorities and with the authority to redirect effort when needed. Simple effective governance enables executives to lead from the front, demonstrating their personal ownership of and commitment to change, ensuring the many twists and turns along the course are guided by their confident leadership and understanding of your business.

Earthport presented a unique opportunity to lead fast, focussed and effective transformation of business performance.  We moved fast to articulate a new strategy and change roadmap for the business.  We had great talent within the business, people who had been with the company for many years, so engaging them and getting the best from them was incredibly important.  We partnered this internal talent with external specialists to ensure we could transform at pace while continuing to deliver for our customers and simultaneously building new capability in our permanent teams. A key area of early focus was defining clear accountabilities, processes and operational controls. Implementing standardised ways of working was critical to achieving stability and laying the foundations for rapid growth and scale.  These controls give security for both executives and employees alike to track and learn from the process in real time, enabling agility and reducing the risk of wrong turns.

They say you can’t outrun a bad diet and transformation is no different. Even with the best of intentions and most detailed plans, if you don’t have the hearts and minds of your people, a clear vision, the right operating model enabled by talent and technology, you won’t get very far. This isn’t achieved via heavy program structures or layers of governance, it comes down to effective leadership, plain and simple.

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