Enterprise Change done right: keep your vision in mind

Whatever the label used by our clients, be that transformation, digital, agile or change, fundamentally we see our purpose as enabling change. Laing Russell is about getting enterprise change done right.

Recent Bain & Company research endorsed our perspective that the central focus of any programme of work in this area should focus on changing the behaviours of the human beings. In contrast to what is often taught on MBAs and promoted by the writers of airport business books, our insight is that enterprise change is complicated and it is unhelpful to reduce the complexity of the real world to simplistic, predictive Newtonian models.

There are many useful models and thinking frameworks that we use to focus and structure clearer, more productive conversations about what to do as leaders of change. Our recent experience is that the foundation for us all is to persist with a clear vision in mind. Success comes from using that shared and explicit clarity of your desired outcome, your vision, to guide your actions in leading change.

In building that shared, explicit clarity on the vision, the framework developed by John Kotter is better than many in creating a checklist to get you started. The focus on a sense of urgency, as Kotter describes it, is key. A critical early step is to develop that clarity around what we would call the rational and emotional ‘case for change’. Crucially, it is important that case has the support of sufficient number of the wider and influential leadership team.

Kotter argues for gaining the support of 75% of the leadership population, although often it is more important to just start. Rather than wait to hit a specific threshold. Our recent insight is that you have to persist with creating that sense of urgency and never stop working at it. This persistence includes using  more ‘viral’ communication approaches, building stories as we set out in our last insight piece.

A critical, perhaps the most critical, part of your leadership behaviour is the communication of this vision. In our experience you cannot ever do enough communication, especially two-way communication.  Communication is much more conversation than broadcast, more of a process to enable the change to be led by others. Enabling and empowering others to interpret the vision and make it their own, which Kotter calls enlisting that volunteer army facilitates others to translate the vision into their own changed behaviour. Once outcomes start to be delivered, the role of leader moves on to activities such as removing barriers, designing and delivering early short-term wins, and sustaining acceleration of delivery of the change that has been delivered.  At all times it is important to institutionalise the change byanchoring or embedding the changes in systems, process and corporate culture.

An important reflection from our recent work is that whilst Kotter’s model is useful in making sure we think things through and develop plans, following the model will not on its own deliver the outcome for you, and you will not realise your vision.

To achieve your vision of lasting change, you must persist with all of the activities that are summarised in Kotter’s model, all of the time. Spot opportunities to deliver or embed your vision that you had not seen in your first round of strategising and planning. Review and learn from experience in a fast cycle. In practice, it never was and never will be a serial, sequential start to finish activities. Leading change is messy, it’s a parallel set of on-going processes that need to be led. Persist and do it right you will deliver.