How to deliver change as a constant

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Hindsight is a wonderful thing. What if you’d known back in 2017, that Tiktok was on a fast-track to hit 1bn users – would you have changed your content strategy to take advantage? What if you’d anticipated the Great Resignation – would you have made different decisions to leverage the power of the interim revolution? What if you knew that consumer trends would shift to place greater emphasis on sustainability – would you have prioritised that conversation in the boardroom?

In business, the traditional approach to strategy is to plan 5-years into the future. You set your end goal and then plot a nice linear path to get there. Simple. 

Only life isn’t simple. 

Five years ago pandemics and wars were confined to the ‘unlikely’ section of the risk register, while digitisation and Gen Z were unknown opportunities. High impact threats – like fires or flooding – were the order of the day, as well as common business risks, like cashflow, talent management and competitive pressure…

Only that’s changed too. It used to be that competitors would squeeze you on price, outshine you with superior product quality, or offer some sort of ‘value add’ – like when Sainsbury’s went beyond just selling groceries to offer up meal plans and recipes, which turned their consumers into amateur chefs. Today, there exists far more market disruption from startups who exist to challenge the status quo: Uber changed the way we think about travel, Netflix changed the way we consume content, Starling changed the way we bank…

Long-term plans largely fail because the future is uncertain. We live in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times – and the more volatile our world is, the faster things change. Transformation traditionally has a start and an end point – at which point teams think transformation is complete and they can relax. But apply this traditional way of strategy to your business today, and 1 of 2 things will happen:

  1. When you hit your end goal in 5-years’ time, you risk the change no longer being relevant.
  2. You are so focused on hitting that 5-year goal, you become blinkered to everything else and risk missing out on new opportunities.

At S&S we’re changing consultancy. Rather than continue to follow the way strategy has always been done, we’ve changed to deliver transformation in 90-day value cycles. Knowing we’re always up against an imminent deadline keeps us focused so change remains relevant and we prioritise initiatives with the greatest business impact at that moment.   

Change can no longer be a long-term exercise 

Rather than be activity focused, change must become an inbuilt capability that enables the organisation to constantly improve, evolve, and self-heal. Change must become a fundamental attribute to every department, team, process and individual. Change must be broken down into small components, so the business transforms through the line to deliver small packets of value regularly. 

But it’s hard.

Traditional ways of working are so ingrained, with most business leaders simply doing what they think is ‘best’ based on their previous experience and intuition. But in the new knowledge age, this isn’t enough because the world is both complicated and complex.

Delivery models of the past are no longer fit for purpose in today’s world of hyper-disruption and unrelenting pace. Therefore, to be a future business, you must unlearn the business principles of the past and re-think how your new ways of working are conducive to progress, adaptability and speed.

How to deliver change as a constant

Unlike traditional models, which make it hard for organisations to solve urgent problems because the time to value is too long, your new approach should focus on delivering small packets of value regularly – at least every 90-days. 

Often, it’s not revolutionary change that delivers the greatest value, but tiny tweaks to instill brilliant basics. Take AO as an example – it sells thousands of electricals but overtime has evolved its customer experience to include a range of delivery options, installation, ‘Remove & Recycle’ of old appliances, and a free 100-day return policy. With a 90-day approach you accelerate change because you already have the infrastructure needed to create small isolated microservices quickly, deliver new experiences, and/or iterate on customer journeys.

Furthermore, focus on the quality and expertise within your change function. Good ideas can come from anywhere, which is why collaboration is key. Assemble teams of people from across the business because when individual ideas and creativity are brought together, the diversity of thought creates outcomes to (apparently!) insoluble problems. As a leader, you then hold the critical role of removing the barriers to their success.

And rather than be prescriptive about change, ask your people to solve a problem, like “What can we do to improve the customer experience?”. Be clear on the measures for success and how far you can nudge the dials, so you help people to see the value that change is delivering every day.

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Written by
Sullivan & Stanley