Getting it together

This professional body was bringing itself into the 21st century – and being quite successful at shaking out its old, fusty ways.  A new management team well supported by the body’s governing council was addressing a range of issues including rapid growth, new service roll-outs and organisational culture.  But there was a fly in the ointment.

Lack of investment over many years had left the organisation without an adequate information technology structure to support communication and business operations delivered through the Internet.  Its rudimentary website was flimsy and fragile.  As the only tangible part of the organisation familiar to most members, existing and prospective, it was just not good enough.

The management team decreed that its web services should be top-class and struck an agreement with a well known IT services company to convert the organisation within a year.  So far, so good!  The goal was crystal clear, the will to do it was from the top and money was on the table.  Yet a year after announcing the initiative, little progress was visible and there was a danger that managers would have egg on their faces.

What had gone wrong? 

When the Sensible Model was applied, it was obvious that the Defining Event was well documented in the organisation.  In fact there were several events which drove the change including financial pressure and the appointment of new operational management.  This new team worked brilliantly to formulate the vision in the Demand step.  Nobody could be in any doubt where the organisation was going.  Then the change programme fell apart.  Assessment and Plan steps were missed out in the rush to get things started, as commendable as this notion was.

Before the decision to spend significant amounts on new infrastructure was made, no one took a fresh look at where the organisation was.  The programme was starting from a point with the rest of the staff nowhere in sight.  They were aware of the proposed changes but they were locked into a different landscape where processes were manual with little automation.  The management team had not understood the initial conditions for the change programme which is an essential part of the Demand step.

Compounding this mistake, the management team had not established the capability of the organisation to make the necessary changes.  Integral to this was the role of the supplier who had been misled by the ambitious talk within the organisation.  Required changes become oversimplified and proposals for change became mere implementation steps in a rapid roll-out plan.

Thankfully commonsense prevailed before it was too late.  An intervention from a change consultant exposed the dangers of what was happening.  The programme collapsed like a house of card as problems were exposed but immediately rose again on the back of relief on knowing what was really happening.  The management team was able to get things together, energising the rest of the organisation and involving it in the detailed assessment and planning.

Knowing for sure

A financial services business based in London was being crippled by its high operating costs.  Although income growth was strong, the complexity of the sales products in terms of selling and administration was proving a big headache.

The financial director had previously worked in a global organisation and knew that offshore outsourcing would both reduce costs by at least 30% and increase process effectiveness.  He proposed using a well known and substantial Indian company to take over customer service centres and some back-office processing.  A pilot scheme was started to test the change programme.

After only three months, the company abandoned the pilot due to ‘insurmountable internal problems’.  The official line was technical difficulties in achieving seamless customer call management.  However indications existed of more fundamental issues.  The company’s intranet communication forum was bombarded by objections from staff.  A damning Board memo was leaked to the national press.  The financial director was replaced and the company continued to struggle to contain increasing costs.

Why had a critical improvement initiative collapsed?

The Sensible Model suggests that the statement of goals should address all aspects of the change and should be a consensus. In fact this company, true to its traditional secretive style, did not consult with its employees.  The pilot project had a single goal of reducing costs – not even maintenance of service quality!  Early results were not fully discussed internally and many measures were disputed.

Instead the Sensible Model approach advocated by a consultant called in to review the disaster would have taken a direct and open tack.  In the Action step, the project would have co-opted a cross-section of sponsors and detractors to oversee the work.  They would have been allowed facilitated debates to identify and resolve the issues.  In this way momentum would have been obtained, even if the feelings were against the project and the overall recommendation were still to kill the outsourcing initiative.  The company would have been united behind what had not worked and importantly what the alternatives were.

The Sensible Model in its Results step expects a re-alignment of organisational forces behind multiple goals.  Non-project measures would indicate whether the assessment of change readiness was correct and how effective the actions to increase the organisation’s change capability were.

Feedback is vital and this step in the approach would cope with difficult situations as results emerged for this harassed organisation.  The programme team would be able to make adjustments in a focused manner.   Communication would be more honest and motivation would be more robust as the organisation and its employees knew for sure what is planned and why.

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