Bringing about significant complex change in organisations

Posted in: Change Management

At a recent AHRI conference, during a day focused on the public sector, a number of speakers addressed issues involved in leading significant change.

A range of insights, checklists and imperatives were provided by subject experts and various leaders. We heard of the importance of strong leadership, effective project management and of the need to achieve alignment and widespread commitment.  We heard of the importance of a clear vision, and of “burning platforms”.  Needless to say, the insights of management guru John Kotter were embedded in some presentations.

It was thought provoking. A great session was one led by Paul Passmore of Transport For NSW.  He spoke of the recent integration of a number of autonomous transport organisations into one, with greater customer focus and greater synergies than before.  It sounded like a huge and complex undertaking, involving organisations with disparate traditions and systems and deeply embedded cultures.

There were some consistent and strong messages during the day.

Major and complex change needs totally committed leaders – who back the change at the outset, and then maintain a continuous presence and focus on the ground and at all levels.  Clearly much of the detail is delegated, but leadership, it seems, cannot.  Don’t start if this is not present.

The change needs a clear rationale:  a purpose.  As one speaker said:  “Ask the question:  what is the problem you are setting out to solve?””  Be really clear about what success will look like.

This might be a clear need to work within a reduced budget.  Ideally though, the driver should be something to capture significant aspirations: something which provides meaning.  It may entail far greater alignment with customers, it may be to embrace much more effective technology, or it may be to provide more autonomy and clearer accountability to particular operating units and eliminate second – guessing higher up.

Major change needs management, as well as leadership.  Effective management involves clear definition of accountabilities, good systems, good communications, guidance, delegation, timeframes, KPIs and staff development and resourcing.  Effective managers have a critical role in bringing change about.

Finally, major complex change needs some form of blueprint, or road map – with all the critical elements mapped out and tracked as each is progressed.

Some years ago we built a change blueprint. A link to this framework is provided below.

It is critical to define carefully the present situation – and then what the future should look like – in detail.  Everyone needs to be clear about where they are starting and what the new future looks like.  Then accept a two to three year timetable.  Major change takes time.

The next step is to set up a series of projects which will lead to each required outcome – for the most part each to run in parallel.  If one should become snagged, the other projects carry on.  Those in the disrupted project pretty soon feel the pressure to resolve matters and catch up. Projects addressing changes in work practices and culture need the same operational, diagnostic and systems focus as do changes in technology or introducing new services.

Workshop the project blueprint and put an engineer in charge of oversight of execution.  A detailed project mapper and sheep-dog who never tires in chasing up stragglers.  Have the leaders lead, celebrating successes along the way and overcoming external obstacles.  And have HR people operating as consultants, working to overcome the inevitable array of people issues as they arise. Put the right people in place, and give them authority and resources.

Here is the framework.  Something to slip under your pillow at night and print on the front of T-shirts.