Whether your organisation is transitioning to a customer-centric model by deploying a new company-wide IT system, merging to provide a national footprint or trying to re-engineer your culture, these are all forms of business transformation. Does having the right stuff to transform mean you need to be more corporate-like? Of course, you don’t want to look too much like a corporate for fear of drifting away from your purpose in your stakeholders' eyes. Besides, corporates need to survive as well...and many still fail.
The essential principles that ANY organisation must follow to transform successfully don’t necessarily depend on the profit orientation of the organisation. If you talk to any good CEO in any sector, they will have a clear vision, a strategy to realise it, a meaningful mission or purpose statement, great people, integrated processes, robust financial models and offer something of value to their customers.
So why do so many business transformations fall short and leave people floundering? The outcome doesn't seem to live up to the promise. We find it's in the execution. Executing a successful transformation will be very rewarding as your entire organisation and, your customers will ultimately benefit.
During your customer-centric business transformation of whatever context, first focus on getting these four things right.
The starting point is the language you use. Organisations interchangeably use terms such as client, patient, consumer, participant, stakeholder etc to describe different recipients of services. The term “customer” is now becoming more prevalent with individualised models rather than client, participant, donor, patient and so on. So every interaction or conversation — whether it be in a corridor, water cooler, meeting room, or one-on-one — needs to use a common language that best articulates how your new world will look. That way you are always talking about the same thing and you are on the same page. Meaningfully engage everyone by bringing your people together to design your new language.
What you want to avoid is people persistently harking back to their good ol' days using obsolete language. These conversations can be exhausting, and a way for people to feel secure by clinging to past norms and behaviours.
Tip 1: Engage all levels of your organisation to create all your communications and messages around your new reality while being respectful of the past.
Leading socially oriented organisations requires leaders who can deal with complex governance issues and often facilitate consensus from multiple (and passionate) stakeholders. Further, these organisations may be constrained to change due to the inertia of their well-known, long-standing (heritage) brand. Another major challenge is the uncertainty created by government reforms with persistent implementation problems and shifting targets (e.g. NDIS and Aged Care consumer choice).
Firstly, as leaders, it’s critical to focus on your people by building relationships, trust and commitment within your organisation. The process to move to a new state is not linear. It’s all about people. Every organisation is different as their people are different.
Secondly, ask the tough questions to decide how valuable resources are used (or wasted). The quality of being open and honest with every stakeholder will be critical.
Thirdly, just because there’s a project plan doesn’t mean things get done. Nothing really changes until the people doing the work embrace the change. Look for exceptions of brilliance,
organisational bright spots and employee success stories to build momentum for change.
Tip 2: Effective leaders enable transformation by making the right decisions for the long-term benefit of the organisation no matter how difficult or challenging they are.
Most for-purpose organisations probably already have the right people in their organisation. Leaders fail when they don’t recognise their strengths nor give the opportunity to contribute in an authentic way to define their path. How can a senior management group decide what’s best for their teams without proper engagement? This breeds contempt and possibly a belief that senior managers themselves don’t need to change. In fact, senior managers need to live and demonstrate the change journey, rather than lecture others about it.
If you do need new people, cast the net widely to find people who are genuinely self-motivated and aligned with your purpose. Just as importantly, you need to identify the people who are already not on the same journey as the organisation and have effective ways of moving them on, and quickly.
Tip 3: To deliver customer value, you need the right people. This requires candid conversations and development plans to ensure you build on their strengths, and quickly identify those that won’t come on the transformation journey.
Right business metrics
How will you know you are making progress with your transformation? As part of building momentum, your people will need feedback on how they're performing. Be very careful about what you really need to measure and what may be useful to motivate people. Often, some of the important things may be hard to measure especially when dealing with intangible care and support services. Keep your measures in perspective as one part of evaluating the performance of your transformation efforts.
Tip 4: You'll need to gather data (both quantitative and qualitative) from multiple sources to form a complete picture of how your transformation is tracking. Consider asking your employees what measures would be most appropriate for them and their role to build engagement?
Where to next?
If it’s not working out as you’d expect, you need the courage to call it out, and that may mean letting go of some strongly held practices or moving on people who are not aligned. That's because an organisation is a living social system and typically defends itself against change preferring the status quo.
With sector reforms in full swing, the status quo is not an option. Following these tips will mean you're well placed to be successful in any context, and especially during uncertain times of sector transition.
With the right language, the right leadership, right people and right business metrics, you'll have a higher probability of sustained change and becoming a successful organisation during, and, after the transition period. That way, you’ll have the right stuff to be successful.