How a Continuous Feedback Loop Can Be the Key to Making Change Stick
The estimated figures around failure rates for transformation and change projects vary, but they all tend to be high. The effort that goes into the transformation project is huge, and the financial investments generally match the effort. So why are organisations allowing these projects to fail, and the financial burdens be wasted?
For starters, it is easy to forget that a ‘transformation’ is not one simple entity, rather it is a wide-reaching process that encompasses processes, systems, and most of all, people and behaviours. It may even span entire companies, teams or departments. All these elements need to succeed individually to enable a successful overall project. But even with the initial success of each part of a transformation project, it is common for organisations to find themselves slipping back into old habits and ways of working, and losing the benefits gained during the change process.
Developing successful strategies to innovate and streamline ways of working is challenge enough, but the true marker of success when it comes to digital transformation is when that change lasts way beyond the project itself.
The myriad ‘tips and tricks’ out there for change management are all useful, but if we were to pinpoint the one thing that can make or break a change project, the answer is simple: communication. Communication is crucial to the success of any transformation, and if you get it right during the process, it can also be the thing that helps make change stick. Any technology being implemented is the tip of the iceberg; without the buy-in and cooperation of your teams, there is very little chance of effecting any real change within an organisation.
The power of the continuous feedback loop
Start off on the right foot – transparency is key. Does the wider organisation understand the reasons for the change project? Are they even aware of the initiative?! It has been well documented that uncertain situations create significant stress, even more than scenarios where a negative outcome is assured. Making sure teams have a clear understanding of the purpose of the initiative and their role within it, can help alleviate any resistance and boost engagement.
Present the current landscape, in all it’s (sometimes gory!) detail. Is everyone aware of the challenges and current levels of performance? Once everyone involve has a view on the wider picture, this will act as the baseline against which to measure the success of the project. Importantly, this should be an ongoing exercise throughout the change process, constantly reviewing what has worked, and what has had a less successful impact.
At this point, it can also be helpful to set up clear channels of communication, and invite regular conversations with the wider team – yes, even those not directly involved in the day-to-day transformation. Make it clear that feedback is welcome, and wherever possible, demonstrate the importance of wider input by acting on any useful suggestions quickly.
Empower employees to get involved
Make sure channels of communication remain open between the change team and the wider business at every stage of the project. And we do mean wider: getting feedback from only one person or department can result in a one-sided outcome that does not benefit the organisation as a whole. If people feel they have had a direct contribution to a project, they are much more likely to take a direct interest in making it a success. Everyone from entry-level, to the senior leadership teams should feel involved and able to offer feedback.
Identify change champions – employees who understand business processes and can help drive behaviours within the organisation. These change champions can be key players in keeping communication channels open throughout a transformation process, gathering feedback and canvasing opinions on changes made. Change champions can also help hold the team to account, encouraging use of the newly updated processes, and maintaining project momentum.
Use it or lose it
Gathering feedback is just the start. We have touched upon this already, but it is important to make sure you are doing something with the information you receive. It could be as simple as setting up discussion forums or group meetings with the specific purpose of reviewing feedback, or using message boards or software to acknowledge receipt of each suggestion.
Think critically when assessing transformation performance: identify the areas for improvement, and then start by analysing the situation (and any feedback) logically. Are people reacting negatively to a new process just because it is different? Or are there more basic or functional reasons that something is not working as planned? Next, get creative! Look at the issue from different angles to see if there are perhaps more ‘out of the box’ solutions that could be applied.
Don’t let things slide
Once you are reaching the end of the transformation process, the feedback should not stop. Training and supporting documentation should be widely available: provide guides for all new systems and processes. Make sure these are simple, and easy to follow – but don’t just take your own view on it! Review all documents, get feedback, and edit wherever necessary to make sure the messaging is clear.
The same is true of training. People have a variety of learning styles, so make sure you are presenting the information in such a way as to be readily grasped by the majority. Make sure people feel comfortable asking questions, and offer follow up trainings to ensure nothing is missed. Collect feedback on training artefacts and presentations, and use this to build upon existing documentation. Consider building in ‘refresher’ training sessions at regular intervals, and optional ‘top up’ sessions on request on a smaller, or even one-to-one basis. These can also act as review sessions to check in on process and system performance, and offer the chance to implement any updates or changes that might be required.
If the past twelve months has taught us anything, it is that flexibility and agility is vital for success, and this is no less true than during a change project. Implementing a continuous feedback loop during (and after!) any type of change allows businesses to become truly agile, adapting and overcoming issues as they arise. Empowering employees of all levels to offer suggestions and feedback provides a fully 360-degree view of a situation. All additional data points are valuable, particularly when they can aid in decision making, and help make change stick.