Innovation vs Change for the Sake of Change: What Should be Driving a Transformation Initiative?
What should be driving a transformation initiative? It certainly should not be just because everyone else seems to be doing it. Transformation initiatives, whether large- or small-scale, are a huge undertaking and jumping into a process without a clear idea of the purpose, outcomes, or benefits is a recipe for disaster.
It can be tempting to see technology as the answer to all your business ills, but a successful transformation can never be about technology alone. It is process driven, and most of all, reliant on people and behaviour change. Without strong buy-in from employees, it can be difficult to make meaningful change stick in an organisation, and it can be hard to encourage that buy-in without clear and frequent communication around project progress and ultimate aims. This can be something of a challenge if those end goals have not been clearly agreed and defined.
Objectives should be robustly challenged, and clearly defining each step of the journey is vital. It is one thing to have a rough idea of the preferred end result, however this can often lead to companies blindly entering a process and losing sight of those vague goals along the way. Any change process, whether encompassing a team, department or the entirety of an organisation is likely to last weeks, months, or in many cases, years. Over such extended timelines, it is easy for the original purpose to get lost as discoveries are made and priorities shift. This can quickly result in confused deliverables and less and less value being realised. Starting at A, and getting distracted by X, Y, and Z, can result in huge amounts of times, resources and cash being spent, without actually ever reaching B.
So, what should be driving your decision to embark upon a transformation initiative? One of the most obvious drivers is the need for greater security of systems and data. Data breaches and failing to comply with GDPR can lead to heavy fines, and the real-time examples of these over the past few years have been well publicised. With increased remote and flexible working, businesses must make system security a high priority before any breach can occur, rather than waiting until they have been affected. Making sure systems are up to date, streamlining the number of systems, and ensuring they are securely inter-connected can help with this: processes can be made more efficient, and the security risks and chance of human error reduced, as there are fewer requirements to transfer data and make manual amendments.
The pandemic has also triggered conversations around the benefits of technology-enabled working, and the potential gains to be realised from a digital transformation. Organisations that were already positioned to be agile and flexible were streets ahead when the lockdown hit in early 2020. Digitally enabled operations and processes meant that business-as-usual could continue relatively uninterrupted, even as we were all confined to our homes. This competitive advantage has only been compounded by the length of the Covid-19 crisis. Businesses across the globe have been rushing to embark upon their own digital transformation to get ahead – indeed 96% of UK enterprise decision makers believe the pandemic sped up their company’s digital transformation. Now we have weathered the initial storm, there is a real determination to get (and stay) ahead of the curve and ensure an organisation is agile and positioned to be able to react quickly.
The idea of pre-emptive transformation, the ‘fix it before it breaks’ approach is also becoming more and more popular, and there is very real evidence to show that it will help even the most successful of businesses. A recent study found that pre-emptive change is a must, even for outperforming companies, where momentum alone will not sustain the levels of performance. Leaders who foster innovation and make technology a priority often find they gain a competitive edge and get ahead of the market, driving efficiencies and continually adapting and improving. The pandemic has also taught us all that we cannot know what challenges are around the corner, and so leaving slow, inefficient, or frustrating current operations as they are, because ‘they haven’t quite broken down yet’ is not a sustainable working environment. Acting pre-emptively, driving improvements and embarking upon change projects before they are absolutely critical can also help save time and money in the long run, building upon functional processes rather than trying to work out which way is up in a crisis.
New technology is also only useful if you have the people to power it. The continued focus on innovation has led many companies to look to the shiniest, newest systems and solutions to solve their problems, and this has not always been a success. It has thrown up the realisation that whilst the system might have the potential to be useful, the people using these systems need significant levels of training and learning to help build their understanding before the full power of these can be leveraged. This digital skills gap is being felt across the country, with 69% of leaders in a recent survey saying they are facing this situation and that it could significantly impair their business’ ability to recover and grow in the current climate. Training and upskilling your teams is a fundamental part of any transformation process. Without fully onboarded employees, any new process or system is likely to be ignored and the progress made during the transformation lost. Equipping people with the vital skills they need not only helps make change stick, but will drive efficiency and provide a solid basis for any future innovation and learning.
In short, any change ‘for the sake of change’ will inevitably leave an organisation with a large bill and very little actual change effected. It has never been more important for businesses to be agile and digitally enabled however this is not a state that can be achieved overnight with little effort. Leaders must fully interrogate reasoning, and openly specify the outcomes and aims. A thorough understanding of the wider picture, and the ‘why’ driving a change project can help keep a transformation on track. Clearly defining project goals will allow for real impactful results, whether that is providing a competitive edge, giving confidence in security, systems & processes, and ultimately allowing organisations to operate as efficiently as possible, and be in a strong position to scale and grow.