In the last four years, I’ve had the chance to participate in 4 radical business transformations: from a spin-off (a company born as an extension of a previous one) with an innovative digital business model, to the transformation of a traditional financial institution into a digital bank. All these projects had a few things in common: adapting a traditional model into one that is “always-on” (active 24 hours a day), managing permanent changes, resistance to change, and significant exhaustion for the people involved.
The expert in organizational changes, Jim Hemerling, warns us about errors in strategy that don’t help in solving these situations: “First of all, leaders often wait too long to act. As a result, everything is happening in crisis mode. Which, of course, tends to be exhausting. Or, given the urgency, what they’ll do is they’ll just focus on the short-term results, but that doesn’t give any hope for the future. Or they’ll just take a superficial, one-off approach, hoping that they can return back to business as usual as soon as the crisis is over”.
What can we do to change the way we transform organizations so rather than being exhausting, it’s actually empowering and energizing? Hemerling proposes “putting people first,” focusing in five essential strategies:
Inspire through Purpose. Hemerling discusses the case of The LEGO Group, and its powerful purpose: to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow. It’s not about increasing sales, but about giving millions of additional children access to LEGO building bricks. It’s not about developing new products, but about enabling more children to experience the joy of learning through play. Not surprisingly, that deep sense of purpose tends to be highly motivating to LEGO’s people.
Go all in. Hemerling points out that rather than just cutting costs, you need to think about initiatives that will enable you to win in the medium term, initiatives to drive growth, actions that will fundamentally change the way the company operates, and very importantly, investments to develop the leadership and the talent.
Enable people with the capabilities that they need to succeed. To understand this strategy, Hemerling tells us about the case of Chronos, a global software company, that recognized the need to transfer from building products — software products — to building software as a service. To enable its people to take that transformation, they first invested in new tools that would enable their employees to monitor the usage of the features as well as customer satisfaction with the new service. They also invested in skill development, so that their employees would be able to resolve customer service problems on the spot. And very importantly, they also reinforced the collaborative behaviors that would be required to deliver an end-to-end seamless customer experience. Because of these investments, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the transformation, Chronos employees actually felt energized and empowered in their new roles.
Instill a culture of continuous learning. When Satya Nadella became the CEO of Microsoft in February 2014, he embarked on an ambitious transformation journey to prepare the company to compete in a mobile-first, cloud-first world. This included changes to strategy, the organization and very importantly, the culture. Microsoft’s culture at the time was one of silos and internal competition — not exactly conducive to learning. Nadella took this head-on. He rallied his leadership around his vision for a living, learning culture, shifting from a fixed mindset, where your role was to show up as the smartest person in the room, to a growth mindset, where your role was to listen, to learn and to bring out the best in people.
Have a vision… and be accountable for results. This strategy is specifically for leaders. In a transformation, a leader needs to have a vision, a clear road map with milestones, and then needs to hold people accountable for results. In other words, you need to be directive. But in order to capture the hearts and minds of people, you also need to be inclusive. Inclusive leadership is critical to putting people first.
Author: Conciliac team.
Jim Hemerling; “5 ways to lead in an era of constant change”, May 2016, TED.com