Business Change Programmes: Balancing Capabilities & Design

Part 2 of the "Successful, Sustainable Business Change" series

Delivering sustainable change requires a number of steps to work together.

Last time I talked about the importance of agreeing and sharing the vision for the future. I discussed how critical it is to place your people at the heart of the change and support them to develop the vision into more tangible steps.

In this post (part 2), I want to continue that change journey, looking at how to approach the most common dependency to surface: Capability and skills gaps.

Assessing capability

Once you have an agreed vision and a high-level articulation of the vision, you can begin to think about the high-level impacts and the gap between where you are today and where you want to be.

If you want to introduce a new function, for example, you might ask yourself:

  • What (new) skills will we need?
  • Do we have those skills internally?
  • How will we upskill our internal people?
  • Where will new recruits come from?
  • How will we assess internal and external capability?

I find organisations that do not have a track record in successful change management often want to jump to an organisation design chart. They want numbers and specifics very early in the trajectory.

But it’s far more important to identify the skill sets and path to securing those skills first – because whatever organisation design you end up with there has to be pragmatism about what is achievable, and by when.

Anticipating (future) skills gaps

Understanding the gap between today and the desired future will inform the trajectory of any programme.

For example, there is no point in building a sophisticated planning tool if your teams don’t understand the principles behind planning.

Identifying the gap enables you to build an education programme alongside, or ahead of, any system development. It also informs the process and systems themselves. It might be that agreeing on a standard set of KPIs needs to be done before you can move on to reporting or system design, for example.

Very often organisations that have a sizeable capability gap lack the foundation of competencies, objectives and appraisals, in which case it’s key to work with your internal HR team.

Change managers are often the glue that connects all of these different functions to ensure that the skills/expertise the organisation already has is utilised effectively.

The programme will be designing new processes, new systems, and new roles but without the frameworks to share, develop and assess capability, they will often be difficult to implement.

Starting this work alongside the development of the content minimises the timeline and therefore cost of the change.

Understanding the impact of change

Whether it be people, process or systems that are changing, understanding the impacts of those changes is vital.

I was once asked if the impact we identified was a change issue or a system issue? To which my answer was “Yes!” – the two are intrinsically linked, they are symbiotic.

For example, if we build a system that requires a vast uplift in the headcount which the business can’t afford, then the IT system is a failure. So a pragmatic approach, working hand-in-hand, most often generates success.

Design processes before systems

Many companies I meet are keen for me to help them select a system and are often quite surprised when I explain that they need to start with their process first.

IT companies are keen to agree “vanilla” implementations. Which, on the face of it, may seem sensible and cheaper. But the reality is that every process in your business needs to change to work the way the system works (which isn’t very sensible or cost-effective at all!).

In 30 years, I have yet to meet a business that is prepared – or in fact, able – to do this.

This is why we advise you to start process-first; decide what your organisation is aiming for, the steps/processes required to achieve the aim and the functions accountable for the task, before you get to systems.

That way you really understand what you need the system to do and whether the vendor’s system meets your requirements.

This should never be about designing for the perfect world but for reality

Keep it real

As you would expect, the relevant areas of the business need to be included in the design process. They are the people who know how it really works, what the pinch points are, how many workarounds there are, etc.

This should never be about designing for the perfect world but for reality.

And again, you are building up capability and ownership all the way through each stage of the process. Without this involvement, you will miss key things and you’re setting yourself up for resistance, as no one likes to be dictated to.

A clear path forward

When we’re building new processes we need to agree on the anticipated meetings and actions, the drumbeat to the week/month/year, and ensure that everyone understands and agrees the responsibilities and ownership each function has, giving everyone clarity.

This then enables the business to move forward with the capability that’s being built, to mid-level organisation design – such as spans of support (how many people can report to a single manager) and the ratio to each other of related functions – which can be finessed by the specific areas of the business.

Again we want to give guidance, set guardrails and a framework that’s balanced with the expertise within the business.

Hopefully, you can see the underlying principles of an inclusive approach guided by the aims and framework relevant to your organisation. The same approach is applied throughout the layers of detail and consideration given to all the elements which need to come together to deliver successful change.

Next up (in part 3) we move into the delivery phase: landing the developed change to the wider organisation

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Victoria Ward

About the author: Victoria Ward

A consultant with over 20 years’ experience, Victoria had a long career in merchandising for blue-chip retailers before joining First Friday where she now supports and guides businesses through transformation programmes, enabling them to deliver sustainable change in her role as a strategic transformation consultant.

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