The pandemic: both the catalyst and the blocker of transformation

In the wake of Covid-19, businesses have been forced to rapidly transform in order to handle the upheaval of traditional business models and build more resilience. At the same time, it has also fundamentally changed the way we work with the acceleration of the adoption of remote working. The day-to-day challenges of this are clear – how does an organisation transform to meet the external market forces driven by Covid-19, whilst also undergoing a huge transformation internally in terms of how they engage with the business. When the key to successful transformation is engagement, how can the organisation be brought along the journey in a remote working world?

Establish clarity

The lack of proximity to the teams delivering the change can allow confusion to creep in even more so than in a ‘traditional’ transformation. In this world, extra steps are needed to reduce ambiguity.

Take proactive steps at the start to make sure the programme has minimal ambiguity

It is essential to have a clear and measurable vision for where the organisation is trying to get to and by when. This should be underpinned by specific and discrete programmes of work which will directly impact the transformation whilst having a measurable impact on the KPIs and success metrics defined for the transformation.

  • Hold a Vision workshop with the leadership team. Ensure that there is true cross-functional alignment on the aims and activities of the plan, and how it supports the overall strategy
  • Identify and align metrics across all departments, with owners at the senior level. Establish a baseline and realistic and stretch targets, getting all leaders to sign up to these, with ownership agreed
  • Based on the current and target performance, prioritise ruthlessly about where resources should be focused. Finalise the programme plan and get ready to communicate it

Put more emphasis on communication than normal to maintain clarity

Communication needs to create and maintain momentum and excitement, as well as deliver sometimes difficult messages sensitively.

  • Identify all stakeholders, group them based on the change impacts, and plan specific communications based on their needs
  • Revisit and update the map regularly to avoid ‘out of sight, out of mind’
  • Make sure things that aren’t being tackled are also communicated to avoid resources being focused on the wrong areas
  • Track and communicate progress in tangible ways that will be meaningful to the different groups of stakeholders – impact on their operational metrics, upcoming milestones that they will be involved in, etc.
  • Develop info-graphics where progress versus strategy and key performance metrics can be clearly tracked and make it visible and easy to cascade through the organisation using accessible and intuitive dashboard tools like Power BI

Enable two-way communication

When a major business transformation is underway, it can be easy for a galvanised programme team at the centre to treat communication as an activity that they need to do, that ‘communications’ are something that they need to push out to the business.

However, communication is a two-way process, made all the harder in a remote world. The informal feedback of corridor conversations doesn’t happen; without serendipitous exchanges at the coffee machine or watercooler there is a risk of risks, issues, and concerns rumbling on under the surface, unseen, jeopardising the success of the transformation.

Prove your commitment to making communication meaningful

  • Share what the communication plan entails, and when and how stakeholders can shape the programme
  • Be consistent and stick to the plan – cancelling sessions or ignoring feedback will lead to demotivation and disengagement
  • Monitor proactively and surface risks before they turn into issues
  • When feedback is given, action it promptly and show overtly how it is being taken onboard

Make it regular and often

  • Create frequent communication sessions tailored to the different stakeholder groups – for example, monthly all-hands to communicate the strategy and progress, as well as bi-weekly leadership N-1 meetings
  • Ensure buzz and momentum is maintained by keeping this drumbeat up, and demonstrating the feedback loops between meetings

…but always with a clear purpose

  • Avoid updates for the sake of updates – ensure there is a clear ask of the audience or a specific action that needs to be done
  • Give appropriate time for them to reflect on and give feedback, or to complete the requested actions

Use different formats to keep it compelling

  • Make videocalls interactive with surveys and polls to check understanding of key messages
  • Prepare videos and schedule small group discussion sessions to digest them and gather feedback
  • Give all employees access to leaders through Q&A sessions
  • Plan for ‘informal’ communications as well as mass events or formal communications – between line managers and direct reports, as well as online communities like Slack or Teams, rapid temperature checks, or chat roulette
  • Make sure sessions are facilitated by different people to convey different messages – for example, use the Chief Transformation Office or Chief of Staff to emphasise the strategic importance of the activities under discussion, or alternate presentations from different members of the leadership team to show the leadership team’s alignment on the topic

Foster a winning culture

Businesses that cannot flex and adapt, and instead seek to dictate and control, tend to have less success in responding to change. So too it is with developing a new culture, which of course of a business transformation will result in, whether intentionally or not. Organisations must be prepared for the culture to evolve, and should nurture it to ensure success. Heavy handed interventions can stifle an emerging spirit, not least in a remote world, where careful attention must be paid to creating that winning culture to allow the business to succeed. But in a workplace where attitudes and behaviours are geared up like this, the transformation will be pushing on an open door.

Empower the organisation

  • Determine the right people to lead the change based on skills and experience. Anticipate development needs and ways to share knowledge to build competencies outside the core team, to motivate them in the change and ensure its sustainability with succession planning
  • Set out the roles and responsibilities to meet the clear aims of the transformation, and let them get on with it
  • Provide appropriate oversight, but give teams independence and show trust in their judgement as to how they will deliver the clear strategy set out above

Co-create compelling organisational values and behaviours

  • Let the organisation determine for itself how it wants to be, with a dedicated employee engagement programme designed to incorporate feedback from the grass roots of the organisation
  • Create opportunities to break down siloes and drive cross functional collaboration with informal communication touch points such as chat roulette and virtual coffee mornings

Make the intangible tangible and celebrate progress

  • Ensure the company values have been fully articulated, updating them if necessary. Link each value with an objective metric, proactively measure engagement against them (e.g. quarterly), and capture feedback
  • Develop and communicate action plans to act on feedback, highlighting ‘you said, we did’ and quick wins
  • Create formal and informal recognition mechanisms, for example, formal bonus schemes linked to the transformation success metrics and informal peer to peer recognition (for example publishing peer to peer ‘shout outs’ on a dedicated site’)

What next?

The needs of the transformation are the same, but how these are realised in the remote world means that innovative approaches to ensuring clarity and engagement with the transformation are needed. Setting up your transformation for success with clear vision, real two-way communication, and a winning culture allows the virtuous cycle to take hold and embed real lasting change for good.

To find out more about our transformation management solutions please visit the Transformation Management solution page here. If you’d like to complete our Assessment 360° to assess your current transformation maturity – please follow this link.

Authors: Cat Brownlie and Judith Richardson

Richard Powell


[email protected]

More Articles