Business Change and Transformation

Business culture challenges - delivery and execution

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As one might expect, business change and transformation in legacy and heritage industries, like the London Insurance Market, can be challenging.

Established protocols, distinct ways of working, deep relationships and rigorous processes - laid down over hundreds of years of practice - have consistently delivered business SUCCESS.

Why would anyone want to change what is tried, tested and proven?

Well, because, "change happens". Perhaps driven by the advent of new regulations, the maturity of new technologies, the sudden arrival of new competitors or by some other seismic event that comes out of the blue - like COVID-19.

But actually, it's not just great legacy and heritage industries that find change challenging. It turns out, that pretty much everyone else does too!

More than two decades of research* shows that fewer than thirty percent of businesses actually succeed in delivering change in the way they hoped - and that's if you include the most digitally savvy ones, like telecoms, media and technology. Shockingly, if you exclude the digital high-flyers, the data* shows that nine out of ten businesses say their transformation programmes got STUCK – or fail and don’t result in improved business performance.

Additionally, according to Forbes (2018), 70 percent of family-owned businesses fail or are sold before they are passed on to the second generation, and almost 90 percent don’t make it to the third generation.

Too often, businesses hope that successful change and transformation simply requires a plan of action - to charge forward - and that all will be well.

Perhaps a "lift and shift" of resources around the organisation, or the introduction of a new piece of "plug in and play" technology will do it. That a "cut, paste, delete and insert" of new customer experiences or processes will stem decline in satisfaction or delivery efficiencies.

But success requires an understanding of the culture at the firm; to have correctly diagnosed the human factors that have stopped it from moving forward in the first place.

If this is missing, firms always struggle to react and respond effectively. They find it difficult to realise positive possibilities and futures. And all this this degrades their ability to change - and take back control.

Yet, businesses usually know when their change and transformation activities are getting stuck. They see their customers starting to go elsewhere. Their revenues or market share declining. They see new competitors popping up like mushrooms.

Too often, the culture within the firm doesn't allow these symptoms to be properly revealed, and then dealt with effectively. But when you talk to people in these businesses, take the time to really build up some trust, understanding and empathy, the tell-tale signs are there to be seen.

So, the question is, can firms that have experienced failed attempts at change and transformation avert the orthodoxy that decline and fading away into obscurity is a forgone conclusion?

Of course, they can. But to do so, you do need to start from a different place.

Instead of asking what’s happening to you, you need to start with asking what’s going on with you. If your business change and transformation initiatives are stuck, you have look for the real reasons why, and deal with them.

If a business doesn't figure this out, it may end up trying to fix the wrong problem. And when a firm works on the wrong problem, they always end up choosing the wrong help, and end up putting the wrong initiatives in place.

And having spent all that money - often having thrown the last financial dice - they can't recover, reinvent and rejuvenate.

Ask yourself this: Does positive change happen because it happened by itself? No.

Change and transformation breakthrough happens because someone campaigned for it. Argued for it. Shone a light on it. Fought for it. Someone took progressive and active leadership and unlocked what was causing stuck business transformation to happen.

The wrongs got righted because someone did some good analysis, did some proper consultation, was a sufficient sentinel to be able to see through all the fog and haze, and was able to correctly identify, FIRST, what's actually going on with the people in the business.

* Unlocking success in digital transformations October 2018, McKinsey & Company; Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Harvard Business Review June 1995; Forbes India, 2018

Matt Marsh - Business Change Consultant, Author, Professor.

My early roots lie in the behavioural sciences with a degree in Ergonomics and Human Factors from Loughborough University, UK. I have spent the last thirty years pioneering and promoting the benefits of adopting a People-Shaped approach in business. My first book, “People-Shaped, Tales and Tricks of a Human Centred Designer”, was published in 2018 and I presented its core findings at TEDx in Krakow, Poland. Alongside my consulting work with businesses, I'm a lecturer on the MBA and Executive education electives at Judge Business School Cambridge University, the MA programs at the Royal College of Art in London, and a visiting professor at Ravensbourne University. I'm also creative director at human-centered design consultancy Firsthand Experience and co-founder of Tickbird & Rhino, a community practice that brings together people from different backgrounds in creative conversation and collaboration.

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