Transformational Change: Creating Focus
You must create focus. It is unrealistic to have it all.
In my first blog, I introduced the idea that if organisations are seeking transformational change, they must address organisational culture in order to enable this transformation. Change, despite many of the horror stories we hear, can be more energising, humane, and fun. I introduced 7 key attributes that must be part of your transformational change agenda in order to thrive. My last blog expanded on idea # 2 – sense-making as a key to successful change, and in this blog, I address the third key attribute – creating focus.
Most organisations, if they’ve gone through this process, will likely have a list of 5 or more things they want to tackle through the change. Most organisations will also tell you that their people are struggling with change fatigue. Seems oddly contradictory, doesn’t it?
Proliferation is the enemy of change, and it dilutes your ability to successfully drive change. In this world of information overload, multiple priorities, and fast pace, it becomes imperative to simplify your change agenda to 1 item, especially early days. This doesn’t mean that your change agenda can’t evolve or grow more ambitious later on. But the key in the early days is to build momentum, and simplicity and focus can help you do that.
Chances are if you read my last blog and tried to clarify your change agenda, it was a tough process. You may have landed on a succinct vision statement (if you haven’t, keep trying!), and now you have to decide what mindsets, behaviours, strategies, structures, processes, policies, systems, activities, and tasks need to change to align to that vision. That’s already a lot to take in. Pause and breathe.
Early days, once your vision is set, you must first get clear on the first three aspects in this order: mindsets, behaviours, and strategies. Let’s take the example vision statement we used from my last blog to bring these ideas to life:
Vision: we want to become more customer centric to enable our community to seamlessly live their lives
- Creating a focused mindset: ask yourself, “what mindset shift needs to happen for our people to think about the customer first?” An example of a critical mindset shift to enable this would be one that rewards process over outcome. This means that employees today place greater value on following the process in place rather than delivering on the outcomes that the customer is looking for (even if that means going around, changing, or ignoring the process). Of course, this mindset has to be balanced within reason for organisations who are highly regulated. However, creating a focused mindset around customer first, process second can help you establish great momentum for change.
- Creating focused behaviour: Mindsets are invisible, so if the mindset is trying to help us shift from process to customer, then what is the one key behaviour we are asking employees to practice to live this mindset? A behaviour is an action or way of being that is observable by others. Some of our favourite examples from clients seeking more customer centricity include:
- “seek forgiveness instead of permission” – this behaviour states that we encourage you to use your judgment and go outside of the process in service of a customer outcome, instead of waiting for approval or deferring to the process. If your judgment ended up being questionable, then ask for forgiveness, learn from it, and move on. This behaviour also helps people to discern and take calculated risks.
- “walk in their shoes” – this behaviour states that whenever you are making decisions, try to walk in the shoes of your customer first. Imagine what your customer might see, think, feel, experience based on the scenario rather than automatically diving into the process or defaulting to “that’s not my role”.
- “access your ignorance and get curious” – this behaviour states that you shouldn’t assume you know the customer. Access your ignorance by asking questions, talking to customers, talking to colleagues who work more in the front line with customers, and maybe even job shadowing colleagues. (As an aside, long ago when I supported a call centre as an HR Business Partner, I used to do call listening with the call centre reps so that I could have an appreciation for their roles and how my services could support them.)
The key is to hone in on one high impact behaviour. Imagine if your entire organisation demonstrated this one behaviour everyday. This would create unimaginable change and results.
- Creating a focused strategy: Now that you have a clear mindset and supporting behaviour, you must look at your existing strategy and decide how to align them. Most likely, there are some misaligned elements of your strategy that will unintentionally undermine or compete with your change agenda. For example, if you are investing significant resources in new or improved processes, this may send a conflicting message with what you value. The majority of your initiatives should support creating a customer centric mindset.
Only once these elements are clear, can you start taking a more detailed view of how to align your structures, processes, policies, systems, activities, and tasks.
Where organisations get stuck
We are uncomfortable knowing about the problems and sitting with them.
We rush to solutions. I’ve mentioned this in previous blogs, our brains are wired to fix problems. Often times, if we encounter a problem, we immediately begin putting in place solutions. It makes us feel valuable and like we are making progress. However, the biggest trap to creating focus is focusing on detailed solutions, especially ones that favour structures, processes, policies, systems, activities, and tasks. These tend to be the “easiest” fixes, however they often miss the point of the larger, transformational changes you seek. If you are truly committed to transformational change, you must be disciplined in focusing on mindsets, behaviours, and strategies first.
We get overwhelmed with how inter-related things really are and how to create boundaries that support focus.
It will come as no surprise that when you start talking about customer centricity, you will open up a can of worms. All of a sudden, the topic becomes huge, almost paralysing. The problems to fix become innumerable. And this hugeness is the enemy of progress. Any goal setting expert will tell you that the secret to achieving big goals is to set a series of incremental goals to help you on your way. This builds small wins and positive moment, and before you know it, with a little dedication and consistency, you look back and you’ve achieved more than you imagined. So start small, when the magnitude and overwhelm starts kicking in, go back to the small, incremental goals that support your mindset, behaviour, and strategy shifts.
Ideas on where to start
A fun idea of where to start is to adopt an anthropological mindset. Your goal is to figure out what mindsets and behaviours are getting in the way of customer centricity? Here’s where you get to test your observational skills.
- Start first by conducting an ethnography. Liberating Structures provides a great step by step way to conduct a simple ethnography with no anthropological training needed. Perhaps enlist 2-3 ethnographers so you have others to compare notes with.
- Secondly, debrief with your fellow ethnographers and define some hypotheses. A hypothesis will give you a semi-informed explanation for why you believe certain mindsets and behaviours exist in the organisation that do not support customer centricity based on what you observed.
- Finally, based on your hypotheses, develop an interview protocol. The protocol should list some questions that you’d like to ask some interviewees to validate (or invalidate) your hypotheses. The key to good questions is asking open ended rather than leading questions.
Staying committed to this #7 step process will create the much needed positive momentum for transformational change. Stay tuned for my next blog to read about the power of enlisting others. We buy into what we have a hand in creating, so true change must include co-creation rather than be imposed.
Need further guidance on how to get started and how to develop a robust interview protocol? Get in touch here.