4 May 2020

The road towards successful change management

The road towards successful change management

As published at Ad Ultima blog on 15 April 2020 – interview with Anouk Schoenmakers, partner bluecrux

People often think that change management is all about the soft, communicative (and often non-measurable) side of the change in question. Nothing could be further from the truth though, as a change strategy takes the concrete results into account as well. We asked Anouk Schoenmakers from bluecrux about her perspective on change management and the factors that she considers important. Ad Ultima Group already knew bluecrux through one of our shared customers, VCST.

The common denominator: VCST

Ad Ultima Group worked with bluecrux on the successful change project at VCST, a company producing parts for the automotive industry. In this process, bluecrux took responsibility for the business transformation element while Ad Ultima Group oversaw the implementation of a number of important technologies. “VCST approached us in early 2017, looking for help with their digital transformation,” says Anouk Schoenmakers from bluecrux. “The company needed to transform in order to survive. The smart factory vision (what is the future of the factory, what are the desired results?), was developed before the new system implementations began. When we were working with Ad Ultima Group, it soon became clear that we shared the same vision, working together to help the customer achieve results. Incidentally, an ecosystem that cooperates well to achieve a shared objective is an important key to success as well.”

When does change management come into play?

“Change management is about keeping a company’s transformation process on track. There are a number of different circumstances in which a company might require a change strategy. Ideally, we would be brought in before the start of the transformation, in order to support the change from day one. However, we also get clients coming to us precisely because insufficient attention has been paid to the change strategy and they have realised the importance of placing more focus on this once the transformation is already well underway.”

“The ‘why’ is a very important element if you want to make a change. If you don’t know why you want to change, don’t do it.”

Start first and foremost with the ‘why’

“The ‘why’ is a very important element if you want to make a change. If you don’t know why you want to change, don’t do it. ‘Because that’s what the competition is doing’ is not a good enough reason. There has to be a sense of urgency first before you can start developing the strategy and transformation plan. This sense of urgency could be created by a pressing need to improve efficiency or increase revenue. In our experience, some people struggle with the ‘why’, often because it is linked to a solution. The two don’t have to match up perfectly though. It’s all about defining why you need to change and what you want to achieve.”

“How the transformation will be carried out is something that is determined as part of the transformation process. So don’t wait until the ‘how’ has been established to start communicating! A transformation process that aims to bring about a holistic change in the company, therefore, has the greatest need for a good transformation and change plan. This is less essential for smaller improvement processes.”

The different phases of change

How do you start to build this kind of change management strategy? Anouk has already covered most aspects of the first stage above: “This has to do with the strategic element, including the objectives, the sense of urgency, inventorying the processes and then thinking about the narrative of the transformation in general.”

“The second stage includes a number of different phases of the change. Once the sense of urgency has been established, it’s time to put together a team to focus on the change and the strategy for achieving it. This is the step in which the organisation prepares itself for change. Then the real work begins: the change itself. Various possibilities for the future are developed during this phase. The final step is the completion of the transformation and the development of a sustainable improvement framework, to ensure that the company does not regress after the change and that the change is embedded in the organisation.”

Bottom-up or top-down?

“When you implement this kind of change strategy, it’s important first and foremost to make sure that the management team are all on the same page. This means that you start the strategy from the top-down since the management team have to develop a sense of urgency. The strategic element is therefore delivered by the management. Addressing how the change will be implemented is something that is initiated from the bottom up, meanwhile, by the change team that you put together. This could include mapping out the processes, for example. These two approaches have to meet along the way.”

Clear and open communication is essential

“One thing you really have to bear in mind is clear and open communication,” says Anouk. “A lack of communication or no communication at all can have serious consequences for your change. It’s important to really listen to your employees too so that they can let you know about any concerns. You might also encounter problems with your employees’ acceptance of the change. A good change management strategy and action plan will help to increase acceptance since they focus on communication with future users. They also provide information for those who won’t be directly affected. This means that everyone in the company is informed and involved.”

“Companies that don’t pay sufficient attention to change management have a lower chance of success.
Worse still, the likelihood of postponement and delays is much higher.”

Make sure you meet your deadlines

We’re agreed that a change strategy has advantages, but what does it actually deliver for a company? “The major benefit of this kind of strategy only becomes clear when you implement change management at the very start of the process,” Anouk explains. “If you truly understand that what you are going to do will result in major changes and you have a clear sense of urgency, you will be able to mobilise employees much faster. An additional advantage is the fact that communication is much more honest from day one since you have a clear narrative. In turn, open communication leads to faster acceptance.”

“A good approach to change management also makes it easier to meet the various deadlines in your change process. Or helps you realise much sooner that a deadline is looking tight, allowing you to take action. Companies that don’t pay sufficient attention to change management have a lower chance of success. Worse still, the likelihood of postponement and delays is much higher.”

So, it’s important to develop a change strategy for your company. First and foremost, a sense of urgency is essential. The key to a successful digital transformation is a combination of the digital (i.e. technologies) and human (i.e. developing the strategy, management and implementation). The transformation is managed from the top down, but implementation is then carried out from the bottom up. It all comes down to the fact that digital transformation is a story of co-creation, with every level of the organisation working together.

Curious how we can tackle your digital transformation challenges together? Get in touch!