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Philip Davies


EMEA President

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What are the top dos and don’ts when it comes to implementing change in a business?


Change is really hard. There’s no need to make it harder. Find out the top dos and don’ts for implementing change in business effectively.

Change usually needs a moment of catastrophe, realisation or inspiration. Avoiding catastrophe, and deliberately creating that moment of realisation or inspiration requires something that goes beyond rational good sense to something that moves people to embrace the change that will then provoke the desired actions that deliver the results of change.

That usually means changing people’s minds.

How can this be done?

Change doesn’t usually fail because of the absence of a good plan, it fails when you’ve forgotten to engage your people.

In the same way that a politician running for office campaigns in poetry and then governs in prose, you need to find a way to appeal to and tap into people’s emotions in a powerful way.

So, engage your people.

Let’s start with the top don’ts for implementing change.

1. Don’t expect your people to be mindreaders.

Elevate the mission and engage the entire company. It’s critical that everyone knows and agrees on a path, and to do this they need to fully understand the path… so keep things as simple as possible. Simplification should become a company priority so that barriers between different groups are eliminated. Success won’t thrive in a silo.

Change is best when it is made simple and to do this requires a commitment from the top, clarity of purpose, and a ‘culture of simplicity’ that permeates the entire organisation.

One of the greatest barriers to simplification is getting different groups in a company to work together, leaving behind competing interests so to effectively change the way they do business, simplify products and experiences, and achieve results quickly. Those barriers are real but they aren’t insurmountable.

Engage your employees in your vision and make them an integral part of it. When employees understand their individual roles in your business, it’s much easier to cut through complexities. Try focusing on a small number of extraordinary initiatives using small teams with clearly defined responsibilities.

2. Don’t expect your people to be as excited by planning documents, however neatly or elegantly assembled they might be.

Streamline, clarify and define. Start with your purpose. Once everyone is clear on why you do what you do as well as how you do it, everything becomes a lot simpler.

Google’s purpose, for example, is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and helpful.” Nike’s is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”

A simple purpose streamlines communications, clarifies intent both internally and externally and helps define your path, your products and your place in the market.

The key is to not lose sight of that purpose.

3. Don’t optimise for sceptics.

Examine everything. It’s a top-down and bottom-up exercise. Have a plan. Be empathetic, fearless and uncompromising in your approach. Whether it’s in your communications or your engagement process, take a hard look at what’s truly essential and start to pare away everything else.

A couple of years ago, the BBC publicly launched a companywide programme to “Give red tape the red card” in an effort to minimise its bureaucratic overkill and “make the BBC a simpler place.”

Applying simplicity tests and acting on many months of internal review that tapped into a “new wave of ideas from staff,” the public service broadcaster set a goal of identifying “60 fixes in six months” across key operational systems and processes to create a tangibly simpler working environment.

And as for top dos for making changes effectively within a business…

1. Consider the human side of your business.

The company’s culture and behaviours will probably also need to be changed to deliver the results you’re looking for.

Make sure you have a clear understanding of the sort of people that will succeed in the new structure or culture. This means a clearly understood set of values to measure by and recruit by.

The firm I work for has a very clear set of values – Smart. Nice. Unstoppable – which makes it remarkably easy to recognise who’s on board and who’s not. They’re easy to remember. They work because they work in unison not in isolation and that’s the point.

Take one of them away and the other two are quite unappealing. We’ve all worked with people who are smart and unstoppable and frankly life is too short for that. The nice element is a necessary counterpoint.

2. Communicate with conviction.

Going back to purpose, share what you want to achieve in a way that expresses ‘why’ you’re doing it, not just the pedestrian ‘what’ you’ll do or the inward ‘how’ you’ll do it.

Emphasise the ideals that inspire you individually and the impact those ideals will deliver. Remember, if something moves you, chances are it’ll move someone else too.

Think of it as a story rather than a plan. Tap in to people’s emotions. Martin Luther King didn’t manage to pull a crowd of a million followers to join him in Washington DC by telling them he had a plan… he had a dream.

Find a way to communicate and cascade that story in a way that gets in to people’s hearts as well as their minds and in that order. Because as we know, what the heart feels today, the head understands tomorrow.

3. Commit to the story in everything you do.

Protect nothing. Leadership, creativity and bold actions are a must if a company is going to manage change successfully. Sacred cows get in the way. Watch out for incremental change and the temptation to amend and extend. That invariably leads to more of a mess, no less.

IBM’s “Capitalizing on Complexity” study – based on face-to-face conversations with more than 1,500 chief executive officers around the world – brought the issue into high relief not long ago. “CEOs now realize that creativity trumps other leadership characteristics,” the report stated, adding, “Standout CEOs expressed little fear of re-examining their own creations or proven strategic approaches.”

In other words, to truly create change, more often than not, you need the courage to start with a blank page.

And crucially, make sure you make the change too.

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Philip Davies

EMEA President

Read more from Philip Davies

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