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Managing the levers of change

08 Sep, 2016

Leading a successful company transformation requires an integrated approach and change must become part of the business-as-usual processes. Constance Chalchat, Head of Change Management - BNP Paribas Corporate and Institutional Banking, describes how to align the company hard transformation enablers to its staff soft motivational drivers.


Driven by new technologies and new regulations, change continues to dominate the business world. But despite the universal acknowledgment of Darwin's assertion that "it is not the strongest of the species that will survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change", many organisations continue to struggle to manage change effectively. The question is why?

The answer is multifaceted. Many commentators point to the absence of the requisite 'hard levers' of change being in place – a clear, well communicated vision and strategy; identifying the tangible actions to advance the change agenda; acquiring the necessary skills to execute a new way of working. Others identify that change management is not a command and control exercise led only by senior management, but should instead focus on the 'soft levers' of change – for example, that staff feel that they are active participants in the transformation process and, more importantly, value the benefit it can provide.

Traditional analysis of the success or failure of executing change has therefore been pretty binary, focusing on either hard or soft levers. But in an increasingly connected, fast-paced environment, and with the growing population of millennials searching for meaning and purpose, effective change management demands a fully integrated approach – i.e. where the hard enablers of company transformation align with soft staff motivational drivers.

Three enablers for a successful company transformation

1. A dual-speed vision

Focusing first on the hard levers of change, it is vital that organisations adopt a dual-speed approach, which spans both the long and short-term.
Given the accelerated pace of disruption in the ecosystem in which it operates, no company has its future mapped out fully for the next five years. It's impossible to do so. Yet, people need to know where you're aiming to go and how you will get there. Organisations therefore need to set long-term ambitions, while concurrently taking short-term, visible steps towards achieving that ambition.

Being ambitious is a matter of survival. Change often materialises faster than expected. As a result, incremental change may only result in spending time and energy on developing products or services that will already be obsolete when launched. Instead, a compelling, long-term and bold vision is more 'future proof', plus it inspires staff to design the future together.

To ensure that the vision remains relevant and front of mind, it is important to then take visible agile action towards achieving that long-term goal. Executing tactical and tangible solutions generates a buzz and sense of forward momentum, fuels staff motivation, and adds credibility to the long-term vision.
"(...) effective change management demands a fully integrated approach – i.e. where the hard enablers of company transformation align with soft staff motivational drivers."

2. Change become a process

Next, change has to become a process that is embedded in the organisation, not a series of chaotic actions that an organisation has to endure. If carefully orchestrated, change can bring tremendous results to a company; if not, it will be a demotivating factor that saps energy and focus. Planning change effectively comprises four core components: stimulation, education, coordination and celebration.
 

Stimulation: Once the vision has been shared, staff should be invited to contribute. They should want to participate to the transformation. Communication is central to achieving this, the content reflecting where employees stand in the change process: Why we are changing? Where we are going? How can we manage to succeed? How employees can contribute?
 

Education: For many, change is not natural. A new skill-set will be required for managers to embrace and foster change, and for staff to adopt it.
 

Coordination: When companies face uncertainty, a tendency can be to centralise, controlling top-down to navigate through dangerous waters. However, the risk with this is to miss the potential positive contributions of operational staff in close contact with clients and markets. Enabling teams on the ground to 'test and learn' in a coordinated way can help build rich collective intelligence to design the future together.
 

Celebration: Change is a bumpy road. Staff can get tired and stressed. Uncertainty is often correlated to budget cuts, for which internal events are a prime candidate. Yet, celebrations are the best way to link employees' need for social connection with change. This builds confidence within the organisation that progress is being made. Even failures can be celebrated, as they often bring greater knowledge to the organisation.
 

3. Transforming mind sets

Finally, technological advancements are often of lower importance compared to new mind sets. We can automate processes, and even predict decisions, but we cannot automate changes in human behaviours. Yet it's when longstanding business expertise is combined with advanced analytics that you achieve outstanding results. It is how people use new technologies and best sell new solutions that will make a difference.
Central to shifting towards a new mind set is a commitment to ensure staff benefit from change. A successful transformation requires anticipating people's concerns and building a persuasive case for change, which has to benefit the individuals as much as the company.
"We can automate processes, and even predict decisions, but we cannot automate changes in human behaviours."

Aligning employees and company interests to sustain motivation

Staff motivation fuels transformation. The more you have the faster and further you can go. Consequently, the other half of the change equation is how to best align the company-focused transformation enablers already discussed with staff motivational drivers. Broadly, there are three drivers to employ.

1. Meaningful work

The first is meaningful work and the overall sense that staff are contributing to achieving the company's vision. When sharing the vision, it's imperative to focus both on the big picture and how employees' roles relate to it. Be honest when acknowledging uncertainties or a roadblock; millennials in particular have a very low tolerance for inauthenticity. 

"Co-design is a powerful tool to make everyone feel engaged and enhance trust in a company's future."
In acknowledging individual contributions and their importance to the process, celebrating progress and providing regular feedback are critical. Celebrations shouldn't be limited to achieving long-term goals or major breakthroughs; instead, recognising 'small' wins can boost motivation tremendously. Celebrations are communal experiences that strengthen employee bonds, unite behind a commitment, and build a sense of shared destiny.
Providing constructive feedback is also extremely powerful. So recognise exceptional work; explain how failures can contribute to being better next time; and hold one-on-ones, taking this opportunity to share the vision in a transparent manner and discuss how their work affects the company's future. Employees will value these meetings as unique opportunities for them to make meaningful connections.

2. Social bonding and strong interpersonal relationships

Next, recognising that we are moving from an 'era of information' to 'the age of relation', the second most important driver of motivation is social bonding and strong interpersonal relationships.
Bonding is best achieved through collaboration and co-design, critical in the process of change described earlier. I'm always amazed by how collaborative projects can motivate talent. It can be further enriched by co-designing projects with clients. Co-design is a powerful tool to make everyone feel engaged and enhance trust in a company's future. The more staff and customers participate in co-designing the future, the more they buy into it and actively contribute to the transformation.
Furthermore, greater diversity, facilitated and demanded by the newer generations, adds depth and enriches working relationships, meeting the need for meaningful bonding. As such, diversity is as much a motivational driver as an enabler for change; it enables companies to leverage top talents wherever they are, whatever their background, thereby increasing the chances of successful transformation. In a changing world, diversity is not just the right thing to do; it is the best way to build a more comprehensive range of strategies and solutions that appeal to a diverse range of customers. 

3. Self-fulfilment

The third and final motivational driver focuses on self-fulfilment through autonomy, creative freedom and personal development. Engagement is best built by involving people in identifying problems, crafting solutions, and being accountable for their implementation. Employees are most engaged in jobs where they are trusted by their managers, given creative license, and the means to develop.


Integrating interests is the way forward

In an increasingly fluid business environment, the need to adapt is pervasive. And it's not a 'one-off event'; change is here to stay and will accelerate. Faced with the necessity to transform, companies have to manage change in uncertain, fast-evolving, eco-systems.
If well-orchestrated, it is possible to construct and launch a change management plan efficiently. But that is only part of the challenge. Its success over time depends on a company's ability to make it meaningful to those who need to execute it – i.e. staff.

True transformation therefore demands the integration of 'hard' transformation enablers and 'soft' staff motivational drivers. In a nutshell, the future of change management is neither hard, nor soft, but firm.
Head of change Management, BNP Paribas Corporate and Institutional Banking
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