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How do you implement change rapidly and at scale?

Updated: Sep 15

Tips on how to succeed from April co-founder Tim Westall

There’s no shortage of great strategies, change initiatives and innovation ideas. What’s scarce is success in implementing them – quickly and at scale. Why is it so tricky and how do you get it right?

Assuming that the underlying idea is sound, leadership committed, the organisation engaged, and plans, people and resources are in place, we have four propositions for success:

1. Consider change as a way of life, not an episodic transformation

People often talk about transformation as a binary concept, travelling from A to B and planning how to get there. These days that’s rarely the case. How you travel and where you’re going are constantly evolving and a flexible mindset is essential. Here, we can learn a lot from agile:

  • People over process: build self-organising, collaborative, multi-function agile teams and trust people to get the job done

  • Learning over perfection: choose a growth mindset of curiosity, embrace of challenge and application of learning, so that 'every day's a school day'. Learn to like change: don't just tolerate it, embrace it

  • Conversation over documentation: a working rhythm of frequent, short, purposeful conversations rather than burdensome documentation and reporting

  • Collaboration over contract: empathise and collaborate with customers/end-users/key stakeholders to understand their most important needs and expectations

  • Responsiveness over rigidity: having a long-term plan, but chunk the plan into manageable, time-bound sprints

  • Parallel over sequential: start with customer desirability, but also think about feasibility and viability early on; sometimes earlier than feels comfortable

As a side note, take care to pay attention to what doesn’t change. What are the foundations that underpin both today’s and tomorrow’s organisation? What is the common purpose that runs through the past, present and future?


2. Think about the ‘whole’: people, technology, system and process, not just ‘digital’

For a pure digital business, it can be relatively straightforward to achieve scale. But most organisations exist in both clicks and bricks form. Pureplay digital is the exception not the norm.

This matters because of the recent and current dominance of ‘digital transformation’ thinking, where the working assumption is that everything is digital. For example, Deliveroo is not a tech business, but a cute app helping to manage orders and co-ordinate legions of delivery drivers. Amazon is not primarily a tech business, more a masterpiece of supply chain management and just-in-time logistics enabled by technology. And WeWork, thought of as a technology business, has been exposed as a property rental business.

That’s not to say that technology is unimportant. We know there’s been a huge shift to digital commerce and working during the pandemic but there are a lot of businesses out there based on people and on 'things' which are more difficult to change and easy to neglect behind the relatively straightforward tech front end.

3. Design the conditions for evolution – don’t just expect business as usual to be able to adapt in flight

All organisations are torn between business as usual and exploring the business of tomorrow. Helping organisations continuously evolve is not sufficiently recognised and is often tackled episodically under the guise of transformation or change.

Here are some emerging principles for success:

  • Ensure the evolution cycle is driven by a team, with an appreciation of both business as usual and disruptive innovation

  • Expect and actively manage the inherent tension between improvers and disrupters, with a conscious bias in favour of the disrupters to overcome the gravitational pull of business as usual

  • Ensure a capability linkage between business as usual and the frontiers of innovation otherwise you might as well just spin it out

4. Do more to back your own and grow your own – don’t rely too much on consultants or new hires

Achieving change is about changing behaviour, by individuals, one day at a time. But it’s also about building capability, teaching people to do new things, work in new ways and to do so at scale. Therefore, appreciate and maximise the potential of your own human capital before bringing in consultants or new hires.

If you can create skilled, flexible dynamic people, you will create a flexible, dynamic, learning organisation. That is our ultimate objective, taking us back to where we started, where change and learning are a way of life.

To hear the full discussion on implementing change rapidly and at scale with Tim and Karolina Lewandowska, Global Change & Transformation Lead at Google, visit the Innovation Partnership website.

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