Taking stakeholders on the journey with you has long been key to delivering a successful business transformation. Simon Evans, MD of Catalyst Business Consulting, shares his thoughts on how to obtain and maintain stakeholder buy-in to your transformation vision.
The key first step in any transformation is properly exploring and understanding exactly what you’re trying to achieve, and why. We usually try to interview the key people to determine the boundaries and the scope of what you want to do. Then working with members of the programme team, we look at models and best practice examples that others have successfully employed to see what the possibilities might be for you.
The next stage is working closely with the programme leads to work out who the key stakeholders are going to be – both internally and externally – before identifying people who represent those groups at different levels within the organisation. It’s important not to have too many C-suite representatives in this group because as well as having difficulty working around their diaries, they tend to dominate conversations and can stifle open debate. This approach is usually received well by the senior teams as long as their key “go-to” people are involved and they are assured that they will be brought back in to the process later.
For the best results you need, as your transformation sounding board, a combination of the go-to people and those on the front line who understand the reality of the day-to-day operations. It’s best to focus on the people who are looked up to in the business as leaders – even if they have no formal leadership role. A good rule of thumb for getting the best people around the table is to say ‘who can you least afford to lose? That’s who we need.’
At the outset of any planning discussions with this group, you need to make it clear that you’ve come together to make firm decisions and binding recommendations. And if you empower people to do this, you have to be prepared to follow through with what they come up with.
Once the right cohort of people is assembled, we start to get them in the creative mood by showing them what we’ve found during our research – the examples of best practice and scenarios that are working elsewhere. Then we set them to thinking about the different options for their own business. It’s important at this stage not to try and find answers to the problem, but instead to identify a wide range of options and new ideas. When these are all on the table we work through them with the team to understand how all the ideas interact with each other and to see if we can combine, iterate and improve them. We also explore the impact they will have on different parts of the business. It ends up resembling a big funnel, where the weaker ideas fall away, and a short list begins to form itself naturally.
At this point we bring in the rest of the programme team to begin looking at the ideas on the table in relation to the anticipated Target Operating Model. There’s a process of collective refinement until we reach agreement on the best way forward. Then we move on to discussing how we actually make the change happen. It’s this collective design that ultimately leads to real buy-in and ownership of the transformation.
The final phase, once you have decided together on the solution to the problem and a way of implementing it, is to set some parameters around when it’s going to happen. This is the point, when the key people have invested emotionally in developing the concept and methodology, to get their buy-in to a delivery timetable.
At the end of the co-creation process you should have the beginnings of a robust project plan. But, crucially, you will also have an influential group of people within your business who feel that they have a personal and professional stake in the journey you’re about to make. These will be your transformation ambassadors who will be critical in driving adoption and use of the new ways of working across the organization. It is therefore important to keep them close to the project at every stage so that they remain connected and invested.
There are two key pieces of advice for anyone thinking of embarking on a business transformation: