A long dead tree in Białowieża Forest, Poland, acting as the basis for fundamental change (new life!)

It has been silent for a while on this blog page. No excuses, but there is a good reason for that. Since August I have moved to a new country (to Spain, leaving the UK behind after 21 years, but with my business still based there), we have been setting-up the Centre for Collaborative Innovation and also started on an already ongoing global transformation programme ran from the UK.

This all required quite a change in my personal and professional life. A personal transformation that I am in the middle of right now. This experience simply begged for a comparison between transformational change in my personal life and transformation in client environments. For one, I had to prioritise my activities and this -still young- blog had to wait a little while. I recognise this also from clients’ transformation programmes, where a more fundamental change requires prioritisation to (temporarily) halt some activities. And review whether they are still fit for purpose in the renewed environment.

Transformation means that we need to agree what the end point looks like. The way in a business environment we usually express the ‘top of the mountain we are trying to climb’ as the Target Operating Model (see also It’s all in the family). In my private live (although not expressed this way) this Target Model contained ‘country’ (Spain) and ‘business structure’ (Centre for Collaborative Innovation) as two of the dimensions. Not surprisingly, these dimensions usually show up in business models as well.

Then, we define the journey to get there. The very purpose of this blog is to explore experiences and ideas around this.

Different approaches to change

Part of the journey is to consider which elements of our ‘operating model’ are (1) mature enough to meet the challenges in our new world and which (2) are not. This asks for different change approaches, I suggest.

The first approach to change is where we could make operational or tactical improvements to our current ways of working (adaptions, so to say, or our operating model based on our own experience). This people often call ‘incorporating lessons learned’ or ‘continuous improvement’ or something like that.

The second approach is to make fundamental, more strategic, changes. This is where often much confusion and anxiety emerges everywhere.

There is a lot of talk about ‘resetting’ transformation programmes. Often, because the operating model of the programme is no longer fit-for-purpose and implementing ‘lessons learned’ won’t do anymore. We all recognise the IT-enabled transformation programme whose operating model very much was about designing an IT-solution to meet the (new) business processes, only to find that that centralised operating model is hopelessly inadequate to deploy that designed solution globally. It often relies on key resources, having all the solution knowledge in some central place, near the programme leadership, often in a costly location (say London). And then we need to deploy. First to the area near where we are based. Say the UK. Then we deploy to the European geography. That still sort of works. After all, we all can fly within 3 hours and maximum a couple of time zones. We may lack some language capabilities, so we may augment our centrally-based team with some polyglots or locals from the newly-to-be-deployed-to areas. Still based centrally. Next is, say, the Americas. And we find we get torn apart. Dealing with issues in Europe whilst ramping up countries on the other side of the Atlantic is tough. We may find these key central resources become a constraint for successful deployment, and deployment comes to a grinding halt. And we still have to find a way to do Asia Pacific!

So, the decision is made to ‘reset’ the programme.  We need a new operating model! Often, a third-party consultancy is called in (believe me, I have been part of quite a few of those). They recommend some fundamental changes: we need multiple parallel teams; the design team need to be located in a more cost-effective location and so on. Usually the third party will recommend new (often their own!) resources. Fundamental changes. And all this whilst retaining knowledge. Tough. Of course, the root cause solution is to build an operating model from the onset that can do all this, but the fact is that many programmes discover this problem on the fly. Whilst committed to the timelines, people and changes. And business case! I know of many global programmes at this point decide to ‘take stock’ and basically tread water (and burn a lot of money at the same time) whilst the new operating model is “implemented”..

Wickedness. Again.

This can be necessary, but is this always is the right solution?

Why can’t we build on the things that seem to work well and incrementally change those? And, yes, select 3-5 bigger things we need to change more fundamentally, but without uprooting everything and -de facto- halting our programme for -say- 3-6 months.

This sounds like a set of wicked questions to me. ‘How can we make meaningful changes to our programme whilst retaining our pace of work and without throwing all into (perceived) chaos?’.

These are nice wicked ones.

So. Why don’t we get some people together, including external experts not yet ‘wedded to’ our operating model, that have experiences that we may not have? And run some truly creative workshops or events with them, that help us put in place ways of working to deal with the wickedness?Upfront we don’t know what will come out, which many will find daunting. But my experience shows that we will come up with ways of working, a new operating model, that will meet our requirements.

It is remarkable how it also can reinvigorate the people and the programme. Like Spain is doing for me.

Have you been part of a ‘reset’ of a programme? Have you tried alternative ways to deal with this type of challenges? What worked and what did not?