Zero to hero

Zero to hero One of the largest, most complex and exciting challenges of my career took me overseas for almost a year. This $500m project was so epic; I’ll give you just the first 100 days. When faced with large, complex programs, many people don’t know where to start. I ‘cut to the chase’ by asking critical questions that speed design and implementation. Big pond A high-profile financial services company with 9500 staff had a massive transformation program with a formidably intricate work-stream map covering customer facing teams to back office teams enterprise wide. With staff, unions, investors and governments to impress (and media and competitors ready to pounce) failure was not an option. Despite numbering 250 people, the project management office lacked some critical resources and expertise, and implementation deadlines were aggressive. My brief? To set this program up for success by working with leadership teams (on the business side and in the Program Management Office) and organisational design and change consultants. Snap shot I began by appraising the situation with my top 12 ‘health check’ questions:

  1. What’s the state of play?
  2. What’s the strategy? Is it clearly articulated and well known?
  3. Who’s the sponsor? What true leadership does the program have?
  4. Do all leaders have a clear mandate? Are they engaged/powerful/effective?
  5. What drivers are people working to? Are they correct?
  6. What’s the culture of the program/unit/division/firm? Is it silent/toxic/ignorant?
  7. Is the program achievable?
  8. What will stop it? Are there blockers/passive resistors/saboteurs? Why?
  9. What’s the real (hidden) agenda?
  10. Who truly knows what’s going on?
  11. Is there true sign-up to real, actionable change?
  12. Do operational elements understand the business need and downstream impact?

These penetrating questions were neither easy to ask, popular to consider, nor comfortable to answer. That was the point. Who’s who After meeting the company’s enablement teams, I helped them set up an operating model firmly rooted in reality. During my fact-finding mission, I also identified influencers and power dynamics as I knew these would be crucial to anything I did. I was careful not to assume anything, because you never know who knows what or is really in charge. My whirlwind tour let me quickly establish myself with many stakeholders. This told me the change readiness of people in and outside the program, its champions and the ‘coalition of the willing’. Top down Having worked out who to trust for information and guidance, I quickly established regular meetings with key stakeholders. At the same time, I assessed the style and needs of the program’s key sponsor. Despite this person being self-sufficient I still had to keep them up to speed with specific program details and abreast of engagement levels. To this end, I surveyed regularly to check the program’s pulse. I then worked with senior leaders to ascertain their styles/needs/abilities with engagement in the change. To be thorough but safe, I applied my principle never to assume that people:

  • Know everything (or even anything) – the ‘I don’t know what I don’t know’ syndrome.
  • Read/hear/act on anything I or others say/do/broadcast.

This approach served me well, as communications were indeed highly fragmented. Bottom up Working from my engagement framework, I detailed and prioritised essential change communication phases and activities. While working methodically through these, I stayed flexible in approach and tactics to keep on top of the program’s changing nature. Each phase articulated goals, rationale, metrics and milestones (the what, why, how and when). As to the who, I equipped people and brought them together for the tasks at hand. I set up engagement and communications templates early, promoted availability and explained how to use them. While not everyone took advantage, it was instructive to see who did. Way to go After 100 days of intense effort, I was fully equipped to:

  • Create a suite of change engagement plans.
  • Socialise these in time for each major change phase.

Over the ensuing year, the transformative program was implemented successfully.