In life, we are constantly faced with choices that result in changes, and sometimes it’s hard to know which route is the best one to take. Likewise in the workplace, any manager will face the need to make a change. Deciding on how to make the change (and avoiding too much procrastination) is never easy. The better you know your subject, the more aware you are of the pitfalls of the various options available to you. Add to that business pressure to generate revenue, save cost or integrate a new function and you may find yourself in a tail-spin. Pause for a moment and reflect – there is an answer: phasing.
During any transformation, I have yet to see an example where you can “flip the switch” in one fell swoop. This is because in a live operation, there are people already doing a job, serving customers. No-one has the luxury of sufficient spare capacity to create the new function or implement the change in a new environment at the same time as continuing to deliver the existing service. This leads us to sometimes avoid making a difficult change, resulting in an ever more complicated operating model, adding layer upon layer of complexity and exceptions. The first phase of any transformation is to unpick those added layers, ensuring that in your new model, they are either disregarded, or fully integrated as standard, depending on how important they are.
An example of this in my previous career was whilst working in a software company, the company was supporting many legacy versions of the product, that were in the process of being phased out. The temptation to roll over to a new operating model whilst continuing with the exceptions seemed like the easiest approach. In fact, delaying the transformation whilst dealing with the clients using the legacy software, migrating them over one by one resulted in a much cleaner and simpler project plan to then go ahead with the transformation. House keeping first, then crack on with your change.
So once you’re ready to go ahead, think about how you can phase the change. Think about who is impacted. Over and above a quality project plan, you need to managed internal and external communication to “take the people on the journey with you.” By breaking the transformation down into manageable phases, you allow your team (and / or customers) to see an achievable goal and know when it is reached. It’s like climbing a flight of stairs on step at a time, rather looking wistfully at the top of the flight of stairs and wondering how you’ll climb them all in one leap.
The phases need to be significant but achievable, so the communication can demonstrate the progress. Communication of the phase and the role everyone will play need not be boring. At Virgin Mobile South Africa, the COO had the management team perform a themed updates, one particularly memorable event based on dragons and monsters! It helped engage the team, reassure them and still get the message across.
As each phase completes, don’t forget to celebrate the achievement (MORE communication) before you charge into the next stage. Another Virgin business held a monthly award ceremony as they ramped up and grew, crowning a king and a queen of the month for those who has contributed most to the growth. Not only was this great fun, with the king & queen given extra privileges (including have the CEO make them coffee), but it inspired others to get more engaged in the change so that they could wear the royal crown the following month. This is really important when the changes you are making will take a long period of time, or may well not have a fixed end game (such as transforming your operation from a passive customer service model to a proactive customer success model.)
Finally, remember human nature – your team and your customers will get “change fatigue” if you are too aggressive with your phases. You may impress your boss with the speed, but if your team are deflated and exhausted at the end of it, your results will plummet. It may seem like an insurmountable task to you when you look at the big picture, but phasing is a great way to keep your team, your customers and you on the journey. So good luck with that transformation, and start phasing!