How Can Your Business Stay Agile? Q&A with Andrew McMillan
In an ever-evolving world experiencing major innovations and global events, how can businesses remain agile? Importantly, how can leaders get the rest of the organisation on board when it comes to change? An engaging keynote speaker, Andrew McMillan, who led change at John Lewis, draws upon his three decades of experience in this area to explain how.
How are customer needs different from, say, 10 years ago?
I don’t think customer ‘needs’ are substantially different in that people have always wanted products and services that offer good value for money, are reliable and fit for purpose. Delivering on those simple basics is a winning formula to engender trust for any business, even in 2016.
What has changed is that customers ‘want’ everything to be easier and expect it to be faster too; that can add a challenging dimension to those not agile enough to respond. In addition, the greater transparency facilitated by social media means those not able to deliver will get called out all too quickly in a brutal fashion.
How can business design their strategies to remain agile to avoid being 'called out'?
Really understand what customers want - never ever assume you know.
I run a workshop for clients in which we ask their customers what they really need from the business. We group their responses into key themes and ask them to score each theme on relative importance, current performance and desired future performance. We then run the same workshop with front line employees and then again with the senior team. It’s frightening how big the gap often is between what the business believes is important to customers and what customers actually want.
The front line employees are usually very close to the customers’ scores, but rarely are front line employees really listened to in business – big mistake. When you really understand what your customers expect, and are consistently delivering it, you can then try and predict what they don’t know they want yet! That adds a touch of magic and can really drive reputation.
In your experience, what are the biggest challenges when it comes to bringing about change in businesses?
Given that few people genuinely welcome substantial change, having a simply articulated purpose and regularly communicating it with confidence and clarity seem to be the biggest challenges. It sounds straightforward but often change programmes can change themselves as they evolve creating even more uncertainty for the employees expected to deliver them. As the change gathers pace and sucks in resource and time, communication can be seen as an unnecessary distraction to the core purpose. It is at those times it is needed the most to keep everyone on board with what is happening and to close out the opportunity for rumour and speculation, often driven by misinformation or fear of the unknown.
Is there a difference between change management and change leadership? What are the qualities needed for both?
In my view, change management is all about the structure and process of the change – the programme office and project managers. It is critical to have experience, attention to detail and accuracy in these roles, but it is also where many organisations start and finish and that’s not enough.
Not that kind of change
Change leadership is about taking people with you. Failure to deliver on this is the most common reason for change being difficult or failing altogether. Empathetic leadership to engender employee engagement seems to be such a huge blind spot for so many businesses across all sectors and continents. Those businesses that have enduring success almost always have very high levels of employee engagement.
Change management for me is all about respecting and maintaining that engagement so that people understand what is happening and why. Redundancies need to be handled sympathetically and respectfully along with changes to roles and responsibilities. That sets the business up for success when the main change programme is complete and you are relying on front line employees to make it work for the business and its customers.
What can a typical corporate audience learn from your own experiences of leading and managing change in organisations?
I have been very fortunate in that I have the perspective of having been on the receiving end of change during my time at John Lewis and was responsible for leading change at John Lewis. Since leaving in 2008 after 28 years there I have supported change programmes in over twenty organisations including the NHS, local government, universities, financial services, hotels, airlines and automotive manufacturers and retailers. The execution can differ by sector but the core principles are the same.
Can you give us some quickfire tips?
Have a clearly articulated vision – preferably an inspiring one
Have an experienced programme office to coordinate projects and resolve challenges before they arise
Communicate and engage with all employees as often as is practical
Treat job changes and redundancies with sympathy and respect
Don’t assume the change is over - it never is!
Thanks, Andrew! So what’s next for you?
I had a wonderful career at John Lewis and never imagined anything could better it. However, running my own business gives me the opportunity to spend time with such a variety of organisations, either as a consultant or speaker, and it is incredibly stimulating. It’s made even more exciting when you see a great idea in one sector and can use it to benefit another, which happens more than you might imagine. I keep promising myself that I’ll write a book, I even have the title and framework written, but to date haven’t found the time to start it properly... one day!
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