Effective change management in an ever-changing environment

Five steps to working effectively with your people through transformation.

January 31, 2024
No items found.

Turn and face the change. Head on, in full sight, and together with your people.

That in a nutshell is how best to describe how to get the most out of any transformation project. Also, maybe stop thinking about transformation in terms of discrete projects. Instead see transformation as continuous, evolving, and forever present.

If, as a business leader, this brief summary of change management left you feeling the need for a cup of tea and a lie down, imagine what it’s like for your teams, especially those at the frontline? Employees who are expected to perform in the face of changes they have little control over. Small wonder that a survey from global management consulting firm McKinsey, found the success rate of companies’ transformation efforts has remained stuck at only 30 percent for many years.

“In a period of such prolonged and dramatic change in business, the economy, and the world at large, the newest results suggest it’s time for companies to treat transformations as more than just a side project or a discrete event and use them as opportunities to fundamentally change how their business runs,” McKinsey states.

That might seem like a big ask, but the way to manage the constant change in today’s world is finding a way to enable your business and people to get comfortable and even thrive through change. And while it is incredibly useful to draw on the insights of global organisations such as McKinsey, it’s important to put this in the New Zealand context. The average New Zealand company is considerably smaller than its global counterparts, and its simply not possible to throw large resources at creating a best-in-practice change management team.

Having said that, it’s also not ideal to fall back on the familiar ‘no. 8 wire’ approach, as much as that might be core to our national identity. There are plenty of international change management practices to draw upon such as PRINCE2 (Projects IN Controlled Environments) or ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement). It’s entirely possible to find a middle ground, by taking from the best globally and applying it locally.

A great local example of how this has been done successfully is ASB Bank’s transformation of its frontline services. ASB Head of Distribution Transformation, Michael Evans says the vision was for customers to have their query answered effectively regardless of how they presented – whether they used the bank’s mobile app, called the contact centre or walked into a branch. That meant implementing technology that would enable ASB to unite all their frontline teams – branch and call centre staff – so that the right work went to the right people at the right time.

It also meant that around 1500 people engaged in customer interaction would see a considerable change in their daily tasks. Evans says that although their people would find they had more interesting jobs as a result of the transformation, they also understood that change is unsettling. So, they set about engaging directly with the teams who would be working with the new technology, and ensured they were part of the decision-making process.

Together a plan was created and then communicated with all employees involved, with training modules put in place to enable everyone to sufficiently be across the new system before implementation.

From day one of the transformation, they have continued to analyse what is working, and what can be tweaked – adopting a continuous test and learn environment. And it’s not all from data, some of the most insightful feedback has been from individuals, such as a branch employee who, after some trepidation, transferred her exemplary customer service skills from the in-person to the online environment. In so doing she has provided valuable feedback on how to tweak the tech to improve the customer experience in the virtual world.

What ASB’s transformation programme demonstrates is how key employee engagement is to the success of an implementation. While change will look different for every organisation there are some key fundamentals, we at Spark believe should be front and centre.

1. Vision

Start with a compelling vision that inspires your people. They need to know why the changes are happening. Being able to articulate the big picture on why the change is needed and what it will deliver will go a long way to ensuring employee buy in.  What does your organisation stand for, and how does transformation or change enable that vision?

2. Engagement 

An organisation is essentially a group of people working towards a collective output. So put employee wellbeing at the heart of your transformation.

- GD Taylor, Spark Domain Chapter Lead, Technology Enablement

Find out what would motivate them to change how they work, and what would make it easier for them to do their jobs. McKinsey found that employee resistance is a major barrier to successful transformation. Taking a human centred design approach to change in your organisation by involving your people in the design process cannot only lead to better outcomes but will also enable better articulation of the user value and experience.

Caution letting cost be a primary motivator for change and skipping the engagement. If a new platform makes it harder for employees to do their job, they will find ways to circumvent it and the benefits could be lost. Instead find a way to meaningfully engage with the people impacted. Is it online feedback sessions, pilot user groups drawn from across the organisation (who will turn into advocates following implementation), data gathering and analysis? Or a combination of all three and more?

3. Communication

Having created a plan, now is the time to communicate it to the organisation, and here is where your CEO is probably the best person to lead it out. According to a McKinsey global survey, when asked which role in the business had the greatest impact on transformation results, respondents from across the organisation cite CEOs most often. 

In addition, the survey found the top three most commonly used channels to communicate with employees in companies with successful transformations were –line manager briefings, leadership town halls (all-organisation meetings), and cascading information throughout the organisation (e.g. - inform senior leaders first, then people leaders, then all of organisation).

4. Training

The days of expecting people to read PDFs and digest complex information are surely numbered. Be creative in how you create training resources for your people and think too of their wellbeing. Are you catering for people’s different learning styles – oral, visual, kinaesthetic? Have you thought about those who identify as neurodiverse?

And consider too, that many people, especially those new to the workforce, are used to learning via video, and social media such as TikTok. There may be more than one way you can provide effective training to your people.

5. Measurement

It isn’t over on day one of the transformation. Continue to collect and analyse data, welcome and respond to feedback, and test and learn new ideas in a way that is sustainable and actionable. This extends to keeping up with best practice in change management, a discipline that is itself always evolving.

Some have described successful transformation as a marathon, not a sprint. But I think of it more as a never-ending jog through an ever-changing landscape – the best advice is to maintain an even pace and keep your eyes wide open.

Navigating change management in your business? Our team are here to help you through the process.

GD Taylor
GD Taylor
Spark Domain Chapter Lead
Technology Enablement
Listen to this insight:


GD Taylor is a Technology Enablement Domain Chapter Lead with over 28 years experience leading organisational change through technology and is passionate about challenging organisational habits by inspiring new approaches and solutions.

Discover how Spark Business Group can help propel your organisation
No items found.