By Damani Short
Focus on Fundamentals in Times of Change
At the start of 2022, many business leaders find themselves staring down the barrel of change. They’re dealing with challenges related to inflation, turnover, worker shortages, and persistent supply chain issues, to name a few. The thing is, change is always happening, and so businesses are in a constant state of change; most of which have multiple transformation initiatives underway and/or in the pipeline.
Most of the organizations we engage with remain focused on addressing key business fundamentals, including the following:
- Modifying their production and distribution footprints along with a sourcing overhaul
- Enhancing their product development pipeline
- Embarking on any number of customer experience initiatives
- Driving a pipeline of margin improvement projects
- Addressing service levels and fulfillment
- Expanding into new markets
At Lexico, we position ourselves to help address these and other situations by making sure core fundamentals remain front and center in our clients’ thinking. A key driver behind this approach includes collaborative workshopping, teaching by doing, and accumulating quick wins early in the transformation journey. These approaches help executives learn a new lexicon, develop new muscles, and bolster their confidence early in their ability to win together.
Recognizing and Addressing Friction
It’s easy for an organization to get caught up in friction when change threatens to shake up its culture, or alter the way people work. Even if people and teams are excited at first, positive energy can wane. Suddenly, a change initiative can bog people down, especially if employees feel like you’re forcing them to do things differently.
This can create a wide range of emotions and responses. Suddenly, people may start operating from a place of fear, afraid that if they don’t go along, they’ll lose their place in the org chart. While fear can be a powerful motivator, it’s not the best way to sustain engagement and ultimately, change over the long run.
In one recent engagement with a global industrial manufacturer, the client hit points of friction at two distinct stages. The first came early on, well before the heavy lifting started. At this phase, the client was simply trying to adopt a new way of thinking.
After an acquisition, they exceeded the billion dollar mark. While their top line continued to grow, they weren’t seeing improvement in margin performance. Through an extensive business assessment, we helped bring visibility to the fact they had widely varying operating processes and systems. With that in mind we assembled eight of the most influential VPs from around the globe and set out to develop enterprise value streams. We built multi-year roadmaps within each value stream rolling up to an enterprise roadmap integrated across those value streams. A lot of the upfront work required learning a new lexicon and collaborating cross-functionally and globally; both of which were largely foreign. With 2,200 professionals spread around multiple countries and time zones, it was clear that they were geared towards working in silos, and weren’t too keen on building new collaborations.
To address this early friction, we spent a lot of time on ‘the why’ and facilitated cross functional, global working sessions which allowed these leaders to ‘learn by doing’. As it stood, senior leaders had targeted ‘improving communication’ as one of the initiative’s goals. We needed to take what we heard from the C-suite, and translate it to teams in ways that meant something to them. That way, they could put this information to use. To do so, we used examples that were relevant to their day-to-day operations. This smoothed out a number of tension points, and helped to create the team-wide confidence we were hoping for.
The second round of friction came later, after we’d entered the heavy lifting phase. By now, we were in the midst of developing a common way to look at their value stream, assess their maturity, and complete a roadmap for the future. This time, the friction was less about people, and more about the calendar: their budget cycle was coming up. The project lead faced a mandate: complete the roadmap such that investments were in context of the roadmap, or their investment requests were disqualified from funding consideration.
Having ironed out the earlier friction, and created confidence through small wins, we were able to turn this time-based pressure into fuel that pushed the initiative forward. We kept visibility on this pressure point high by letting org leaders know what was at stake. In the process, this helped to galvanize teams toward hitting the milestones that they’d dedicated so much time and effort toward achieving.
Very few businesses take on change purely because it seems like a good/right thing to do. Often, leaders feel like they have no choice, or that their choices have gotten down to one of two options: change, or die.
In this reality, moments of friction will happen—there’s simply no getting around it. What matters more is how leaders and teams respond to friction when it happens, no matter where it comes from, or when it arrives.
When you keep your business fundamentals at the center of your thinking, and focus on building small wins at every step, big challenges become more manageable, and teams that may have never had contact before suddenly galvanize around a shared purpose.
Lexico partners with executives to realize the value and outcomes that their transformation work is intended to deliver. Tell us about the changes you’re facing in 2022, and find out how we can support your initiative.