achieving sustainable & transformational change

by Natalie Gordon

Sustainable transformational change. Three words. Let’s explore what each one means:

Change, noun: a variation or modification.

Doesn’t sound too bad…

Transformational, adj: a change or alteration, esp a radical one.
Radical, adj: fundamental.
Fundamental, adj: involving or comprising a foundation.
Foundation, noun: a construction below the ground that distributes the load of a building.

Now we’re getting somewhere. We’re talking about a change that goes beneath the surface of what you can see; an alteration to the foundations on which a structure is built. That’s starting to sound difficult…

Sustainable, adj: capable of being sustained.
Sustain, vb: to maintain or prolong.

We don’t mean ‘make a fundamental change and maintain it’. We mean maintain the culture of enquiry, of curiosity, of adaptability, of continuous improvement: the culture of change that enables you to keep on changing as needs dictate.

If you embark on a sustainable transformational change programme, you commit to a journey that digs deep under the surface of your organisation and changes its foundation to create a company that looks different on the surface and behaves differently beneath the surface. You begin a journey that has no end and has endless possibilities that you are not yet aware of.

We felt compelled to write this article by a recent enquiry for a culture change programme. Our potential client said that they knew culture change was hard and often failed and they wanted to know how we could help them succeed. They were right – transformational change that permanently alters the way you do business is hard. But it is also incredibly rewarding, financially and emotionally, when it’s done right.

What follows are some reasons why sustainable transformational change programmes fail and some principles for getting it right, born out of our successful delivery track record. We finish by introducing you to a simple self-assessment tool to help you judge where you are on the road to sustainable transformational change.

So, why do change programmes typically fail?

Most of us don’t like change. Let’s be honest. It’s uncomfortable, it brings fear of the unknown and we get trapped in the tension between control (stability) and change (newness). Extrapolate that across an organisation and you have a challenge on your hands.

Our gut feel is that our approach to change is very different to others and that this isn’t just down to our experience, our programme structure or the quality of our people – though of course all that helps. We are addressing something below the surface, to get to those organisation foundations. You can have the best plans, the best principles, the best intent, but if you fail to crack the habits that anchor you in stability, then your change will be neither transformational nor sustainable. All our change programmes are designed to address the forces of stability, as described below.

the ten principles of sustainable change

Our ten change programme design principles will help you to crack these forces of stability. They form the basis for all our change programmes and the rewards speak for themselves. Fig 1 shows how we used this approach with Mitchells & Butlers to fundamentally transform their culture and their performance across a workforce of 36,000.

Too often companies try to short-cut to quick results by doing a top-down communications
programme. They believe that changing too many things in parallel is risky. Programmes are rolled out to teams who are already overloaded with no change capacity left. Staff don’t see, or believe in, the reasons for change. Communication is sketchy and successes aren’t broadcast and failures aren’t reviewed. The list could go on, but we suspect some of you may already be experiencing an uncomfortable prickle of recognition as you read this.

The ten principles are not sequential steps which can be done once and forgotten. They are
principles which need to be revisited and renewed as your change programme matures.

fig 1: case study Mitchells & Butlers

In 2010 the business was overdosing on command & control:

  • Risk averse, recent boardroom upheaval and hedging losses
  • 700+ head office people engaged in trying to get compliance in the pubs – but not succeeding
  • Correlation – pubs with highest scores on compliance had lowest guest satisfaction rates
  • Pubs weighed down with ‘rain’ of instructions from head office
  • Cost base too high as market moves towards value in recession
  • Losing nimbleness & creativity to track and lead changes in customer preferences
  • Leaders not visible
  • Everyone frustrated by how long it took to get things done for customers

Frontline Focus – a transformation programme to become guest-centric and change the culture to empowerment:

  • New strategy, vision and values
  • Pub hothousing to drive empowerment and sales uplift
  • Up to 15% profit uplift in a few weeks
  • New comms strategy (award-winning)
  • Head office redesign to support front line
  • Field management reorganisation – Fully P&L accountable brand owners
  • Scorecard-based performance management
  • Massive L&D programme
  • Hothousing in central functions – develop own transformation plans
  • Air traffic control (ATC) function
  • Driving simplification and quality of implementation in pubs

Resulting in:

  • New head office organisation designed around guest-centricity and saving £10m pa
  • New leadership model based on empowering the front line – leaders 360 assessed against
  • new profile, developing new behaviours
  • ATC up and running, simplifying instructions to pubs, managing change capacity and driving
  • simplification and lean processes
  • Pub hothouses trialled in 3 brands, then 3 districts. Field managers being trained to lead
  • national rollout from February 2013
  • Strategy translated into scorecards, being embedded in all functions and as part of pub
  • rollout
  • Sales have held up despite the disruption


fig. 2: the ten principles of sustainable transformational change

1. Understand the problem we have to solve
- Use diagnostics to get to the root of what needs to change – ie, you may know you need to become more customer-centric, but what is it exactly that is getting in your way?
- This is about stories and statistics – the data needs to tell a compelling story

2. Be clear why the change is critical
- If you don’t change, what will happen and why does that matter?

3. Know where you are headed
- Create a clear vision connected to strategic objectives
- All initiatives must link to your vision
- Link the vision to the story of change you have started to tell in Principle 1

4. Start by changing yourself
- Be honest. Find the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me)
- Role model the change you want to see in others
- Demonstrate leadership alignment and belief
- Leadership not management. Leaders should inspire and set the pace
- Is every member of your leadership team openly in agreement with the vision and the change? How are they demonstrating that?
- Put your best people on your change programme

6. Engage & empower the whole organisation, bottom-up
- Get people involved. Equip them with the tools and the support to self-diagnose why and where change is needed
- and help them contribute to the vision. They need to care about the change not just understand it

7. Address the whole operating model
- Don’t fix one problem which creates others. Look at the whole organisation operating model and address interconnected issues in parallel
- Apply holistic systems thinking

8. Prove that it works, communicate & celebrate quick wins
- Pilot the change and create the business case for change before rolling out
- Shout out about success and encourage those who were involved to share what they did

9. Do more change
Use a network of change champions. Think Olympic ambassadors

10. Make change business as usual
Connect new ways of working into performance management, bring the change tools into company ways of working

Over to you
So, how well do you think you are embracing these ten principles? Our self-assessment questionnaire will give you a flavour for how successful your change programme is likely to be. Of course it isn’t an in-depth review of your programme and nor will it magically provide you with all the answers you’re looking for. We hope it makes you stop and think, critically question your approach, and offers ideas to explore further. Above all, we hope it provides a framework for discussing with your colleagues how and why you may need to step up the effort to achieve your desired results. It’s not an easy option, but it is the only option which will achieve sustainable and transformational change.

We wish you the best of luck

How sustainable and transformational is your change going to be?

For all questions, please answer yes or no. Yes scores 1 point, No scores zero. If you are not sure or have done some actions but not all, then please answer No.

Section 1: understanding & Inspiring
1. We have done detailed diagnostics of performance, operations, skills and behaviour, and customer satisfaction to truly understand what the core issues are
2. We have created and articulated a compelling vision to work towards
3. We have created a convincing story of change which captures hearts and minds

Section 2: believe, engage, empower
1. I know how I must behave differently and I am finding ways to demonstrate that to my team
2. All members of our leadership team are visibly demonstrating support for the vision and the change we need to undertake to get there
3. The change programme is led by some of our most able and respected people
4. People at all levels of the organisation are actively involved in working on issues within the change programme

Section 3: prove, communicate & roll-out
1. We are addressing multiple aspects of our operating model in parallel
2. We have piloted the change and tracked the benefits to create a business case
3. Our people are talking to others via formal and informal networks about the successes and learnings
4. We are using a network of change champions and supporting them to roll out the change based on the proven business case

Section 4: embed
1. Our internal processes (eg, performance management), our values and our ways of working all reflect our new approach to doing business

How did you do?
6 and under: Keys not in the ignition. You won’t make it to the starting line. Time to ask if you are serious about wanting to change

6-9: Key in, engine ticking over. You’ll get to the start line and start the race, but your fuel tank will run dry part way round. Time to review the strengths and weaknesses of your approach

9-10: Moving steadily up the field. Early indications look good, but a tyre change is needed to really make a difference. Focus in on your areas of weakness

11-12: You’re lapping the rest. Keep your foot on the accelerator, but don’t forget to listen to the support team to change direction as needed. Stay focused and keep moving

To find out more, get in touch with Natalie Gordon: nataliegordon@egremontgroup.com / +44 (0) 20 7298 7878