In the penultimate article in this series, we set out some of the key components of an effective transformation strategy; the strategy that will enable you to bridge the gap between where you stand today and the vision of the business you must become to flourish in the future.
In this final article, we’ll talk briefly about that last magic ingredient in the futurestate design formula: empowering the organisation to execute the strategy successfully and bring (a version of) that futurestate vision to life.
It’s worth remembering that this series is focused on futurestate design in the context of helping organisations transform. We’re focusing on achieving the big step-change (a leap-change) that essentially performs a reset: the aim ultimately is to operate a business on the principles of service-led strategy (you can read a 101 on that here) so that a leap is never needed again, at least not on this scale.
Let’s get Agile (and friends) out of the way.
We’re not going to talk about the merits of Agile or any of the other textbook methods for delivering change. Take it for granted that you should adopt sensible modern methodologies as part of your transformation — just don’t sign up to a cult and bet the farm on a method.
Our advice is simple: harness methods like Agile, but don’t worship them. We’ve worked with plenty of organisations who would be regarded as very adept at Agile who were in a proper pickle. There are no silver bullets to be found here, so proceed with measured restraint and focus your adoption where it can have most immediate impact and demonstrate its worth. Like everything else, you have to learn what your version should be, and that takes time.
To change your organisation, people have to change.
Ultimately, executing your strategy successfully comes down to how people behave: engender positivity, commitment, enthusiasm, trust, excitement, open-mindedness, and creativity and you’ll engage the people around you in achieving the futurestate vision.
Empower people, make them part of something purposeful, and they’ll invest themselves in making it happen. Give them something to aim for, not something to be afraid of. People aren’t stupid; they know that any substantive organisational transformation will lead to changes that might impact them personally, so you have to make the ‘to’ far more appealing than the ‘from’.
Here are six of the areas we would advise everyone executing a transformation strategy to have front-of-mind.
1. Start at the beginning.
As we mentioned earlier in this series, making a diverse range of people part of the futurestate design process has enormous benefits, including more diverse inputs and better ideas. But in this context, it has a critical long-term role to play: you build a team of advocates and enthusiasts who are already vested in the future, because they helped shape it.
Of all the points here, this is the most important: it’s worth investing more at earlier stages to get the payoff later. We find that on programmes where we can engage a really broad and diverse team at the outset, the ease of execution is much greater. So engage early and engage widely.
2. Invest in telling the story brilliantly.
In smaller organisations, you can engage a significant percentage of the team. In larger organisations, even a wide engagement might only touch a small percentage, so it’s essential that everyone else is really brought in to the futurestate vision and the strategy to achieve it. That relies on brilliant storytelling.
We’ve created all sorts of compelling assets to convey a futurestate vision effectively, but they have to fit into a broader narrative that can be delivered with nothing but a webcam and mic if necessary. Humans engage with compelling stories, so hone a script that effectively captures where we’re going, why it’s vital that we get there, how we’re going to get there and why all of us will be part of making it happen. Make everyone part of the story from the first line and there’s a good chance they’ll feel part of it by the time you reach the last.
3. Give people licence to leave the past behind.
You can’t lay out a bold vision of the future then expect everyone to get there while still doing all the things they do today. You must make space for them to contribute and above all you must explicitly licence them to leave things behind and make the new things happen.
Sometimes that’s as simple as backing a decision to halt work on something that was a priority until now, but doesn’t contribute to the futurestate vision. Encourage the team to look for ongoing investments — of money, effort or focus — in the company you are trying to evolve from, then explicitly bestow the license on them to stop it or scale it back to focus on the future instead. A few of these decisions early on will build confidence in the team that this strategy is real and you’ll start to build momentum.
4. Give people the chance to shape their own future.
Organisational transformation always begets personal uncertainty. There’s no point pretending that there won’t be impacts; better to address that head-on, and make it clear that the future is rich with opportunity for those who want to be part of it.
Again, it’s about dialogue: have honest conversations early; don’t sprinkle everything with glitter; and be genuinely excited for people. In our work, futurestate design processes always lead to more digital organisations, which will mean deeper digital experiences and fewer human processes. It means new services, new processes, and new roles in new teams. Give everyone the chance to step up and make themselves a part of that, and really support those that do, because your future will be built on them.
5. Lead, then lead some more.
As a leader in a digital business, you have to be all-in. If there’s one characteristic that defines the iconic leaders of the modern age it’s their ability to lead their organisation on a bold — sometimes seemingly impossible — mission. This requires an abundance of leadership.
If you don’t lead your people effectively through a transformation it will fail, because no matter how good they are as individuals, herds of people stall or drift off-course. Without constant refocusing on the vision and the strategy, even the best teams wander away from the path they should be on. A few will do the opposite and charge ahead boldly — in completely the wrong direction. Either way, you have to re-engage them in the strategic narrative frequently…
6. Be consistent and relentless.
… and consistently. The best leaders constantly reinforce the same purpose and vision, the same values, and the same goals. It’s essential that you build confidence by relentlessly reinforcing the same things. Your job is to instil that the bigger, better future is an inevitable outcome.
There will be endless bumps in the road, and it is essential that you lead everyone past them. Uncertainty is part of everyday life for any business in the digital age, but it’s still not something that many people are that comfortable with. A relentless focus on the futurestate vision and consistent communication of how to achieve it is top of the priority list from now on.
Don’t forget the humans.
Many transformation strategies rely on the adoption of emerging technologies and sometimes radically different business models. These may be the foundation of how your futurestate business operates, but they won’t get you there. You’ll need the humans in your current organisation to fully engage in the process in order to successfully realise it.
There’s only so much depth in a very large subject we can go into here but we hope we’ve at least instilled the imperative of making your team full partners in the process of transformation. Enable progressive behaviours in people and you’ll create a progressive culture that can fully realise the potential of your futurestate vision
Futurestate design can reveal a future for your organisation that is obscured by the present. Invest in it and you’ll ultimately create a better business for people to be part of— just remember that they’re just as important to the journey as the destination.
Thanks for following the Futurestate Design series; we’ve loved putting it together. Props to Lauren Coleman for her illustrations.
If you’ve missed any of the series, then do check out more of The Human Layer, where you can also find lots of other content we’re confident leaders of change will find useful. Do please get in touch if you’d like to discuss your company’s futurestate programme and how we can help: firstname.lastname@example.org.