An announcement is made: Francesca Valli is appointed to Hydra’s change management thought leader.
Francesca Valli collaborated with PWN Global for a webinar on the strategies and practices of change. We like PWN Global because the work they do, the spaces they create, accelerate the coming about of gender-balanced leadership in business and society. Read on to see what the attendees learnt…
Management consultants and authors Paul Hunter and Stuart Orr have asked Francesca Valli to contribute to a book on ‘backcasting the corporation’, to be published by Routledge, Singapore, in 2019. Her selected topic? Change in the age of AI. Read on for a taster of what her contribution will be…
Delivering business change is difficult and brings to vast failures. These are in-real-life case studies based on my interventions with organisations undergoing change. I describe their outcome and give tools and tips that have worked well with me, time and again.
A forensic analysis of progress: short, sharp and concrete, these are the questions to put the programme leaders on the spot. In Part 2 of the 'How to Fail Quickly' series of articles, I show that with the right questions and the ability to act as a unit to get to the answers, a steering board can keep a programme from failing.
... It isn't. It doesn't need to be. Contact us to see how we can help you deliver change, without the usual complexity, in your organisation.
New target operating model, new technology, new processes. We help deliver them through practices that work ‘on the ground’, without unnecessary complexity. Stay in touch to know how.
How a one-day course changed my perspective on professional development.
When it came to my profession, I thought I knew it all. After all, my professional ventures had me travel through multiple learning universes. It was these experiences that truly expanded my expertise. I thought I had a sound belief system, one that could stand the test of time. The belief was that experience would always carry the day and trump theory every time. I no longer needed to take professional development courses.
'I am done with learning' became my mantra.
And a mantra it stayed until I took a one-day course on the role of the non-executive director at the Institute of Directors in London. It turned my perspective upside down and irrevocably changed the way I understood professional development.
Here’s the kicker: just 11 days after I took the course I was appointed in my first NED role. Perhaps the universe works with us when we’re willing to tweak our own perspective and open our ‘experienced’ mind to further introspection.
Don’t get me wrong. Before I took the course, I didn’t devalue the learning that came from collaborators’ ideas or advice from trusted mentors. That would always remain sacrosanct in my books. But I thought the days of attending those one-day workshops that offered a certificate and promised enlightenment to the peers in my industry were unnecessary.
Except, life happened. One of my new year resolutions had to do with jump-starting a non-executive-director career. Surely this aim would be supported by what I had learnt during my time working with corporate governance in business? Plus, all those years of life experience, weren’t they worth something too?
Nevertheless, having recently re-joined the IOD, I studied their professional development offerings with curiosity. ‘The Role of the Non-Executive Director’ caught my eye. The course seemed interesting, its framework appropriate, the one-day duration not too daunting, and finally, the calibre of its leaders appropriate to an experienced business audience. I signed up.
The idea that I might learn something new came as soon as I looked at the pre-course reading and case study homework. It all pointed to a well thought-through course.
The day of the event saw me meeting fellow students who were experienced, challenging and fun. The structure of the day was just right. There was a harmonious balance between theory and practice. The case study was the focus of the practical ‘board sessions’. It pushed us to examine the business and ethical issues we would encounter on future boards. At the end of the day, a head-hunter, James Parr, divisional manager at Executive Headhunters, gave us insights into the art of finding NED roles. Ian Dormer, managing director of Rosh Engineering, gave a witty account of his many and varied NED experiences. The day was peppered with engaging debates with fellow attendees. We also had a delightful dinner to cap off the evening. As the day drew to an end, we collected helpful collaterals that supported our new learnings on theoretical, legislative and practical levels.
So, what truly distinguished the course and made it exceptional?
I am very compelled to think it was because of the leader, Jo Haigh. The calibre of course leaders the IOD attracts is high and appropriate to the experienced business audience that attends them. Jo Haigh was insightful and her feedback relevant. All that said, she is not a teacher, or a trainer for that matter, at least not in a traditional sense. Jo Haigh is a professional, award-winning, serial NED, an influencer who has been there, done that and bought that particular T-shirt. Jo Haigh made the difference between a good course and a differentiator-event in my professional life.
This, in short, is my story on how a one-day course changed my perspective on professional development. I left the course buzzing with thoughts and ideas. Oh, yes, and in case you are wondering, my ‘I am done with learning’ mantra was crumpled and then promptly thrown away.
The quest for innovation and profit will continue to lead to change, its pace greater in the evolving environments we inhabit. But what is change? And how do you deliver it?
In business, change  is a one-stop-shop word to describe the impact to business processes, people and target operating models deriving from new strategic directions, new technology, new contexts. Change describes the transition to the new stage and the management practices to land it there. It comes in different shapes and sizes, according to impact and reach. From the pioneering creation of global business services, to the addition of radically different operating models, to the systematic search for holy-grail products, we continually witness how business changes, adopts, adapts and… starts all over again.
The blog post comes from a talk I gave at the Deltra Group networking evening on 03-May-2017, invite courtesy of Ramona O'Dwyer-Stock, with the video footage evidencing the lively discussions.
Theories of change
Delivering change is difficult and brings to vast failures. In trying to understand the root causes of the difficulties, I looked at seminal theories of change. Kurt Lewin’s 3 stages, Luecke’s Seven Steps, Kotter’s 8 stages, Kanter’s Ten Commandments… there’s no shortage of a theory or ten. The organisational change theories have their roots in grief studies, which is why people have been put at the forefront of change practices. And when the big consulting firms adopted the work of these organisational change theorists, they legitimised a whole industry as they branded their reengineering services as change management, in the 1980s.
What do I think?
Whilst historical definitions of change are valuable as models for the design of interventions to see people through transition, the consultancy industry continues to keep change isolated from the main business of delivery, this seemingly narrow focus hindering the conflict-less landing and the long-term adoption of change. It is my view that change management practices must be ‘plugged’ into the heart of the delivery, the change work-stream its pivotal focus. It is here that project and business teams meet and it is from here that they must drive together towards delivery. Further, the practitioner leading the work-stream must have credibility, ‘pegged’ onto wider functional, technical or delivery-specific understanding, and authority. Otherwise the project remains in the hands of mostly technically-focused work-streams, the ‘split’ project and business perpetuated and landing the change and its adoption a vast failure.
What do I do?
In the end, change is both more and less difficult than theories we read and practices we witness lead us to believe: the management of change cannot be an afterthought, often restricted to communications and training practices led by people and culture practitioners but, if plugged into the heart of the delivery, it ends up… delivering itself.
The practices I take to organisations are about demystifying change. The emperor has no clothes. They are the practices that will see you deliver change and make it stick. What I talk to companies about are real-life examples of my interventions with organisations undertaking critical change. I describe the nature of the interventions, their outcome and give tools and tips that have worked well with me, time and again.
 I use the term interchangeably with ‘transformation’.
 Robert J Marshak (2005) ‘Contemporary Challenges to the Philosophy and Practice of Organization Development’.
 But it’s about contextual understanding and an ability to drop down into issues and solutions, not deep specialism, otherwise it still won’t work.
There’s no escaping the freelancers that populate the business world. The professional firms have referred to them as the ‘mercenaries’ of the ‘gig’ economy, raising a disparaging comparison with the economy of Deliveroo, Uber and TaskRabbit gigs. (1)
There has been a lot of reporting on the professional ‘gig’ economy and its prospected huge growth. BBC News / Business quotes PwC’s forecasts that ’the market for gig economy platforms will be worth almost $63bn globally by 2020. In 2014, this global market was valued at $10bn’. (2)
By referring to these freelancers as ‘mercenaries’, firms ignore that, thanks to the current propitious confluence of global technology and social platforms and the indomitable human entrepreneurial spirit, the ‘mercenaries’ are using their business skills to group together to make propositions attractive even to clients doing big transformations.
In the words of Guillermo Acilu, technology mind behind Front M, an innovative start-up, ‘the gig economy lets me control my own destiny. It makes me feel free’.
Martin Vazquez, creative director at Remulous, says that ‘through experience and foresight as an employee in the creative industry, I wanted to boldly go it alone and approach clients that interested me directly. The satisfaction of doing what you love, on your terms, is too tantalising to pass up’.
Thalia Romo, a change consultant building a retail franchise, says that ‘this allows me to have time for friends and family, to enjoy the place where I decide to live, near the beach, and to transfer to my team the knowledge and experience I have acquired’.
Idealism and a wish to make an impact. But never mind the idealism: these are people with serious business skills trying to make their skills go further. And they are hardly the words and values of ‘mercenaries’.
What does it take to succeed?
For me, it's always been about keeping yourself relevant to the market and the future. As I re-pivot my career towards advisory roles to harness life-long lessons learnt, here are my current top ‘gigs’:
- Coordinating tactics with a head-hunter to pitch contracts to clients unencumbered by bureaucracy and heavy costs.
- Negotiating a role on the advisory board of a start-up.
- Collaborating with digital creatives and technologists on my own digital transformation.
The clincher is to be able to collaborate in a distributed and multi-layered environment. In the corporate world, one is surrounded by structures, processes and big budgets. In the professional ‘gig’ economy, alongside a ‘wheeling-and-dealing’ DNA to make resources go further, one needs discipline and to deploy the ‘art of the possible’.
The reality of the professional ‘gig’ economy is likely to be affected by the same insecurities of the real Deliveroo, Uber and TaskRabbit ‘gigs’, its fate tightly anchored to business volatility.
However, as the economy shifts and changes through uncertainties, digital transformation and geo-politics, freelancers are the disruptors and innovators that are best adapt to survive. The mercenaries are here to stay. And please don’t call us mercenaries.
(1) ‘When McKinsey met Uber: The gig economy comes to consulting’. The Financial Times writing in October 2016.
(2) ‘Is the 'gig economy' turning us all into freelancers?’, Technology of Business reporter Suzanne Bearne writing in May 2016.
Face the disruption head-on and deliver the transformation faster.
What do companies need to front the pace of transformation? When asking for external support to strengthen delivery capabilities, which competencies must companies demand to deliver faster?
Change is central to business. CEOs and CIOs recognise that key is having the strength to push change through, often in contexts of fiery and fierce stakeholders, and having the capabilities to deliver at a faster pace.
“A vision needs a strategy and a strategy needs a plan”.
In the universes of transformation that I have traversed, strategy is paramount. What would a CEO or a Board do without a strategy to realise their vision? And every strategy needs a plan. As a deliverer of transformation, knee-deep in planned delivery, these are the lessons I have learnt. They relate to the core competencies that companies must demand from consultants recruited to deliver the transformation, successfully – and faster.
- Credibility. Barry Dawson, a senior transformation director at Diageo, considers credibility ‘ingredient number 1’, an indispensable trait in his collaborators. ‘Hang’ your delivery skills onto some expertise. You can then talk to people across the organisational spectrum from a position of knowledge. For me, it was finance and system analysis expertise gained in global business technology implementations.
- Understanding the mechanics of the delivery. This is about getting 'down and dirty’ in the engine room, knee-deep in cross-vertically integrated Gantt charts, risk analytics, ‘estimate to deliver’ calculations to track the progress against plans. These are all part of the arsenal of the ideal delivery consultant, a disciplined tactician that knows and deploys the ‘art of the possible’.
- Understanding of what it takes to land change and making it stick. Yuval Noah Harari writes (1) that humans dominate the planet not because they are smarter or more nimble-fingered than chimps or wolves, but because they are the only species on earth capable of cooperating flexibly in large numbers. Organisations often already have skilled and motivated resources to land the change and assure its adoption, making it stick. The key, for a delivery consultant worth their salt, is to unleash them - and create a culture of collaboration.
To deliver the transformation faster, and face disruption head-on, companies need to work with deliverers that go faster and support them going faster. The three points above are what I have learnt in my decades of witnessing transformation.
(1) In the breathtakingly interesting Homo Deus, A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noah Harari writes: “[...] the crucial factor in our conquest of the world was our ability to connect many humans to one another.”
The new generations entering the workforce need environments that support their social responsibility and interests. And this affects how businesses change.
A couple of weeks ago, I joined an evening hosted by the London School of Economics Anthropology Department and LSE Careers to connect students to alumni to help students gain a better understanding of their options, post-graduation. I do love the LSE. I graduated there in Social Anthropology in 1992 and what I learnt in my studies has plugged beautifully into my profession in business change where people are as critical to it as the technology.
It was I who gained a better understanding of the students’ ways of thinking. Overwhelmingly, students were more interested in how I developed my social responsibility career, the work I do above and beyond my ‘day-job’, to fundraise for organisations such the NSPCC (1) and IKWRO (2).
It was heartening to experience first-hand the interest in social responsibility that this student generation expressed on that evening. It seems that creating a better world is, for these students, as important as creating good business. LSE professor of anthropology and activism theorist David Graeber says that ‘at some point people are going to have to think about what their ultimate vision is’ as quoted by Charlie Gilmour in The Age of Activism (3). I suspect this student generation won’t stop until it finds it.
This got me thinking about business change...
Organisations must wish to attract graduates with good grades and a good conscience. I suspect that giving a day off, here and there, to ‘let them go paint old people’s home’ will no longer do. The cultural shift in the mindset of the younger generations brought on by the age of activism must be matched by a similar radical change in organisational thinking on recruit and retain practices.
How are employers creating environments where graduates with a strong social consciousness thrive? Do you know of organisations that successfully do so?
(1) See the Gherkin Challenge 2017. This event has raised more than £1 million for the NSPCC. (2) I am supporting IKWRO to build a garden at their women refuge. (3) Charlie Gilmour, The Age of Activism, ES Magazine 24.02.17
LikeIn the new age of activism, creating a better world is as important as creating good business.
ShareShare In the new age of activism, creating a better world is as important as creating good business.