Capitalising on change

  • 05/01/2017
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  • Insights

Full research report on how to successfully deliver workforce transformation

We are living, and indeed working, in changing times. A recent survey we conducted amongst 1,000 business decision makers in the UK  discovered that the majority (65%) are currently dealing with more disruption to the workforce than ever before. A startling 94% of organisations have recently or are about to undergo significant people-related changes.

The type of changes reported by the business community include those that impact individuals and certain teams such as local restructures and reorganisations or office relocations, as well as organisation-wide transformation resulting from leadership handovers and M&A activity.

This in itself isn’t necessarily bad news for business as transition means a fresh approach, innovative new teams, products, services, ideas – all things that create competitive advantage. However, what is concerning is that over a quarter of respondents (27%) don’t think their senior management has what it takes to successfully manage change. This is likely due to the fact that less than half (47%) of organisations are supporting their c-suite in developing the right skills to lead through change.

Why change?

Business leaders cite several factors as the cause of this prevailing state of flux. Contrary to news headlines, the Brexit result is not the main driving force for change at this time but rather technology. This is understandable when you consider how multiple developments are making us work in a different way: mobile devices have created an always-on culture of immediacy, social media has revolutionised the way we communicate and build networks – giving every individual the opportunity to communicate to a mass audience – while the arrival of big data is allowing decision-making on a more informed and timely basis.

Not only is digitisation altering how we do things, but also the very nature of the roles we perform. A report from Deloitte in association with University of Oxford  suggests as much as 35% of existing jobs in the UK – from office and administrative support, sales and services to transportation and construction – are at risk of being replaced by robotics in the foreseeable future.

Also surprising was that the much documented and feared arrival of younger demographics (Generation Y and Z) into the workforce and managerial roles is not seen as a significant cause of change, with only one in 10 (13%) attributing it to them.

It follows that business, and therefore workforce, transformation is the necessary fundamental change that organisations need to make in response to broader dynamic forces  like these, if they are to survive and thrive.

Navigating uncertain times

We‘ve established that change is inevitable now in any business environment, so how can organisations make sure they are adequately preparing for it, in order to capitalise? Planning is as ever king. It’s not just in failing to prepare their leaders to oversee transformation where businesses are falling short; they are also not supporting their top talent during times of change. Only two in five companies (38%) are assessing their talent requirements ahead of planned disruption and the resulting loss of top talent was named as a key reason by 41% for transformation failing to make a difference.

Mind the perception gap

There are clear difficulties and challenges when it comes to fully realising the benefits of change. The fact that it’s not all plain sailing seems to be causing employees to lose heart at present. A quarter of managers (25%) are non-believers, expecting their organisations not to be able to take full advantage of business transformation.

Although there does seem to be a perception gap between middle managers and those in leadership about how well change plans are being implemented. Almost three quarters of senior managers (71%) were convinced that workforce change is being managed and communicated well, while just half (51%) of middle managers felt the same way.

It is apparent that better coordination between these ranks is required to present a united front and to ensure the confidence and consistency of messages crucial for putting plans into action.

The statistics also indicate that more junior managers are not feeling empowered to get things back on track where they can see divergence from the intended path to success. Ideally, anyone in an influential role with direct reports should be brought into the circle of trust, consulted in the planning phase so that their buy-in adds to the strength of the transformation as it rolls out.

Advantageous transformation

Change is often viewed as uncomfortable and, for that reason, feared by employees so there is some repositioning communications work to be done in many organisations. Ultimately, the commercial motivation to shake things up comes from a will to deliver more, serve customers better, and as a result improve an organisation’s financial performance. That in turn has benefits for employee engagement, as working for a company that is going places is inspiring in its own right. Change needs to start being presented and promoted through this lens to avoid the disengagement and talent loss that prevents business from reaping the full rewards of transformation. 

The time is now

Direct people costs make up 40% of all operational investment so the penalty for getting workforce transformation wrong can be heavy. 

Our study identified that more change is coming and won’t be slowing down, with four in five (85%) of respondents expecting these highly changeable working conditions to continue unabated or even increase in prominence in the future. It is therefore vital that companies understand their shortcomings in relation to workforce change and actively work to bridge the gap between the transformation plan and the reality.

As the leading integrated talent development and career transition consultancy, we have the rich heritage of experience, proven expertise and industry cutting edge technology to help companies evolve their culture, capabilities and structure, while maintaining employee morale and productivity to minimise operational risk.