How to approach change programmes – Full interview with Lauren Taylor

May 24, 2020

We all know how challenging the last few months have been both personally and professionally. Lauren Taylor HR & People Transformation expert was interviewed by our Director, Lucy Bielby about how organisations can effectively look to the future and identify how they can operate as efficiently as possible.

Lauren has supported organisations including BT, British American Tobacco and more recently Marsh & McLennan through periods of change. In a series of questions, Lucy wanted to understand from Lauren, her thoughts as to how organisations should be approaching any change programmes ahead, whilst drawing on any lessons that she has learnt along the way.

Lauren, taking into account the current market, which areas of a business do you think are most likely to transform?

For many organisations, change is likely to be out of necessity as opposed to the implementation of a planned programme of change. With the current conditions, they could be looking at anything from having a high volume of employees in roles that may no longer be needed, new ways of working as a result of remote working and social distancing through to cost reduction which could include, redundancies and the reduction of real estate portfolios. On the other side it could actually include setting up new business units and the acquisition of key talent as organisations identify new and evolving areas of growth/focus.

How do organisations go about identifying new areas for change?

I would be encouraging the leadership teams to use this opportunity to identify critical roles and skills within their organisations and ask themselves what areas of the business have continued to thrive in this challenging time and what, if any new opportunities have been identified.  Many organisations have diversified through necessity over the last few months, but this may well have identified new opportunities for growth and profit.

By reviewing which areas of their organisation may have offered them stability during this turbulent time and what services or product lines they had been able to continue delivering, organisations will be in a strong position to truly identify critical roles and skills necessary to the success of their business.   

Reflecting where appropriate on any areas of their business that might have actually grown from innovation. Including new business opportunities and potential areas of diversification will support any future transformation programme and help develop/update target operating models for the future.

So, when it comes to change where do you actually start ?

With the current challenges (economic, social distancing etc) and potential challenges ahead, this is all about wider business transformation. The focus of which is going to range from target operating models, ways of working, organisation development, attracting and retaining key talent through to property portfolios and agile working.

Overlaying this with employee relations and how we manage this in ‘new world’ is extremely complex.

In any Employee relations situation or re organisation that is looking at Target Operating Models and Organisation Design. One of the big challenges is to identify the roles that are business critical.

Many organisations are likely to have already done this as part of their decision making process on furlough however, for others it is hard to have this definition when as a business they have not been able to operate during this time. With so many organisations utilising furlough, they also need to focus on the implications that this will have on their transformation and be aware of how quickly they will need to move.

Although we have seen some movement, in the main we are still uncertain about when it may be possible for a phased return to the workplace for many, it’s imperative that organisations are planning about the bigger picture.

What should organisations be focusing on?

If an organisation has furloughed the majority of their workforce, this is only a temporary and emergency measure. Unfortunately they may not be in a position to bring back all furloughed employees so many will be faced with redundancy situation. Currently furlough finishes at the end of October and where furlough isn’t governed by employment law, redundancy is. Businesses need to think about that formal process and the associated timescales especially if they are looking at collective consultation, depending on the number of employees impacted.

If, organisations have seen growth or innovation during this time, they are likely to be thinking about whether this will remain a potential revenue stream in the future and will need to be thinking about their future Target Operating Model and the skills that they will need.  It is likely to be a candidate rich market and the process organisations follow will be imperative to their future success. They will need to focus on the skillsets they need, with targeted Job Descriptions and provide strong criteria for sifting and selecting candidates. In an extreme case, in one of my assignments we had 250 specialist roles to hire and had nearly the same number of applicants per role.  The resources required to screen candidates and the selection criteria for each role was key in this situation and this volume of applicants is not something that organisations will necessarily be used to in the UK.

The other critical planning requirement will be new ways of working. Organisations mobilised their workforces to operate remotely very quickly and whilst I don’t expect that many organisations will be operating 100% remotely in the future. We will see some big changes to agile / flexible working policies which for many organisations will be hard for them to refuse as in many cases employees have proved it can work. It is also likely that we will see some change in property portfolios as a result.

What do you think the future workplace will look like Lauren?

I can’t see that we will be in a position where all employees will return to the workplace. With social distancing, hesitation about commuting and ongoing care challenges, organisations will likely enable a phased transition back to work place.  This is never going to be a ‘one size that fits all’ both in terms of employees and employers.

Over the last 6 years agile working has been high on the agenda and a key discussion point for HR and Leadership Teams, but in the most part what an organisation means when referencing “agile working” is not clearly defined or consistently applied. We now need  organisations to define what agile working means outside of the legal provision of flexible working.

What type of education is required for successful agile working?

Organisations need to focus on how they are set up to enable agile working.  If an organisation already has or will have more people working remotely than before, they will still find that many may want or need to come into offices where possible. Even if it’s just 30-40% of the team in time, and with social distancing in place this won’t be a likely scenario for a fair while.

That said, I’ve never seen agile work well without systems in place, small things like desk booking systems. It’s the time to get IT and HR together to start working this through.

There is a big education piece here, often starting with leadership teams. We have seen organisations manage, lead and onboard employees remotely through this time but there is still a perception for many that people can’t deliver without colleagues and teams around them.

With a  previous client we had more than one discussion about why people had to be at a desk. Not one area of their argument actually stood up when it was challenged. The ‘new world’ will test many leaders belief that performance will be a problem. It will be interesting to see if the last few weeks have changed their mind at all.

How do you see physical office spaces working?

Where remote working isn’t an option and social distancing will be existing into the future. Many organisations are going to have to be thinking about re configuring the space that they have. 

I’ve seen articles that comment on some businesses purchasing more office space to enable social distancing and that can only be a knee jerk reaction for businesses and one that I definitely wouldn’t recommend. Although some businesses may have needed more warehouse space for example over the last few weeks / months, it’s going to be more about fully utilising and the space that you already have. This alongside focusing on working patterns, allocation of work and workforce planning on those business critical roles.

I think what we actually need is a more flexible environment, not just one where employees work from home, organisations will have to judge their office set up in accordance to safety distancing guidance.  This piece of work will be a significant piece of cultural change and that’s just one project that organisations will have running alongside many others and these things take time. Often organisations can struggle with a piece of work like this and that’s without the other pressures that we now have as well.

Do you think many organisations will move away from physical workspaces?

There are so many avenues that organisations should be looking at now to get head of curve. Whilst reducing their real estate portfolio does enable savings, outside of people. Many who have been thinking about this may have already missed the chance if they haven’t been looking closely at simple things like any break clauses in their contracts.

Lots of organisations won’t own their assets and reviewing their real estate portfolio will enable a policy for agile. This was a large part of one of the projects in my last assignment where Real Estate Optimisation actually identified savings of $3.5m over a two-year period (2020/21) via optimisation of existing space, planned implementation of smart/agile office principles and technology, deployment of more efficient workspace standards alongside a reduction of vacant space by disposing of poorly utilized space across the portfolio.

What observations have you had in the past on planning for change?

One of the key learnings is that organisations always underestimate the amount of time change can take, and the current scenario isn’t one that any of us have planned for.

Whilst today we know that change is ahead. Often the thing that pushes it forwards is rumours about what is going to happen. With organisations then working to tighter timescales, it often means that they don’t have time to test that these things will work nor identify that they have ‘got it right’. This means that they either can’t predict the impact or are making changes up to last minute.

Now is the time to take stock and if the opportunity allows, to bring in external expertise if an organisation doesn’t already have the right skillset.

A light has been shone on all areas. If organisations plan now, then they can take their time to implement effectivity.

What are your final thoughts on the current situation?

Organisations really should be thinking about what model works for them, it isn’t going to be a one size fits all and will depend on the size and scale of the organisation and demographic of employees. Take this time to really review their business, look at what has been working successfully during this time and how. Is this change something that has been beneficial or was it part of your contingency only? We can’t say that we won’t see this again in the future and whilst some contingency plans have proved that they were fit for purpose, this is also a time to reflect.

Work with an expert who has previous experience of helping businesses to make those key decisions. It’s often easier when somebody isn’t ingrained in the business and can review with an impartial, fresh set of eyes.

What would your recommendation be when sourcing for change ?

If you are in a position to buy in resource to support you with critical change activity then I would recommend an expert in transformation and somebody who can be involved in strategic review and planning, design and who can support and influence stakeholders. An interim will already be aware from their years of experience, exactly what can go wrong and will have the ability to take you through to delivery. 

I have found that these projects work best when I’ve been brought in at the early planning stages. That said, I’ve also picked up projects that have been given to employees internally and unfortunately those individuals don’t always have the right skillset. To deliver successfully a project or programme of this size you need change management, Comms, ER alongside business acumen – rounded experience.

The difference between hiring an Interim and a Consultancy is that although the consultancies can be great at looking at TOM / Organisational design. I’ve found that they don’t always ingrain themselves in a business and take into account what can really lift / shift / move.

This is not a business as usual scenario, it is changing both the business and people and it needs a defined skillset. We are and will be for a fair while in a changing world and organisations will need to move quickly throughout this.

If you would like to discuss how Lauren may be able to support you through any upcoming change related projects, please contact Lucy Bielby or someone else from our HR consultant team